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Bracket Analysis: East Region

Jalen Brunson, Villanova
In a sport where parity rules, being a consistent winner is insanely tough. And yet, Villanova won the Big East conference tournament once again and enters this year's Tournament a No. 1 seed once more. The Wildcats are headed by a stern leader at point guard in junior Jalen Brunson, who runs the country's best offense (87.1 PPG). Brunson averages 19.4 PPG and 4.7 APG while shooting 53% from the field, and plays like a seasoned NBA veteran. Villanova also brings an explosive swingman to the table in Mikal Bridges, and they have their best frontcourt player in years in youngster Omari Spellman. This is the type of team with balance, depth and overall experience that usually does do good in March. But, it is always tough to get a read on 'Nova. With the exception of their impressive 2016 NCAA Tournament title run this has been a team that has consistently underperformed in the Big Dance. With Brunson and this offense's overall efficiency, you still feel confident about what they can do, but this is a region with plenty of peril. A second round matchup with possibly Alabama, who comes into the tourney flaming hot, is precarious as is possible future dates with West Virginia or Wichita State. Feel relatively confident about this Villanova team, but also be wary; its hard to know which Wildcats we are going to get in March.

Nowadays, its hard to consider Wichita State a dark horse, but this team is not getting much attention going into this year's NCAA Tournament. The Selection Committee clearly respects them more since their move from the Missouri Valley to the American Athletic Conference, as evidenced by their four seed. The upgrade in conference play should really help the Shockers come this March, giving them valuable experience against some great teams and helping in overall preparation. The interesting thing about this Wichita team is that they are much more offensive-orientated than in year's past. Head coach Gregg Marshall has long prided himself on having stout defenses, but this Shocker offense averages 83.0 PPG (tied for 19th in the nation) and they spread the ball as well as anybody, with 18.5 assists per game. Key to that offensive success has been the growth of guard Landry Shamet and the overall much better shooting from the perimeter, which has only opened up things. Wichita State is always going to be a tough team because they play so hard and are so good defensively and on the glass. It will be very intriguing to see how this new offensive-led team fares in March. I actually like the Shockers to move deep into this field. They should be able to fend off Marshall, and West Virginia and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them knock off top-seeded Villanova.

After holding off UCLA in a "First Four" battle last night, keep an eye on St. Bonaventure as a possible dark horse in this region. The Bonnies are led by one of the country's best backcourts, with seniors Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, who combine for nearly 38 points per game. Last night, however, we saw junior forward Courtney Stockard step up in a big way, as he dropped 26 points and was a demon on defense with four steals. Having another option step up offensively could make this St. Bonaventure particularly dangerous. This team was able to beat UCLA with a very off game from Adams, who is one of the most underrated players in the entire country, which certainly bodes well for their future. Opening up against Florida is also great news for this Bonnies squad. The Gators are a quality basketball team with plenty of talent, but they aren't a very good defensive team nor very depth, which could leave them exposed to a classic 6-11 upset. From that point on, third-seeded Texas Tech is perhaps the weakest three seed in the field, setting up a golden opportunity for St. Bonaventure. We usually see at least one or two double-digit seeds sneak into the Sweet 16 if not further, and I would not be surprised in the slightest if this Bonnies squad does just that.

If you were to pick an ideal roster makeup for a college basketball team, Purdue would probably be it. They have the perfect blend of size, three-point shooting and just overall experience that any coach would kill to have. The size comes in the form of seven-footers Isaac Haas and Matt Haarns, who constantly disrupt shots and can really be a pain to stop on the low block. The shooting comes from sniper Dakota Mathias, who is deadly coming off creatively placed screens, along with explosive guard Carsen Edwards, who made the All-Big Ten team as a sophomore. Then, there is just the experience this lineup possesses. Haas, Mathias and swingman Vince Edwards are all seniors who have played in and won NCAA Tournament games, an obvious advantage come this time of year. The biggest question on this team? Probably coaching. Matt Painter is a great coach and has proven it time and time again, but he has yet to lead a Boilermakers team past the Sweet 16 and has had a few memorable collapses (see Little Rock, 2016). Even so, this Purdue team is one of the teams I feel most confident about in a field where it is hard to feel confident about anyone. Their shooting, experience and versatility are all going to be key to a deep NCAA Tournament. I have them going all the way to the NCAA Championship Game, but coming up short against the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers.

Picking the East

First Round

1 Villanova over 16 Texas Southern... It is hard to imagine a 16 seed beating a 1 seed this year, particularly one that is under .500 overall.

9 Alabama over 8 Virginia Tech... The Hokies are a rock-solid basketball team, but stud guard Colin Sexton leads 'Bama to the win.

12 Murray State over 5 West Virginia... Despite experienced guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, the Mountaineers seem like a team that could falter against the underrated Murray State Racers.

4 Wichita State over 13 Marshall... The heavy three-point shooting Herd will put up points, but the Shockers fundamentally sound basketball ensures a victory.

11 St. Bonaventure over 6 Florida... A great backcourt of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley helps the Bonnies shock an inconsistent Florida squad.

3 Texas Tech over 14 Stephen F. Austin... Superb defense and the play of star point guard Keenan Evans helps the Red Raiders avoid a first round stunner.

10 Butler over 7 Arkansas... The athleticism of the Razorbacks will be a tall task for Butler, but star forward Kelan Martin (20.8 PPG) helps them get the job done.

2 Purdue over 15 Cal State Fullerton... The Big West Champ may be able to apply some pressure to the Boilermakers, but don't expect a shocker here.

Second Round

1 Villanova over 9 Alabama... Don't be surprised for the scorching hot Tide to knock off 'Nova here, but the steady guidance of Jalen Brunson helps the Wildcats move on.

4 Wichita State over 12 Murray State... The Racers play an up-tempo brand of basketball, but Wichita will slow them down and turn this into a physical slugfest.

3 Texas Tech over 11 St. Bonaventure... Both of these teams have great backcourts, but Texas Tech's depth helps them secure the victory.

2 Purdue over 10 Butler... It should be a very physical, inside-orientated battle between these two but Purdue will just be too much for the Bulldogs here.

Sweet 16

4 Wichita State over 1 Villanova... The Shockers should be able to slow down Villanova's offense enough for their improved three-point shooting to put them over the top.

2 Purdue over 3 Texas Tech... Chris Beard stunned Purdue two years ago while at Little Rock, but Tech just doesn't have anybody that can match Purdue's size.

Elite Eight

2 Purdue over 4 Wichita State... This one should be a classic, Midwest battle between two well-coached teams. Purdue's superior talent helps them win the region.

East Region Champ: 2 Purdue Boilermakers

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