Over the past couple of days, Jeremy and Sam have been releasing a breakdown of each of the first round matchups in the NCAA Tournament, along with second round matchups based on those breakdowns. These are meant to serve as a guide to help you understand each of the matchups and individual teams a bit better, in hopes of helping you pick the coveted perfect bracket. Monday, we started with the South region, and yesterday we continued with the West region. Today, we’ll be focusing on the East region, which can be found in the upper right-hand corner of your bracket.
1 Villanova (RPI: 2, Kenpom: 2) vs. 16 Radford/LIU Brooklyn (RPI: 170/252, Kenpom: 309/249)
Villanova is back in the 1 spot for a second straight year and they are hungry. Still bitter from their early exit from the tourney last year, they tore through the Big East, winning the conference tournament as the 2 seed. They are bolstered by three NPOY candidates in Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, and Jalen Brunson. They’ll have no problem getting past the winner of the 16/16 play-in game.
8 Virginia Tech (RPI: 57, KenPom: 32) vs. 9 Alabama (RPI: 41, KenPom: 51)
This is arguably the most interesting 8/9 matchup this year. Virginia Tech has an eccentric coach in Buzz Williams, a dynamic stretch 4 in Chris Clarke, and a seasoned senior PG in Justin Bibbs. Alabama had to impress in the SEC tournament to get a bid and did just that. Led by NBA prospect Collin Sexton, they can overwhelm teams with spacing and movement. With Sexton, it’s difficult to believe a dangerous team like Alabama will be bounced this early.
5 West Virginia (RPI: 29, Kenpom: 13) vs. 12 Murray St (RPI: 50, Kenpom: 59)
Murray State has the formula for an upset. They shoot the ball very well and are entering the tournament hot, winning their last 13 games. West Virginia has been right on the cusp of the elite teams all season, but faltered in the last third of the season. Led by seniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, they can defend just about any team and make their life difficult. West Virginia should win this as long as they don’t have one of their trademark collapses.
4 Wichita St. (RPI: 14, Kenpom: 20) vs. 13 Marshall (RPI: 87, Kenpom: 114)
This will be a high-scoring, fast-paced game. Marshall runs the court and likes to quickly shoot 3s, which leads to much of their success. Wichita State was upset by Houston in the American tournament, leading to a low bid for being in the AP top-10 all season. Coach Greg Marshall has established himself as one of the premier coaches in the game, bringing the Shockers into basketball relevance despite the school’s low national profile. Landry Shamet will likely lead Wichita State to at least the second round, as long as Marshall doesn’t speed up the game too much.
6 Florida (RPI: 43, Kenpom: 23) vs. 11 St Bonaventure/UCLA St (RPI: 24/36, Kenpom: 69/48)
Florida has been one of the most inconsistent teams in recent memory. They’ve been ranked as high as #5 with great wins like Gonzaga and Cincinnati, but have horrid losses like Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. They’re led by guard Chris Chiozza, known for his buzzer-beater last march against Wisconsin. Both of the play-in teams they might face will have upset potential, so this game comes down to which version of Florida shows up.
3 Texas Tech (RPI: 21, Kenpom: 12) vs. 14 SFA (RPI: 104, Kenpom: 111)
The location of this game will play a major factor. These Texas-based teams will meet in Dallas, and the fanbases should turn out in force. What’s more, SFA has a habit of upsets, winning a game in last two of its last three tournaments as a 12 and a 14. Tech has a fantastic backcout anchored by Keenan Evans, an All-American. Tech limped into the postseason, but they definitely have the edge against non-Big-12 opponents.
7 Arkansas (RPI: 30, Kenpom: 37) vs. 10 Butler (RPI: 37, Kenpom: 35)
Arkansas seems to be a perennial middle-seeded team. They very often win just one game and don’t make much noise, but this year could be different with how well they performed in the SEC. Butler on the other hand is well known for making runs out of nowhere and getting hot at the right time. When it comes down to it, Arkansas’ solid offense will likely be able to counteract Butler’s suspect defense, but anything can happen in this matchup.
2 Purdue (RPI: 9, Kenpom: 5) vs. 15 CSU Fullerton (RPI: 134, Kenpom: 153)
Purdue is built from the inside out, with the best frontcourt in the country in Isaac Haas, the Ivan Drago doppelganger, and Matt Haarms. Their backcourt is also nothing to be trifled with, as the Edwards, Carsen and Vincent trio can be a handful for anyone to guard. Fullerton gets an unfortunate draw, as their best quality, the ability to score in the paint, will be neutralized by Purdue’s mountains in the middle.
1 Villanova (RPI: 2, Kenpom: 2) vs. 9 Alabama (RPI: 41, KenPom: 51)
Last season, Villanova lost in the second round to the winner of the 8/9 game, but a lot would have to go wrong for that to happen this season. Alabama’s star guard Collin Sexton has the ability to change games by himself, but against a team like Villanova, he’ll need some serious help, and likely won’t get it. Alabama’s KenPom 113th ranked offense won’t be able to take down Villanova’s KenPom 22nd ranked defense without a miracle.
5 West Virginia (RPI: 29, Kenpom: 13) vs. 4 Wichita St. (RPI: 14, Kenpom: 20)
One of the keys to this game will be Wichita State’s defense. We know that the Shockers can score well with Landry Shamet and Shaq Morris leading the way, but the question will be whether or not they’ll be able to stop Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles from scoring. The Shockers will also have to make sure to be careful with the ball, with the Mountaineers constantly ready to jump on any opportunity to force a turnover. The Shockers have the advantage over an inconsistent WVU if they can figure out how to do those two things.
6 Florida (RPI: 43, Kenpom: 23) vs. 3 Texas Tech (RPI: 21, Kenpom: 12)
The Gators and Red Raiders both had rocky ends to the season, with Florida losing four of their last seven, and Tech losing five of their last seven. It’s honestly amazingly lucky that both of these teams are in a good situation to reach the Sweet 16. In a game like this which seems like a toss-up due to a lack of momentum appears on my bracket, I like to always revert to defense, which is where Texas Tech has a huge advantage over Florida.
7 Arkansas (RPI: 30, Kenpom: 37) vs. 2 Purdue (RPI: 9, Kenpom: 5)
This game will be fought in the paint, with a true “Battle of the Bigs” taking place between Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford and Purdue’s Isaac Haas, both of whom we could soon be watching play on an NBA court. Outside of that close matchup, this game seems to point well in favor of the Boilermakers, who are far more efficient than the Razorbacks both on offense and defense according to KenPom. Arkansas has had a surprisingly good season, but it may very well come to an end without a trip to the second weekend.
Continue to follow Maryland Sports Blog for more coverage on the road to the Final Four in San Antonio.