Men's Basketball 2017 NCAA Tournament East Regional Overview

East Regional Overview
The East Region has two main storylines this year. For one, it is home to the defending champs, the Villanova Wildcats. They are the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed. The second thing that defines the East this March is slug-it-out defenses. These games could be rock fights, with numerous contenders known for their slow pace and tightly packed defense.
Who Can Win?
Villanova is the obvious favorite here to reach the Final Four. However, Duke is a scary opponent. Though the seeding doesn’t technically represent this, the Blue Devils feel like the best 2-seed in the tournament. Outside of those two heavy-hitters, Baylor and SMU have a chance, but everyone else feels like a long shot.
Who Can Surprise?
SMU is a tremendously talented 6-seed. The Mustangs probably deserved to be ranked higher. They strolled through the AAC regular season and conference tournament. Their half of this East region feels like the much harder half, but the Mustangs could still bounce some favorites. By playing a rotation of six essentially interchangeable parts, SMU can switch everything on defense and create multiple mismatches on offense. It is a tricky team to take down.
Who’s Hot?
Since it is hard to take down SMU, it goes to reason that few teams this season have been able to do just that. This squad went 30-4 on the year and has won 16 consecutive games heading into the Big Dance. Three of its four losses came before conference play began, so dating it back just a bit farther, SMU has won 26 of its last 27 ballgames. Interestingly, one of its few losses came against a USC team that it could be playing right out of the gate, depending on what the Trojans do in their First Four contest.
Who’s Cold?
The Baylor Bears have had a brutal second half to the season. After starting the year 20-1 and taking the nation by storm, Baylor lost six of its final 11 games of the season. It was a tough stretch of basketball, with two losses coming against Kansas and three more coming against Kansas State and Iowa State, but this is still not a positive note. The heights that this team reached out-of-conference remain scary, but it has to get back on the right track pretty quickly.
South Carolina has found similar difficulties these past two months. The Gamecocks lost six of their final nine games against far worse opponents than Baylor. They also don’t possess the ceiling of Baylor. South Carolina is certainly the more worrisome team in the midst of a cold spell.
Upset Alert!
There are a number of possible upsets pending in the first round of the East. Twelve-seed UNC Wilmington has the offensive firepower to unseat Virginia. With a top-10 scoring offense and abilities from deep to take down anyone, UVA will actually need a reasonably good offensive showing to advance out of this one. The Cavaliers won’t be able to win with their slow pace and packed defense alone.
The 10-seed Marquette Golden Eagles can follow a nearly identical script to upset number seven South Carolina. The latter is a superb defensive squad with offensive issues, while the former is a gun-slinging bunch that can light up the scoreboard. Marquette is the best three-point shooting team in the country and runs out a never-ending cavalcade of guys who can launch. Sindarius Thornwell and company are certainly on notice for Carolina.
What Possible Matchup is Interesting?
Virginia facing either Wisconsin or Virginia Tech in the Regional Semis would be interesting. Either is unlikely to happen, since it would require a Villanova upset very early on. However, UVA versus Wisconsin would be simply fascinating. Which team can play slower? Who causes more shot clock violations? Does either team reach 40 points? And, of course, UVA versus VT would be a fun one for those fan bases. It feels like nothing more than a dream though.
Outside of the top seeds playing each other, the other highly entertaining late matchup would also include the Hokies. Imagining Virginia Tech facing Marquette brings oodles of fun. Both teams love to get up and down and endlessly launch threes. The game would be the antithesis of UVA/Wisconsin. Also, the match would see VT coach Buzz Williams facing his old school, a school that he put on the map. A 9-seed versus a 10-seed in the Elite Eight isn’t happening, but it would be unbelievable.
Which Player Will Dominate?
The player who may score the most points in a game in the East is East Tennessee State’s T.J. Cromer. It is likely to come in a losing effort, though, even if it happens. Baylor’s Johnathan Motley is the best bet to run through multiple games as the best player. He is his team’s leading scorer and rebounder, as well as an absolute force on the defensive end. Depending on who advances, Motley could have massive size advantages through multiple rounds as well.
Which System is Tough to Prepare For?
The 18 teams in the East Region this year are incredibly diverse in terms of strengths. They seem to run the gamut, always on the extremes. Half the region is elite defensively, with great shortcomings scoring the basketball. According to, six of the top 14 defensive teams in the country are in this region. Another batch is high-powered when it has the ball but very weak in basket prevention. Six of the top 22 offensive teams nationwide are also in this region.
The scary part for opponents is one of these squads ranks in the top 12 in both metrics: Villanova. I know; the Wildcats are number one for a reason. But the balance of this team is uncanny, both in terms of execution on the court, as well as whom the team asks to execute. There is no obvious weakness. Villanova doesn’t try to trick anyone with a fluky system. It is just better than everyone else.