2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: The East Region is absolutely loaded

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The East Region is, generally speaking, usually the most difficult region for the simple reason that there are more really good college basketball programs clustered into a smaller geographic area than anywhere else in the country.

With the way that bracketing principles allow the best teams to remain as close to home as possible, it only makes sense that this is how it works out.

Last year, we thought that was the case when Villanova was the No. 1 seed and Duke was the No. 2 seed.

And then No. 7 seed South Carolina beat No. 4 seed Florida to get to the Final Four.

This year, it’s not quite as difficult as some of the regions.

But there is still plenty of intrigue.

And still Villanova.


  1. Can Villanova get back to a Final Four?: During this five-year stretch where Villanova has one of the most successful programs in the sport, they have won one NCAA tournament and been knocked out in the second round of the other three. This year, they look like the heavy favorites to be able to get out of the region, but they are also in line to potentially see Collin Sexton in the second round. Uh-oh …
  2. Will Purdue put on for the Big Ten?: The conference has been crucified this season. Only four teams from the league earned a bid to the Big Dance, and no one from the conference earned a No. 1 seed. In fact, the league’s regular season champ and tournament champ are both on the No. 3 seed line. Purdue probably has the easiest path of them all to get to a Final Four.
  3. There are so many good lead-guards in the East: From Jalen Brunson to Collin Sexton to Jevon Carter to Jonathan Stark to Landry Shamet to Jon Elmore to Chris Chiozza to Jaylen Adams to Aaron Holiday to Keenan Evans to Daryl Macon to Carsen Edwards. Whoa.

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 3 Texas Tech

Villanova is just so good on the nights when their threes are dropping, and if what we saw in the Big East tournament is any indication, all those concerns about this team struggling down the stretch of the regular season can get pushed aside. They have struggled with dynamic guards in the past, which is what worries me about the matchup with Alabama, but I can’t see a West Virginia team that will try to press them (bad idea) or a Wichita State team that can’t defend (again, bad idea) beating them.

I’m probably going to be on an island here, but I think that Texas Tech is being criminally undervalued. They are one of the nation’s elite defensive teams, but they also have a star point guard on their roster in Keenan Evans that can take over a game and is not afraid of taking, and making, big shots. Is he healthy enough to carry them? I think he is.


This is such an easy pick, but they are the most difficult team in the bracket to accurately project. The Gators are the most dangerous team in the tournament because when they get hot, they cannot miss even when they want to. But the problem is that they are a team of streaky shooters and tough-shot makers, and teams like that are notoriously inconsistent. I can see them averaging 100 points and getting to the Final Four and I can see them losing by 25 to both UCLA and St. Bonaventure.

Keenan Evans (John Weast/Getty Images)


  • No. 9 Alabama over No. 1 Villanova: I mentioned this earlier, but when Villanova loses, it’s when they miss threes and play against a talented lead guard. Alabama has Collin Sexton, is the nation’s 13th-best defense and holds opponents to 31.9 percent shooting from three.
  • No. 13 Marshall over No. 4 Wichita State: Marshall is coached by Dan D’antoni, Mike’s brother. They run and gun more than any team in the country, and Wichita State has been nowhere near what we think they would be defensively this season.
  • No. 11 St. Bonaventure or No. 11 UCLA over No. 6 Florida: It’s worth a look. If you think Florida is going to go cold, pick the upset.


Murray State is not going to beat West Virginia. Press Virginia can wear down lesser teams with lesser guards, and as good as Jonathan Stark and Ja Morant are, I don’t think they’ve quite seen anything like what the Mountaineers are going to throw at them. I would stay away from this 5-12 upset.


  • JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova: Brunson was our National Player of the Year.
  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: If the Boilermakers are going to make a run in this tournament, Edwards is going to be the guy that carries the load.
  • KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: He is the one guy in this tournament that I think can go on a Kemba Walker/Shabazz Napier-esque run.


  • JAYLEN ADAMS, St. Bonaventure: If you haven’t had a chance to see this kid play yet, he’ll be going up against Aaron Holiday of UCLA in the best individual matchup I can ever remember in the First Four.
  • JONATHAN STARK, Murray State: I know I just dumped all over him and Murray State, but if the Racers are going to pick off West Virginia, he’s going to be the guy that carries the load.
  • JON ELMORE, Marshall: His numbers (22.8 ppg, 6.9 apg, 6.0 rpg) are the same numbers that Markelle Fultz averaged last season.


St. Bonaventure vs. UCLA in the play-in game is must-see TV. It’s the first time I’ve ever been excited about a First Four matchup.


As a man that loves to see teams shoot the three-ball, getting Villanova vs. Purdue in the Elite 8 would be a dream come true.


Villanova. I’m going to have a hard time not picking the winner of a Villanova-Duke matchup in the Final Four to win the National Title.

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta:Ā Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles:Ā Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They haveĀ a coupleĀ dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.