Men's Basketball 2017 NCAA Tournament East Region Round of 64 Game Breakdowns

East Region Round of 64 Game Breakdowns
The defending national champions Villanova Wildcats enter the 2017 NCAA Tournament as the number-one overall seed. Their reward is an opening game against either Mount Saint Mary’s or New Orleans. Villanova will look to become the first repeat champion in 25 years. It took care of business during the Big East regular season and enters the tournament with a deep and talented roster. Seniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins lead the Wildcat attack, but this team comfortably goes seven deep with reliable options. It is arguably the most balanced team in the country in terms of strengths across the board. From field-goal defense to free-throw shooting to taking care of the basketball, there isn’t much Villanova does poorly.
Mount St. Mary’s and New Orleans are obviously going to have a tough go of things if either one hopes to advance past the play-in game. The Mountaineers lost 11 of their first 12 games of the season before rallying in conference play and winning the NEC. They utilize an effective three-man punch of guards on offense but, overall, don’t shoot it great as a team. And that guard-heavy lineup usually leads to Mount St. Mary’s getting crushed on the glass. New Orleans feels like the favorite in this play-in match, thanks to the Privateers’ experience and balance. Their undoing is usually sloppy play and turnovers. That will doom them against Villanova, but it can be overcome in the first match.
The Wisconsin Badgers had extremely high expectations entering the season. Though they didn’t totally live up to them, they still advanced to the Big Ten title game and will be the favorite in a round-one tournament game. As always, the Badgers rely on their defense to win and they like to slow the pace. They finished with one of the 10 best scoring defenses in the country thanks to that style. This will be an interesting 8-9 matchup, because Wisconsin’s style is diametrically opposed to the way the Virginia Tech Hokies like to get out.
Virginia Tech is back in the Big Dance for the first time in a decade. It got here with a tight-knit rotation of chuckers that can flat-out score the basketball. The Hokies play just seven men after the injury to forward Chris Clarke. And the main rotation is just six. Those six guys are smallish but can all shoot. Virginia Tech led the ACC in three-point shooting and averaged nearly 80 points per game on the season. A slow shooting night dooms this team, but it hasn’t had one in quite a while.
It feels odd to see Virginia in the same quarter of a bracket with Wisconsin and Virginia Tech. Wisconsin is Virginia’s mirror image, while VT is its ultimate cross-sport rival. Of course, for the Cavaliers to have to worry about either one, they have a number of opponents to traverse. Virginia’s 54.9 points per game allowed was the very best mark in the country. Tony Bennett’s club likes to slow the pace, pack things in on defense, and allow London Perrantes to go to work when it has the basketball. They are careful with the basketball, don’t make mistakes, go 10 deep, and make it hard for the opponent to score. It is miserable playing UVA.
UNC Wilmington should be up to the task, though. The Seahawks are actually a good matchup for UVA despite the seed discrepancy. UNCW loves to shoot the ball from deep and does so often. With a top-10 scoring offense in the country, advancing through the first round will come down to shot-making against the premiere score-prevention team the Seahawks could face. They are porous themselves on defense, but Virginia has too few options to take advantage of that. Whichever team wins control over the pace and style of the contest will win when the final buzzer sounds.
Florida is not the same team it was just a few weeks back. Center John Egbunu has been lost for the year due to injury, and the remaining Gators struggle to protect the rim or control the paint without him. Florida’s strength is balance around the perimeter, where multiple upperclassmen guards can create mismatches and break down a defense. This squad also had one of the best defenses in the country, though it wilted just a tad down the stretch.
Trying to take advantage of a slumping Gators squad will be East Tennessee State. The Buccaneers are led by senior guard T.J. Cromer, who scores more than 19 points per game. As he goes, so goes the ETSU offense. Cromer made more than 200 field goals, 100 threes, and 100 free throws this season. His Buccaneer teammates also get to the foul line often, but no one else has quite enough offensive punch to support him properly. It will be hard for him to dominate a defense like Florida’s, with or without Egbunu in the middle.
#6 SMU vs. #11 Providence / USC
Despite demolishing the Cincinnati Bearcats in the AAC Championship, the SMU Mustangs were placed on the same 6-seed line as their conference peer. SMU only plays six guys, but those half dozen players make it one of the more formidable teams in the country. Folks missed this team from last year’s tournament only because it was ineligible; not because it was undeserving of inclusion. The Mustangs have an entire rotation of rotatable and interchangeable wings. All six guys are between 6-5 and 6-8. They can all handle the ball, shoot it, and defend anywhere on the court. Despite perhaps having no true point guard or big men, SMU was excellent on the boards and taking care of the basketball. It made an entire team out of quality wings.
Both Providence and USC will struggle to compete against that type of attack, but first one has to get by the other. The Friars run out a similar roster to SMU with two major exceptions. First, they aren’t as good of a basketball team. Second, they do use a point guard, and he is just five feet, 11 inches tall. USC has far more talent and length to its front. The Trojans just need to put it all together for a stretch of games. After starting off 14-0, USC had trouble in the Pac-12. One of its out-of-conference victories, though, came early in the year against the SMU Mustangs. Bennie Boatwright, a 6-10 forward, had a big game in that one. He and 6-11 Chimezie Metu will be the difference. If both have big games, the Trojans can control anything they want against the Friars.
The Baylor Bears haven’t gotten out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament in three years. They have another great chance to do so here. Baylor is big, long, and scary. Sometimes it struggles to score the basketball with less-than-elite guard play, but with how hard it is for opponents to score, it usually doesn’t matter. Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil combine for nearly four blocks per game on the inside, while opponents collectively shoot below 40 percent from the field against the Bears.
Baylor is a pretty bad matchup for the New Mexico State Aggies. In some respects, NMSU is kind of a poor man’s version of what Baylor does. The Aggies rely on defensive length inside and controlling the glass. They often have droughts on offense but lean on point prevention to get by. Unfortunately, they don’t have the athletes that Baylor does.
It has been quite a while since we’ve seen South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. The berth was well deserved this season. The Gamecocks bring it on the defensive end. They prevent opponents from scoring by forcing turnovers, defending the three-point line, and being aggressive in passing and driving lanes. South Carolina games are low-scoring slugfests that USC usually triumphs in. Though it plays nine deep, three main guys are responsible for the offense: Sindarius Thornwell, PJ Dozier, and Chris Silva inside. All three are needed for this team to score enough to win, even with an elite defense.
Marquette poses an interesting dilemma for South Carolina. The Golden Eagles are an insanely deep and balanced squad with the ability to reach incredible offensive heights. They can also fall on their faces and struggle to win possessions on the defensive end. This game is easily the most lopsided strength-against-strength matchup of the East Region, and that’s saying something. Seven different Marquette players average at least nine points per game. The team takes more than 10 threes per game and is the very best three-point shooting team in the country. It is lethal from all over the arc. With a guard-heavy attack, this is a very tricky opponent for the favored Gamecocks.
#2 Duke vs. #15 Troy
Despite assumptions that Duke could be given a 1-seed in March, the Blue Devils didn’t even end up as the best 2-seed. We know this because they were placed in Villanova’s region. No matter, because Duke certainly feels like the best 2-seed. This team has more playmakers than anyone else in the East. On any given possession, all of Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, and even Frank Jackson can make a play by themselves. With behemoths posted in the middle to boot, it is hard to find a weakness on this squad. Inconsistency plagued it during the middle of the year, as did major injuries and the absence of Coach K. All those issues seem to be solved. The only team that stands in the way of Duke advancing multiple rounds to begin this tournament is itself.
That is not good news for Troy. Give it up for the Trojans, though. Jordan Varnado and company had a quality season, meandering their way through the Sun Belt Conference. They have had quite a turnaround in recent years. Unfortunately, Troy doesn’t make enough shots to hang with the firepower of Duke in round one. Varnado usually poses a problem inside for opponents, but he doesn’t have enough size to bother the interior of the Blue Devils.