Our 2017 March Madness East region preview shows that the East Region doesn’t appear as loaded as the South Region. No matter. When Villanova is the 1-seed, and Duke is the 2-seed, you know that there’s plenty of quality in the region. The East is also different from the other regions in the sense that one of the best 6 seeds or higher teams in the tournament is in the East Region.
2017 March Madness East Region Preview
Can Southern Methodist, a year removed from a post-season ban, upset Villanova, Duke, and Florida? Check out what I think!
Top Contenders: 1 Villanova, 2 Duke, 4 Florida
Villanova is the overall 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats bring the likely Wooden Award Winner for Player of the Year in Josh Hart to the NCAA Tournament. Kris Jenkins, who hit the Final Four Championship winning shot last season, also returns to the NCAA Tournament. Nova was the most consistent team this season.
Duke had to win 4 games in 4 days to take home the ACC Tournament crown. The Blue Devils, the pre-season number 1, suffered through numerous starts and stops during the season. But, since Duke is playing the best basketball that it’s played all season long, the Blue Devils are contenders.
Florida lost to Vanderbilt 3 times, twice during the regular season, and once in the SEC Tournament. But, other than the implosion to Vandy, Florida was solid in 2016-2017. The losses to Duke and Florida State occurred early while the Gators split with Kentucky. Florida has a real shot of winning the East Region because they won’t face Vandy or Kentucky, and if they face Duke it’s going to be in the Elite Eight.
What’s Wrong With: 3 Baylor
I’m not a fan of teams that don’t improve in the second half of the college basketball season. College coaches use the second half of the season to gain momentum going into conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. They don’t use the second half of the season to start fixing problems.
Baylor started out by winning their first 15 games. They beat some great teams during the streak including Louisville, Oregon, Xavier, and Oklahoma State. But, I have no faith in Baylor because they finished the season going 5 and 5 straight up in their final 10 games. 2 of the 5 losses were to Kansas State. 1 of the losses was to Texas Tech. The Bears aren’t ready for the NCAA Tournament.
Top Underdog: 6 SMU
Southern Methodist should be the 3 seed in the East Region while Baylor should be the 6 seed. How good is SMU? The Mustangs haven’t lost since Jan. 12. That’s a string of 16 straight wins. The loss was to Cincinnati. Since losing 64 to 66 to the Bearcats on Jan. 12, SMU has beaten their top AAC rival 60 to 51 and 71 to 56. SMU is better than the 3 seed or 5 seed, Baylor and Virginia, in the East Region.
Key Game: 6 SMU vs 2 Duke – Sweet 16
If SMU beats Baylor in Round 2, Duke versus SMU should be the most important game in the East Region. Villanova, which makes sense, shouldn’t find things too difficult until they face Florida in the Sweet 16. Duke versus SMU could be a classic.
Top “No Way” Underdog: 12 UNC-Wilmington
The UNC-Wilmington Seahawks could run 5 Virginia into the ground in Round 1. UNC-Wilmington averages over 85 points per game. It’s going to be tough for Virginia to force UNCW into the type of game that the Cavaliers like to play, let’s slow it down as much as possible before scoring so that we can set up our half-court defense.
If the Seahawks can get past Virginia, a likely Round 2 battle with Florida could go either way. Then, it’s probably on to Villanova. It’s tough to beat an opponent with half-court defense when they don’t allow you to get into your half-court defense. That’s UNC-Wilmington.
Winner: 6 SMU
I think I know why the Selection Committee made SMU a 6 seed in the East Region. It’s the same reason Wichita State is a 7 seed in the South Region. The Selection Committee appears to be punishing Duke’s Coach K and Kentucky coach John Calipari. There’s no reason Kentucky should face Wichita State in Round 2 just like there’s no reason Duke should have to possibly face SMU in the Sweet 16.
SMU only plays 6 guys. No matter. The starting 5 is unbelievably talented. Plus, since the starting 5 has played 30 to 40 minutes in every game with each other this season, they can practically read each other’s minds.
The Mustangs are a well-oiled machine that averages over 74 points per game while allowing less than 60 per game. I think SMU wins the East Region.