The East Region could easily be considered “the bracket of big names.” Headlining this you have North Carolina, but then Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Notre Dame. These are all teams that have made significant runs in the tournament in the past and especially recent history. This completely ignores Xavier, who has had several successful years in their own right. The most interesting first round matchup to me will be Kentucky and Stony Brook. Kentucky touts arguably the best backcourt in the country in Ulis and Murray while the Seawolves will unleash Jameel Warney to try to make the upset.
Players to watch in the region: Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Brice Johnson (North Carolina), Kris Dunn (Providence), Ben Bentil (Providence), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Tyler Ulis (Kentucky), Jamaal Murray (Kentucky), Jameel Warney (Stony Brook), Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin).
Bold Prediction of the Region: Wisconsin will reach the Sweet Sixteen for the third consecutive year.
Regional Champion Prediction: West Virginia
Click Read More to see my analysis for each game. All times are eastern.
1 NORTH CAROLINA vs. 16 Florida Gulf Coast, Thursday 7:20pm on TBS – To me, this seems like a no-brainer in the first round. We haven’t seen a 16 knock off a 1 seed yet, and we won’t see it here. I like UNC to make it to Saturday.
8 Southern California vs. 9 PROVIDENCE, Thursday 9:50pm on TBS – These teams are a combined 1-13 against the RPI top-25, but this should be a competitive game. When it comes to tournament time, however, close games are won by leadership, and that’s what Providence has in Kris Dunn. The talented senior can carry the Friars through a first round game. Oh, and Ben Bentil is alright, too.
5 INDIANA vs. 12 Chattanooga, Thursday 7:10pm on CBS – Has IU looked great recently? No, but I don’t see them going out here. The 12/5 matchup might be the favorite upset pick, but in a game ruled by guard play, I can only expect Yogi Ferrell to go get this win for the Hoosiers.
4 KENTUCKY vs. 13 Stony Brook, Thursday 9:40pm on CBS – I was really upset when I saw this matchup, because I loved Stony Brook as a potential upset pick. However, the Seawolves drew Kentucky, who just seems to find ways to win in March. Jameel Warney can really play inside, but Kentucky’s guard play from Ulis and Murray should prove to be too much.
6 Notre Dame vs. 11 Michigan/Tulsa, Friday 9:40pm on CBS – I will edit this game’s analysis following the First Four game between Michigan and Tulsa.
3 WEST VIRGINIA vs. 14 Stephen F. Austin, Friday 7:10pm on CBS – Press Virginia. I think it is important to note that SFA lost to Baylor this season by 42, while WV won both meetings with the Bears. Stephen F. Austin had a great season, but I think West Virginia is a very dangerous 3 seed and will have more games to come.
7 WISCONSIN vs. 10 Pittsburgh, Friday 6:50pm on TNT – Wisconsin might not have looked good in their last two games (actually they looked awful against Nebraska), but those losses might be the best thing that could have happened to them. The Badgers have had time to rest their stars and I expect freshman Ethan Happ to have another double-double in a Badgers victory.
2 XAVIER vs. 15 Weber State, Friday 9:20pm on TNT – We have seen a few 15 over 2 games in the last few years, but I am not going to be that bold. We will see if the Big East shows up for the tournament this year, but the Musketeers will move on to the Second Round.
And that’s all I have for now, so this is me…signing off. -Lukas.