2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: East Region

March 15, 2018

Last season the Villanova Wildcats were the defending national champions and the 2017 Tournament’s top overall seed, yet were thrown to the wolves by the Committee and left to compete in arguably the most difficult region in the Big Dance.

One year later and Jay Wright’s team can sit back and watch Virginia deal with a similar situation. Wright’s team, opposite the Cavaliers on the printed bracket, is the tournament’s second ranked top seed and by comparison has a much easier road to San Antonio. The Wildcats are as solid as they have been the past two seasons and are unlikely to face a matchup issue until a potential Elite 8 battle with the trees of Purdue.

Nothing is for certain, however, and the other teams in the group could end up making these words look silly.

Let’s take a look at the East Region.

Round of 64 Games to Watch

#3 Texas Tech vs. #14 Stephen F. Austin (Thursday, 7:27 PM ET)

Want to talk about a tasty matchup with the opportunity to get chippy, and quickly? Look no further than Dallas, where two teams from the Lone Star State will clash on Thursday evening. The Red Raiders aren’t a traditional power by any stretch of the imagination, but you better believe that the Lumberjacks would like nothing more than to knock off a Power 5 conference team from the same state. In some cases, players from Stephen F. Austin were likely overlooked in favor of guys now playing for Texas Tech. The scary part for Chris Beard’s team is that the Southland Conference representative in the NCAA Tournament is a really underrated squad.

The Lumberjacks love to push the tempo, which could cause some problems for Texas Tech, which generally operates with one of the more methodical offenses of teams participating in the Big Dance. However, while Kyle Keller’s team leads the country with 9.4 steals per game, they turn the ball over 15 times per contest. If the Red Raiders take care of the basketball, there is a good chance that they will be given plenty of extra opportunities to dictate the pace. Another plus for Beard’s squad is the return of senior guard Keenan Evans from injury, who the heart and soul for Texas Tech and its most dangerous offensive threat. Stephen F. Austin might have a Texas sized chip on its shoulder, but Evans has the ability to will his team to victory. It may be needed, as Big 12 teams have had a rough go of things as a No. 3 seed in the last five seasons.

#7 Arkansas vs. #10 Butler (Friday, approximately 3:10 PM ET)

Each of these teams comes into the Tournament as somewhat of a mystery, but if both play to their potential then this could be one of the best games of the entire first round. Butler stumbled down the stretch but puts a ton of talent on the floor, starting with future NBA player Kelan Martin. The unanimous All-Big East selection is a natural scorer who can find the basket off the dribble or stroke from deep. Arkansas is full of athleticism as well, though, so Martin could have a tough go of things if the Razorbacks don’t over pursue. Defensive issues have plagued the SEC team and could be the difference between a first round loss and a trip to the second weekend.

If Martin is hitting shots and finding all sorts of ways to the basket, expect Butler to have a good shot in this one. Arkansas has length that would keep most opposing coaches up at night and plenty of senior leadership, but the Bulldogs are not your typical No. 10 seed. In fact, despite only going .500 in the Big East, Butler is probably a little underseeded and this game sets up more like an 8 vs. 9 matchup on paper. The winner of this game will have a great chance to do well in what will likely be a date with Purdue in the second round.

Team That Could Make a Run


I’m not biggest cheerleader for the new look Big East Conference, but it would be hard to come to that conclusion by looking at my bracket picks (especially in the East Region). The Bulldogs are one of two teams featured in this segment for 2018 and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m banking on Butler to provide me with some Tournament victories that not very many other people will have. It’s not that I believe the Bulldogs are a potential title contender laying low as they did in 2010 – I don’t. But I do believe that the Bulldogs are slightly underseeded and I like the path they have to the second weekend of the Tournament.

The Bulldogs have essentially everything you need for a surprise tourney run – length, athleticism, a go-to scorer and discipline. LaVall Jordan’s team could end up opposite Purdue in the second round, which could turn into a really fun battle on the perimeter if Butler is able to subdue Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms down low. Jordan also has experience preparing for the Boilermakers, as he was an assistant at Michigan through 2016. I see the bottom half of the East Region getting blown up, courtesy of Jordan and the Bulldogs.

My Picks

First Round

#1 Villanova over #16 Radford

#9 Alabama over #8 Virginia Tech

#5 West Virginia over #12 Murray State

#4 Wichita State over #13 Marshall

#6 Florida over #11 St. Bonaventure

#3 Texas Tech over #14 Stephen F. Austin

#10 Butler over #7 Arkansas

#2 Purdue over #15 Cal State Fullerton

Second Round

#1 Villanova over #9 Alabama

#5 West Virginia over #4 West Virginia

#6 Florida over #3 Texas Tech

#10 Butler over #2 Purdue (upset alert)

Sweet 16

#1 Villanova over #5 West Virginia

#10 Butler over #6 Florida (upset alert)

Elite 8

#1 Villanova over #10 Butler

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