EAST REGIONAL BREAKDOWN:
The East Regional features six of the top 13 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and presents a formidable challenge for any of the contenders to emerge. It contains the ACC Conference Tournament Champ, Big East Conference Tournament and Regular Season Champ, American Conference co-Champ and Tourney Champ, and teams that finished in the top 3 in the Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC.
Best Odds to Win National Title: #2 Duke 6/1, #1 Villanova 17/2, #4 Florida 30/1, #6 SMU 30/1
Duke is the betting favorite entering the tournament, slightly ahead of Carolina. Villanova is tied for 3rd. SMU is a longshot but getting stronger play than a typical six seed.
Best First Round Matchup: #8 Wisconsin vs #9 Virginia Tech
Wisconsin probably deserved something better than an eight seed, after finishing second in the Big Ten and reaching the Final. They are capable of upsetting Villanova, but have to get through Buzz Williams (formerly of in-state rival Marquette) and Virginia Tech first.
Upset Special: #12 UNC-Wilmington vs #5 Virginia
UNC-Wilmington gets their second crack at an ACC team, after falling to Duke last year. The Seahawks are not big, and that size difference could come back to haunt them.
But this one presents one of those contrasting style games. Wilmington plays fast and is efficient on the offensive end, but can struggle to get stops against size. We know Virginia likes the much slower tempo. If Wilmington can get things going their way, and Virginia struggles with its shooting, the upset can be had.
Sleeper to Advance Deep: #6 SMU
SMU has to get past the play-in game winner between Providence and USC, and we’ve seen those teams coming out of Dayton continue with momentum on Thursday or Friday. The Mustangs are 30-4 and have won 16 straight games and 26 of the last 27, with the only loss coming to Cincinnati, who they defeated in the Conference Final.
They are a balanced team led by Shake Milton, and have enough versatility to play with a variety of styles in the tournament. If they get past the first round, it will set up a matchup with former Southwest Conference rival Baylor (two schools separated by less than 100 miles) in Tulsa.
Pick: #2 Duke
The Blue Devils rolled through the ACC Tournament, finally putting it all together. They battled injuries, Grayson Allen suspension drama and Coach K missing time. They also have more wins over top teams than anyone in the country and were the preseason favorite.
If Villanova and Duke can survive a tough region, it should set up a classic Regional Final.