The East Region has been the most stable of all of the NCAA Tournament brackets. The No. 5 West Virginia Mountaineers are the lowest seeded team. They were also a Top 10 team for six weeks. However, the carnage of the Big 12 forced the Mountaineers to take some questionable losses at the time. Now, they are in a Sweet 16 matchup with the No. 1 seed Villanova Wildcats. Both teams have been ranked in the Top 25 all season. In fact, the Wildcats have been in the Top 10 for the entirety of the year. In early January, these two teams were No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation. Therefore, this looks more like a Final Four game than a Sweet 16 matchup.
The other side of the region is in a similar place. The No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders and No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers were playing like No. 1 seeds for much of the year. Instead, they ended up on the same side of the bracket in the same region. Meaning, only one team will advance to the Elite 8. Clearly, injuries have been a huge factor for both programs.
It can’t be overstated how much Keenan Evans’ injury changed the NCAA Tournament pairings. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers lost starting center Isaac Haas in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. It’s likely that he never returns to the court. However, Haas will dress for the game.
5 West Virginia Mountaineers (26-10) vs. 1 Villanova Wildcats (32-4) -5.5
The Mountaineers force over 16 turnovers per game. The Wildcats only turn the ball over 10.4 times per game. This game will come down to who handles the pressure defense the best. If the Mountaineers get knocked back on their heels, that means Villanova is slicing through the press and getting open jump shots and dunks with their perimeter lineup. Keep in mind, the Wildcats start two point guards. They can play as much as three point guards at a time and even go with an all guard lineup if needed. However, they have plenty of forwards that are able to handle the ball. Yet, they have not seen this type of pressure this season.
Jevon Carter has led the defensive attack in the first two NCAA Tournament games. In similar fashion to the Wildcats, the Mountaineers have dominated their opponents. They have won by 20 points per game. The Wildcats have won by 24.5 points per game. This should be a high scoring contest, especially if West Virginia is hitting shots.
Also, keep an eye on Sagaba Konate. He averages over three blocked shots per game. Konate is also 1 of 4 players to score in double figures. However, the Wildcats have six players averaging double figures in points.
Score Prediction- Villanova 90 – West Virginia 83
3 Texas Tech Red Raiders (26-9) vs. 2 Purdue Boilermakers (30-6) -2
Texas Tech will play some of the most ferocious defense in the Sweet 16. Keenan Evans leads the Red Raiders with 17.8 points per game. However, it will be his defense on the perimeter that makes the difference in the game. The Red Raiders give up 64.6 points per game. The Boilermakers are scoring 80.8 points per game. Carsen Edwards leads the team with 18.2 points per game. Currently, they have three players scoring in double figures.
If Edwards gets contained, will Vince Edwards and Dakota Mathias play at an elite offensive level. Both wing players have the ability to go for 20 points. However, the Red Raiders have solid matchups and can play above the rim. However, some of these players are freshman, while Edwards and Mathias are seniors looking to make their first Final Four. But first, they need to get to the Elite 8.
Keep in mind, the Boilermakers also play Top 25 scoring defense. They give up 65.4 points per game. Yet, something tells me this game may play at a faster more fluid offensive level on Friday night. That bodes well for the Red Raiders. They will need easy transition baskets to get by Purdue.
Score Prediction- Texas Tech 75 – Purdue 70