College Football

Monday, March 12, 2018

NCAA Tournament Breakdown: The East Region

By: Joe Smeltzer
March Madness is here, and to celebrate, I will be previewing all four regions, providing a breakdown of all 68 teams. We'll kick things off with the East region. To whom it may concern, I will not be talking about the 16 seeds in any of my previews, as it is a waste of time. Let's get into it

#1 Villanova 

Points: Jalen Brunson (19.4)
Rebounds: Omari Spellman (7.9)
Assists: Jalen Brunson (4.7)
Mikal Bridges (18.0 PPG)
Donte DiVincenzo (13.1 PPG)
Phill Booth (10.9 PPG)
Eric Paschall (10.3 PPG)

What they do well
The Wildcats can score it as well as any team in the country. Averaging over 87 points a night, 'Nova leads the nation in points per game, largely propelled by shooting around 40 percent from three-point land. With Brunson, Bridges and DiVincenzo in the backcourt and Spellman and Paschall in the front-court, the Cats have talent across the board. Although 'Nova also bodes the top defense in the Big East, the Wildcats are a scoring team, and they'll go as far as their shooting allows them to.

What could be their downfall?  
Since Villanova is at or near the top of the Big East in most categories, finding a flaw isn't easy. If there's anything the Wildcats haven't excelled in this season, it's offensive rebounding, where they rank seventh of 10 conference teams. Of course, not grabbing a lot of offensive boards could also be looked at as a positive, since it shows that 'Nova doesn't miss a lot of shots. If there's a night where the ball isn't going in, however, the Cats will need to step it up on the offensive glass.

#2 Purdue 
Scoring: Carson Edwards (18.5)
Rebounds: Vincent Edwards (7.3)
Assists: Dakota Mathias (4.1)
Isacc Hass (14.9 PPG)
P.J. Thompson (7.1 PPG)

What they do well
The Boilers can beat their opponents in a lot of ways. Whether it be shooting the long-ball with Carson Edwards, or pounding it down low with Isaac Hass, Purdue's offense was at the top of the Big 10 because of its versatility. Matt Painter's team is hardly one dimensional, and if one aspect of the machine isn't working, another can pick up the slack. Versatility, along with experience--the Boilers start four seniors-- could propel Purdue to it's first Final Four.

What could be their downfall
The main deterrent to picking the Boilers to go to the Final Four is their tournament history. Despite nine appearances in Painter's 12 full seasons, the Boilers have reached the Sweet 16 just three times and twice have fallen to a team seeded 11th or higher With a senior-laden squad, this might be the best chance Purdue has at a championship for a while. So if history repeats itself, who knows when redemption will come.

#3 Texas Tech
Points: Kennan Evans (17.5)
Rebonds: Jarrett Culver (4.8)
APG: Kennan Evans (3.2 APG)

Zhaire Smith (11.2 PPG)
Niem Stevenson (7.5 PPG)
Zach Smith (5.9 PPG)

What they do well
Unlike the top two seeds, the Red Raiders are all about defense. Tech topped the Big 12 in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense and was second in defending the three-ball. They say defense wins championships, and the Raiders will show how much credence that cliche has.

What could be their downfall
As good as Tech is at defending, it is almost equally poor on the other end. Out of ten teams in their conference, the Raiders ranked just seventh in scoring average. While the fact that the Big 12 sent seven teams to the dance makes that stat somewhat deceiving, if the Raiders run into a team that can score, they'll be in trouble. While I love the job Chris Beard has done, I think Tech is too one-dimensional to make a deep tournament run.

#4 Wichita State 
Points: Landry Shamet (15)
Rebounds: Rashard Kelly (7.5)
Assists: Landry Shamet (5.1)
Shaquille Morris (14 PPG)
Darral Willis Jr. (10.4 PPG)
Conner Frankamp (10.1 PPG)
What they do well
The Shockers average 83 points per game,  ranking them in the top 20 nationally and easily the best in the American Athletic Conference. Led by Shamet, Wichita State also topped the conference in field goal percentage and was second to Houston in three-point percentage. So the Shockers can score with any team in the region. Unfortunately, they haven't done their job on the other side of the court.

What could be their downfall
Saturday's conference semifinal loss to Houston was a perfect example of why I don't think the Wichita State will go far in the NCAA Tournament.

The Shockers' shots were falling, for the most part, scoring 74 points, but they couldn't stop Houston on the other end, with the excellent Rob Gray scoring 33 of the Cougars' 77 points. These struggles were nothing new for Greg Marshall, with the Shockers ranking ninth of 12 AAC teams in scoring defense, and 10th in three-point defense (Houston was 8-18 from beyond-the-arc). When Wichita State runs into a team that can shoot, the odds don't look so good. That could well happen in the first weekend.

#5 West Virginia 
Scoring: Jevon Carter (17)
Rebounding: Sagaba Konate (7.6)
Assists: Jevon Carter (6.6)
Daxter Miles Jr. (13.0 PPG)
Esa Ahmad (10.1 PPG)
Lamont West (9.5 PPG)
What they do well
As has become customary in the past few years, the Mountaineers live and die by the full-court press. West Virginia's +5.2 turnover margin is the best in the Big 12, so for a team to get it done against WVU, they must take care of the basketball.

What could be their downfall
Any team that can successfully handle the press spells trouble for Bob Huggins. If and when WVU meets their match, that could spell curtains for their tournament run.

#6 Florida 
Scoring: Jalen Hudson (15.3 PPG)
Rebounding: Egor Koulechov (6.5 RPG)
Assists:  Chris Chiozza (6.1)
KeVaughn Allen (11.3 PPG)
Keith Stone (8.9 PPG)
What they do well 
The Gators are a solid offensive team, and at the heart of that attack is outside shooting. Led by Stone, who shoots over 43 percent from downtown, Florida ranks third in the SEC in three-point shooting and given that their conference sent 10 teams to the dance, that's more than respectable. Any team that can shoot well is dangerous, so if anybody catches the Gators on a good day, look out.

What could be their downfall
Only three of the 14 teams in the SEC are worse at rebounding than Florida is. Yeah, that's not good. Especially when facing a strong offensive team such as St. Bonaventure or UCLA, it's essential for the Gators to take advantage when the other team's shots don't fall. If Florida can't fix its issues on the glass, the Gators' stay in the Big Dance could last a mere two hours.

#7 Arkansas 
Scoring: Jaylen Bradford (18)
Rebounds: Daniel Gafford (6.2)
Assists: Daryl Macon (3.9)
Anton Beard (9.6 PPG)
C.J. Jones (6.4 PPG)
Dustin Thomas (5.0 PPG)
What they do well
Like Florida, the Hogs know how to put the ball in the basket, and do it quite often, ranking second in the SEC. Arkansas leads the conference in field goal percentage, so yeah, they can shoot. Just like with the Gators, whoever catches the Hogs on a good night could be in trouble. Unfortunately, not every similarity that Mike Anderson's team shares with its conference foe is for the better.

What could be their downfall
There are only three teams in the SEC worse at rebounding than Florida. Arkansas is one of them.

#8 Virginia Tech 
Scoring: Justin Robinson (13.8)
Rebounding: Chris Clarke (6.5)
Assists: Justin Robinson (5.6)
Justin Bibs (13.1 PPG)
Kerry Blackshear Jr. (12.6 PPG)
Ahmed Hill (10.8 PPG)
Nickeil Alexander-Walker (10.5 PPG)

What they do well
Right behind conference champion Virginia, at the top of the ACC three-point shooting mountain is their in-state rival. The Hokies can score on the inside too, leading the conference in overall field goal percentage. With five players averaging in double figures, this is the most talented team Va Tech has had in quite some time. But will they be able to win a game before their time in the tournament is up?

What could be their downfall
Just like the two teams mentioned above them, the Hokies struggle with rebounding, ranking 12th of 16 ACC teams. You have to box out, fellas.

#9 Alabama 
Scoring: Collin Sexton (19)
Rebounding: Donta Hall (6.8)
Assists: Collin Sexton (3.5)
John Petty (10.1 PPG)
Dazon Ingram (9.9 PPG)
Braxton Key (7.3 PPG)
What they do well
Any team that has a talent like Sexton can make some noise. But the fact that the Tide have 15 losses with Sexton on the roster should tell you something about the talent around him. If Sexton is on, 'Bama has a chance. If he isn't, it probably doesn't.

What could be their downfall
Sexton having an off night.

#10 Butler 
Scoring: Kelan Martin (20.8)
Rebounding: Kelan Martin (6.2)
Assists: Aaron Thompson (3.2)
Kamar Baldwin (15.5 PPG)
Paul Jorgensen (10.5 PPG)
Tyler Wideman (9.4 PPG)
What they do well
Butler is known for playing mistake-free basketball. The Bulldogs won't beat anybody based on physical talent, but they are well disciplined, as evidenced by the fact that they are second in the Big East in turnover margin. Teams that don't make a lot of mistakes are preferable to teams that do, and because of that, Butler is, once again, dancing.

What could be their downfall
Butler isn't the most gifted team in the world. While smart basketball is great, it's hard to beat a team that's loaded with talent, and the Bulldogs aren't that type of team. In particular, Butler ranks near the bottom of the Big East in three-point shooting.

#11 UCLA
Scoring: Aaron Holliday (20.3)
Rebounding: Thomas Welsh (10.7)
Assists: Aaron Holliday (5.8)
Kris Wilkes: 13.8 PPG
Jaylen Hands: 10.1 PPG
Prince Ali: 9.0 PPG
What they do well
Guessing that the Bruins get past St. Bonaventure in Tuesday's play-in game, Florida will have to deal with one of the nation's best point guards in Holliday, as well as a pretty solid bunch of scorers behind him. The Bruins were second in the PAC 12 in scoring, and in a conference with teams like Arizona and Arizona State, that's saying something. The Bruins can score with the best of them, and they will need to do that to make a run.

What could be their downfall
There aren't a lot of PAC 12 teams that score as well as the Bruins, and there aren't a lot that defend as poorly. Being 10th of 12 teams in defense speaks for itself, so if UCLA goes far, it won't be because they won a first-to-50 type of game.

#12 Murray State 
Scoring: Jonathan Stark (21.8)
Rebounding: Terrell Miller Jr. (8.3)
Assists: JA Morant (6.4)
Shaq Buchanan (9.2 PPG)
Byron Hawkins (7.1 PPG)
What they do well
To beat West Virginia, the Racers will need to take care of the basketball. Fortunately, Murray State ranked second in the Ohio Valley Conference with a 1.2 assist/turnover ratio, so they may be in luck. With players like Stark and Miller as offensive weapons, the Racers can score. It's just a matter of if they will have the ball long enough to do so.

What could be their downfall? 
Murray State could find itself in the Sweet 16, or it could lose in the first round. It's hard to see a real weakness with the Racers, except for maybe the fact their conference doesn't provide them with the best competition. If Murray State is on, it could go places, and screw up a few brackets along the way.

#13 Marshall 
They're beating Wichita State. Book it.

#14 Stephen F. Austin 
They're beating Texas Tech. Book it.

#15 Iona
They're not beating Purdue. Book it.

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