The East Region almost went chalk in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The No. 9, 10 and 13 seeds won in the first round. However, all three seeds lost in the Round of 32. Therefore, we have the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the Sweet 16 field. The lowest seed to advance is No. 5 West Virginia Mountaineers and they were a Top 5 team at one point. In all, the seeds amount to a total of 11. Keep in mind, two of the brackets have an 11 seed in the Sweet 16.
All four teams come from the Power 5 conferences. The Villanova Wildcats represent the Big East. The Purdue Boilermakers out of the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the Big 12 has two teams in the field with Texas Tech and the aforementioned Mountaineers. Overall, the four teams in the East Region have lost 29 games. They have combined for nine Final Fours and two national titles won by Villanova. Their latest title came in 2016.
Host City- Boston, MA
1 Villanova Wildcats (32-4) Big East – Next Game vs. West Virginia
How They Got Here: Wins vs. 16 Radford 87-61, 9 Alabama 81-58
The Villanova Wildcats spent eight weeks at No. 1 in the AP Top 25. Their lowest ranking was in the preseason when they started at No. 6. Otherwise, the Wildcats played every week in the Top 5. They have been under pressure all season from teams trying to knock them off. During the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it was the Wildcats delivering the knockout punch. They won both games by 24.5 points per game. The offense was great. Remember, the Wildcats have six players scoring in double figures. However, the defense has been even better. The Wildcats are holding opponents to 59.5 points per game in two contests. They have won seven straight games.
X-Factor – Omari Spellman: Man, the Wildcats have so many players that can shoot the three. Their two leading scorers are juniors. Their third leading scorer comes of the bench to decimate opponents. However, the Wildcats have a center that might find the most room early in their matchup against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Spellman shoots almost 44 percent from 3-point range. He is scoring 10.6 points per game. Spellman also leads the Wildcats with 7.9 rebounds per game. So far, Spellman has scored 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament.
5 West Virginia Mountaineers (26-10) Big 12 – Next Game vs. Villanova
How They Got Here: Wins vs. 12 Murray State 85-68, 13 Marshall 94-71
The West Virginia Mountaineers might be the most impressive team in the NCAA Tournament thus far. They are averaging 20 points per victory. They are forcing 17 turnovers per game. The Mountaineers are also dishing out 18.5 assists in two tournament games. Meaning, they are playing fantastic basketball and they have a legitimate chance to upset their former Big East foe. Lately, the Mountaineers have had a problem with consistency, so winning three straight has happened once since January 9th. The Mountaineers haven’t reached the Final Four since 2010.
X-factor- Jevon Carter: If there’s one thing the Mountaineers don’t have to worry about, it’s Jevon Carter. He plays as hard as any basketball player. Carter averages 17.4 points, 6.6 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 3 steals per game. He also shoots 40 percent from 3-point range. However, Carter has to be an elite shooter for the Mountaineers in the Sweet 16. There are times that the Mountaineers can go through a cold shooting streak. That’s when Carter can’t disappear offensively.
3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (26-9) Big 12 – Next Game vs. Purdue
How They Got Here: Wins vs. Stephen F. Austin 70-60, Florida 69-66
I said it before the NCAA Tournament started and I’ll say it now. There is one reason why the Texas Tech Red Raiders are still playing. They are that good at basketball. Oh yeah, Keenan Evans stepped up to the plate in a major fashion to help the Red Raiders make their first Sweet 16 since 2005. The Red Raiders were put through the ringer in their first-round game against Stephen F. Austin. However, the high-flying offense and tremendous defense got the job done down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders survived some late turnovers and 3-point attempts by Florida to advance in the second round. Now, they are looking to go where this program has never been. The Red Raiders are the only team in this region to never play in the Final Four. They are two games away.
X-factor- Zhaire Smith: Yes, Zhaire Smith had one of the first highlights of the NCAA Tournament with his ‘360’ ish alley-oop dunk in the Round of 64. He was even better in the games. Smith warmed up with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists in the first-round win over Stephen F. Austin. He dominated in the second-round with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. The freshman is averaging 14 points 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the NCAA Tournament. But we must know if the moment will be too big for him on Friday? Likely, Smith will be guarding one of the senior wings on the Purdue Boilermakers. Will he get the first nod on Vince Edwards? Maybe, Smith will cover Dakota Mathias.
2 Purdue Boilermakers (30-6) Big Ten – Next Game vs. Texas Tech
How They Got Here: Wins vs. Cal State Fullerton 74-48, Butler 76-73
The Purdue Boilermakers had a relatively easy time in their first-round win over Cal State Fullerton. That was, until center Isaac Haas fractured his elbow late in the second half. Now, the Boilermakers are likely without Haas for the rest of the tournament. However, they survived their first game against the Butler Bulldogs. A big three by Dakota Mathias helped send the Boilermakers to the Sweet 16. It’s a place that seemed like a foregone conclusion in January. Even without Haas, the Boilermakers still have three double digit scorers. However, they are going against a tremendous defensive team on Friday. Haas is one player that can dominate on the offensive end in the paint. Clearly, the Boilermakers are more of a perimeter team now. They are scoring 80 points per game this season. However, the Boilermakers have yet to reach that mark in two NCAA Tournament games. They haven’t reached the Final Four since 1980.
X-factor- Dakota Mathias: The Boilermakers have six losses this season. Dakota Mathias didn’t reach double figures in four of those losses. During their three-game losing streak in February, Mathias scored 5.3 points per game. So far, Matthias is averaging 9.5 points per game in the tournament. He is shooting over 45 percent from 3-point range in the tournament. However, Mathias is more than a third scorer on the team. He is averaging 4.5 rebounds and 3 assists in the tournament. Normally, Mathias is producing 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4 assists, while shooting 46 percent from three. Therefore, he has some improvement to his game that can push the Boilermakers over the edge. That 3-point make against the Bulldogs may have been the start.
Friday 7:27 p.m.
5 West Virginia vs. 1 Villanova
3 Texas Tech vs. 2 Purdue