The East is surely not a beast compared to the other regions, but the presence of two of the nation’s best teams – one being the season’s most consistent and the other being the hottest – makes the upper left portion of the bracket formidable.
The issue with the East region is its strength after the top two seeds. The next three highest seeds – Baylor, Florida and Virginia – look ready for the taking. They all started the season strong, accumulating impressive metrics, only to falter mightily down the stretch.
Best First Round Match-Up
(9) Virginia Tech vs. (8) Wisconsin
The 8/9 games are often the most compelling of the first round games because they obviously match up teams of similar strengths against each other. This game definitely fits that description. The Badgers were grossly under seeded, despite a disappointing second half of the season. However, Wisconsin is a senior-laden team with players such as Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who have been here before (Sweet 16 last season) and are led by Big Ten Player of the Year contender in Ethan Happ.
Virginia Tech is formidable in their own right. The Hokies, led by one of the best coaches in the business, in Buzz Williams, finished 10-8 in the vaunted ACC, including wins over the likes of Virginia, Miami and Wake Forest towards the end of the regular season. Look for this game to be a close, physical and mental battle, with the winner having a solid chance to upend Villanova in the next round.
Best Potential Upset
(13) East Tennessee State over (4) Florida
This pick is as much about Florida’s vulnerability as it is about ETSU’s upside, though that exists as well. ETSU is long and athletic, led by guard T.J. Cromer’s 19 points per game. The Buccaneers won nine of their last ten games in the solid Southern conference and won at Mississippi State and suffered a close loss to Tennessee earlier in the season.
Florida has lost three of their last four games and don’t have many big wins on their resume. It could be argued that the Gators got fat off of mediocre SEC competition.
Best Player vs. Player Matchup
Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes vs. Virginia Tech’s Zach LeDay
This forward matchup is a clash of team leaders, who each have to have big games in order for their respective teams to prevail. LeDay has had a great season for the Hokies, scoring 16 points per game and hauling in 7.4 rebounds per contest. Hayes has been somewhat disappointing this season, but is still averaging 13.5ppg, 6.5rpg and 2.8apg and is capable of even more.
Sleeper Team That Could Bust Your Bracket
If this sounds like a theme, it is. The committee did top-seeded Villanova no favors by seeding the Badgers as an 8, despite a solid showing in the Big Ten this season and all kinds of tournament experience on their roster. This is not a prediction that Villanova will lose in the second round, but they could, and regardless, such a matchup would not have a second round feel to it.
Most Vulnerable High Seed (1-4)
4-seed Florida has been discussed, but 3-seed Baylor and 5-seed Virginia look vulnerable, as well. Baylor was considered a top seed by the selection committee back in February, but has since fallen on tough times. The Bears are 3-4 in their last seven games and 5-6 in their last 11 games. Virginia lost 6 of 8 games in the meat of their schedule in February, including four straight, before seemingly straightening things out at the end of the season. All three of these schools look ripe for the taking if a lower seeded team comes to play.