Villanova is the top seed in the East Region of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, but teams such as Purdue, Texas Tech and West Virginia will look to make a run to the Final Four and get by the sharp-shooting Wildcats.
Matt Painter’s second-seeded Boilermakers haven’t beaten an NCAA Tournament team since January 25, but this may be his best chance yet to reach his first Final Four behind Carsen Edwards and Co. Meanwhile, the third-seeded Red Raiders have lost a lot of steam down the stretch, perhaps due to a combination of injuries as well as a very difficult Big 12 slate. Can they regain their mojo? A possible physical Sweet 16 game between the Boilermakers and Red Raiders may loom.
Texas Tech won’t be able to get there, though, unless star Keenan Evans is healthy. He struggled with his shooting touch in late February before he had to miss a game against West Virginia after he was dealing with turf toe. His injury has improved, but he’s such a key for this veteran squad as the 6-foot-3 guard was a first-team All-Big 12 selection after averaging 17.5 points per game.
Potential Cinderellas: St. Bonaventure has a very tough task as it has to play a First Four game in Dayton against UCLA. But the backcourt combination of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley combine to average 38.3 points per game, and the duo can put the Mark Schmidt-coached Bonnies on their back and win a couple of games. Keep in mind that the Bruins have lost three of their last five games and earned a tourney berth over league rival USC because of head-to-head wins.
Then there is LaVall Jordan’s Butler team, which is a much better squad than its double-digit seeding indicates. Kelan Martin averages 20.8 points per game while Kamar Baldwin (15.5) has been a very good sidekick.
Meanwhile, Matt McMahon’s Murray State squad has won 13 games in a row behind the play of JUCO transfer Terrell Miller Jr. and could end up in a shootout with WVU, which could face another high-tempo matchup in the round-of-32 against Wichita State.
Then there’s Collin Sexton. Can he put on his Superman cape and lead Alabama to a potential win over ‘Nova? There is a chance we will see this region’s two best players square off in the round-of-32 with ‘Nova point guard Jalen Brunson facing Sexton. But ‘Bama has to get past No. 8 Virginia Tech first. This is a Hokies squad that was bounced from the ACC Tournament quickly, but the Hokies have wins this season over Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Clemson. Chris Clarke is a glue player who can be a difference-maker for the Hokies.
Meanwhile, Alabama lost 15 games this season, including some ugly ones against UCF, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Ole Miss. It ended the regular season on a five-game losing streak but was able to win a pair of games against No. 8-seed Texas A&M and No. 1-seed Auburn in the SEC Tournament. The Crimson Tide are dangerous because of their freshman guard who has been compared to Russell Westbrook.
Other notes: Brunson is Villanova’s floor general who is so fundamentally sound that he isn’t going to be on a ton of highlight reels. But the 6-foot-3 junior is very experienced after helping the Wildcats win the NCAA title in his freshman season, and his clutch nature makes this ‘Nova backcourt so dangerous along with Mikal Bridges as the ‘Cats look to claim their second title in three years.
My pick: Purdue