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2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: East Region


NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Mount St Mary's vs Villanova Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Sick of hard-hitting analysis of the 2018 NCAA Tournament? Up to your eyeballs in expert picks chock-full of astute takes on players to watch and budding upsets?

Fear not, friends: your pals at Anonymous Eagle are here to inject some half-baked, homespun “insight” into the proceedings, with our annual region-by-region tour, as we go Anonymously Through the Brackets.

For each region, we’ll give you our patented Anonymous Eagle Half-Arsed Analysis with: a gutless pick to win the region; a sleeper regional champ; a CRUSH YOUR MAN upset special; a player/team we’d pay to watch; a player most likely to carry his team singlehandedly to the Sweet 16; and the best player in the region that you’ve never heard of before.

Without further ado, here’s Connor on the East......

The East region is filled with non-sexy teams who just straight up know how to play ball and get the job done, which is why there are a strong number of Final Four contenders, and also a strong number of upset candidates. With perennial powers like Villanova and Purdue at the top and former Cinderellas Butler and Stephen F. Austin hanging around, the East, while maybe not providing a lot of fireworks at first glance, certainly has the ability to produce some all-time classic games.

One thing I find pretty funny about the East is that it’s filled with teams that were preseason media darlings to make a deep run in March. That starts with 4-seed Wichita State, AKA Every Sportswriter’s Favorite Team. And really, they can’t be blamed, with guys like Landry Shamet and Shaquille Morris leading the way. Plus, Conner Frankamp, who’s a human Bruce Springsteen song.

West Virginia also gets a ton of love every year, probably because of Press Virginia and Bob Huggins’ quarter zips, and they rocketed to the top of the polls during the non-conference season, peaking at No. 2 in that first week of conference play. I just never find this team very enjoyable. But here they are. A 5-seed.

Florida is another one, and one that I really thought would be better than they were. But they faltered early, losing three in a row, and looked inconsistent ever since. They do still have the type of team capable of making the Final Four — good shooters, good defense and Chris Chiozza — but the regular season sure convinced people to not put their faith in the Gators.

I think Alabama could also be considered “disappointing,” when you consider how much people loved Avery Johnson’s recruiting class, but it took a last second miracle from Collin Sexton (who is awesome) in the SEC Tournament to punch their ticket. But with Sexton playing like this, anything is possible. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLLLLEEEEEE.

No one in this region blows me away except for Villanova’s offense. I actually think the whole concept of Purdue is to not blow you away and then, when they make the Final Four, make you question why you didn’t think they were capable of it all season. But anyways, yeah, there isn’t a team here that I think is going to wreck everything in their path on the way to a Final Four berth, so I can’t wait for a team to wreck everything in their path on the way to a Final Four berth.

GUTLESS WONDER Pick to Win The Region

Villanova The Wildcats, I strongly believe, are the best team in the country. The best offense Jay Wright has maybe ever had is led by two bona fide college superstars in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. What’s so scary about this team is that Brunson is deservedly getting a ton of love for National Player of the Year, but on some nights, he doesn’t even look like the best player on his team when Bridges or another Wildcat goes off. Behind those two, they have role players who would be the go-to guy on so many other teams, like Donte “The Michael Jordan of Delaware” DiVincenzo, Phil Booth and Big East Freshman of the Year Omari Spellman , just to name a few. Do they have the best defense in the world? Maybe not, but they put up 87 points a game, so sometimes that doesn’t even matter. I retract my earlier statement about this region having no sexy teams, because when Villanova is cookin’, it’s one of the most beautiful sights to see. Plus, their coach is allegedly a former GQ model (alleged by me, I alleged it myself).


Arkansas You know how every year people say that a team can make a run in the tournament if they have a guard that can carry the load, a la Kemba? OK, so keep that in mind, and now what if I told you that the Razorbacks had not one, but TWO guards who can catch fire and suddenly wind up in San Antonio? Well, it’s entirely possible with Mike Anderson’s team. Seniors Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon average 18 and 17 points per game, respectively, and shoot a scorching 43 and 42 percent from beyond the arc. Despite both of their adept abilities to score, they’re fairly different players. Barford is built like a tank and can muscle his way inside and on the glass, and Macon is long and wiry, able to lock up guys on the perimeter and make passes over and around the defense. They’re the ideal backcourt combo, really, and I dream about what they could do to teams if they both heat up. They have a pretty good cast of role players, most notably NBA Draft lottery prospect Daniel Gafford (12 ppg, 6.2 rpg) who is long, tall and bouncy, but if Barford and Macon are taking most of the shots, a lot of them will go in, and typically, teams that make shots win games. Woo pig.

CRUSH YOUR MAN Upset Special

(14) Stephen F. Austin over (3) Texas Tech There are a lot of things that could and should convince you not to do this, but I am going to make this very quick and easy: The Lumberjacks take you completely out of your offensive rhythm and every possession feels hurried, leading to bad passes, bad shots and just plain old bad basketball. In fact, they force turnovers on 26.2 percent of possessions, according to KenPom, which is the most in the country. I’ve seen them once in person this year and so maybe the fear they struck into my heart hasn’t left me, but they are going to make you wish you hadn’t stepped on the court. The reason I think they can beat the Red Raiders, who had an excellent season and are deserving of their seeding, is because the ‘Jacks dominate the pace, something Texas Tech likes to be slow, and rush everything. If I needed one word that would best describe SFA’s games, it would be “frantic,” and in the NCAA Tournament, that levels the playing field greatly. One caveat to this is that SFA rushes things too and doesn’t have the most efficient offense, but because they play so fast, they have plenty of opportunities. But sometimes you just gotta say “what the hell?” The game will be in Dallas, so fans of both teams should turn up in droves, making this a really fun first round matchup that sees the much lower-seeded team having a better chance than people might expect.

Player You’d Pay to Watch

Collin Sexton, Alabama Sexton lit the world on fire during the SEC Tournament, almost singlehandedly earning his team this bid. The freshman guard is hitting a hot streak at the perfect time, scoring 27, 31 and 21 in his three tournament games. Like I mentioned above with Barford and Macon, sometimes all it takes is one guy to go crazy, and next thing you know you’re playing in the Elite Eight. Sexton could very well be that guy. He plays at a breakneck pace, so much so that he seems unable to stop, but just when you think he’s out of control, he’ll pull a ridiculous move to make you look silly, like this one:

Sexton averaged 19 points, 3.8 boards and 3.5 assists per game in what should be his only season in Tuscaloosa, and has been fun to watch all year, but he’s ramping it up another level at the perfect time. My favorite part about the future NBA lottery pick is that it’s very apparent when you watch him just how much fun he has, and really, isn’t that what this is all about?

Also, he almost beat Minnesota in a quick game of 5-on-3.

The Chiropractor Special aka: Who Can Put The Team On His Back?

Jevon Carter, West Virginia Honestly, I’m going to keep this short, because by this time, you should know Jevon Carter. He’s been playing in Morgantown for 16 years, give or take a decade. And he’s incredible, don’t get me wrong, but it’s about time he’s done. But his one last hurrah might just be getting West Virginia to its first Final Four since 2010. Of course, West Virginia is a terror on defense (between the Mountaineers, Texas Tech and SFA, how did all of these defensive teams end up in the same region?), we know this, but sometimes it feels like Carter really has to drag them through the mud on offense. He’s averaging 17 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game for his team, which is another way of saying he does it all. WVU’s classic late-game offense is having Carter take deep, contested 3s, which is fun sometimes, and I’d be willing to bet that he’ll have to do that and so much more to get Bob Huggins back to the promised land.

Best Guy You’ve Never Heard Of

Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure - The East has a solid chunk of mid-major stars worth your time and YouTube attention, like Marshall’s Jon Elmore, Murray State’s Jonathan Stark and St. Bonaventure’s Matt Mobley, but I’m going to dedicate this section to Mobley’s teammate, and my favorite player in the country, Jaylen Adams. The dynamic 6-2 point guard is one of the best scorers in the country, turning in a clean 19.8 points per game, not to mention his 5.4 assists and 3.6 rebounds. He shoots 46 percent from 3-point range, so he will spray you in the face from NBA range, but if you make the mistake of coming out to contest him, he’ll blow right past you and get all the way to the rack for a bucket or kick it out to an open teammate. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Adams, as he’s been a dominant scorer for three years already, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to shout out one of the most exciting players in college basketball. He’s playing in the First Four tonight against UCLA, so pray that he makes it into the field of 64 so he can make some noise.