NCAA tournament 2017 preview: East regional

Double-digit seeds will make noise in the opening rounds, but look for top-seeded Villanova to restore order and book a return trip to the Final Four

Favorite

Villanova. Villanova is the No1 overall seed and has been the most consistent team on the college scene this season. The Wildcats have a number on this years roster who were on last years National Championship-winning team including player of the year candidate Josh Hart so they surely have the experience on their side to make another lengthy run. Having a superstar playmaker like Hart is crucial for success in the tournament. On paper, their biggest roadblock making it out of the region is Duke, who is coming in hot after their impressive performance winning the ACC tournament last week in Brooklyn.

Dark horse

SMU. The Mustangs were given a fairly low seed (No6), despite their impressive 30-4 record. Since they played in the weaker American Athletic Conference, their strength of schedule was deemed lacking by the selection committee and were penalized for that reason. They will be facing a tough test in the round of 64 against the winner of Providence-USC. But if they can win their first game, the Mustangs, winners of 16 straight games heading into the tournament, could make a run.

First-round games to watch

No5 Virginia v No12 UNC-Wilmington. Although Virginias sluggish offensive style isnt always aesthetically pleasing or entertaining, this game could be a compelling one to watch because of the upset possibility. UNC-Wilmingtons high-scoring offense will be going against Virginias top-ranked scoring defense. Somethings gotta give.

No3 Baylor v No14 New Mexico State. In the past two seasons, the Bears have been eliminated in the round of 64; in 2015 they lost to 14th-seeded Georgia State and last year they lost to 12th-seeded Yale. Will they experience another early-round upset this year?

No8 Wisconsin v No9 Virginia Tech. The winner of this game will be playing Villanova in the round of 32 and could potentially be a cause of concern for the top-seeded Wildcats. Although both teams have been inconsistent during the season at times, they also have had some significant victories against quality opponents and might be able to bust some brackets.

Blue-plate upset special

No12 UNC-Wilmington over No5 Virginia. At least one 12-seed nearly always beats a 5. This years UNC-Wilmington team is as good as pick as any of them. Although Virginia has one of the best defenses in the country, their anemic offense has resulted in a number of losses down the stretch. That lack of offensive firepower will pose a huge issue for them early on against UNC-Wilmington.

Key figure

10. It has been 10 years since Florida became the last mens team to win back-to-back national championships. Villanova is hoping they can change that.

Five best players in regional

Josh Hart, Villanova. Hart has played great this season, averaging about 19 points and 6.5 boards per game. As mentioned, he is a player of the year candidate and will play a crucial role if the Wildcats end up repeating.

Luke Kennard, Duke. Like Hart, Kennard is also a player of the year semi-finalist. In a roller-coaster season for Duke, Kennard was a bright spot averaging 20 points and five rebounds. He was also just named ACC tournament MVP, so hes playing great ball heading into the big dance.

Johnathan Motley, Baylor. The Bears forward is another semifinalist for the Naismith Trophy. Averaging 17 and 10, Motleys value at both ends of the court has been crucial for Baylor.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin. Happ is the fourth player in the East regional to be named as a player of the year candidate. Happ is averaging 13 points and nine rebounds a game and has taken on a crucial leadership role for the Badgers.

Semi Ojeleye, SMU. The forward transferred from Duke to SMU and has played a significant role in the teams success this season averaging 19 and 7. If SMU is going to make a run, Ojeleye will be the one making things happen.

Bold prediction

Three double-digit seeds will pull off first-round upsets. Look for No10 Marquette and No12 UNC-Wilmington to nab early upset victories, while No14 New Mexico State will keep Baylors opening-round woes alive.

To advance to Sweet 16

Villanova, Duke, Florida, SMU

To advance to Final Four

Villanova

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/mar/13/ncaa-tournament-east-regional-preview

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