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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.

THREE STORYLINES

  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.

THE FINAL FOUR SLEEPER IS … No. 6 Florida

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)

HERE ARE YOUR UPSETS

  • 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.

BUT DON’T PICK THIS 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.

THE STUDS

  • 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.

THE STARS OF MARCH

  • 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.

ONE GAME TO WATCH

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.

ONE GAME THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

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.

AND THE WINNER IS …

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.

VIDEO: Mixtape for Duke commit R.J. Barrett, potential 2019 No. 1 pick

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Last week, after the NBA draft officially concluded, we posted a mock draft for the lottery in 2019.

At the top of that list was R.J. Barrett, a Duke-commit and Canadian-native that has NBA scouts wowed and intrigued. This mixtape should give you a good feel for why.

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Chris Webber accepts Jim Harbaugh’s invitation to be honorary Michigan football captain

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The frosty relationship between Chris Webber and the University of Michigan could be thawing — thanks to an invitation from football head coach Jim Harbaugh.

On Friday, Harbaugh called in to WTKA’s “The M Zone” as show host Jamie Morris had Webber on the show. Harbaugh offered Webber the opportunity to be an honorary captain for the Michigan football team next season, to which Webber replied that he would love the opportunity.

Webber, a former member of the “Fab Five” who helped the Wolverines to two consecutive NCAA tournament title-game appearances in 1992 and 1993, has not associated directly with the school, or with other members of the Fab Five, for many years.

The NCAA mandated that Webber and Michigan not associate with one another for 10 years after the Ed Martin booster scandal. Webber has always been reluctant to participate in anything Michigan or Fab Five related. When the famous Fab Five documentary was made a few years ago, Webber was the only member of the quintet not to participate in the making of the film. Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all have a solid relationship with the University of Michigan at this point.

Webber later criticized the film during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, as King and Rose fired back with responses to reignite the feud. In the past, Rose has also been vocal in his belief that Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan, as the group is hoping to move forward.

Although Webber still isn’t mending fences with the other Fab Five members, or the basketball program, returning to Michigan in some kind of official capacity is a big deal considering his past with the school.

Harbaugh and Webber haven’t decided on a game for next season yet as that will be something to watch for over the next several months.

Akoy Agau returning to Louisville as graduate transfer

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Louisville received a boost to its frontcourt rotation on Friday as former big man Akoy Agau will return to the Cardinals as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau originally committed and enrolled at Louisville for a season and a half to begin his college hoops career before transferring to Georgetown. After leaving the Hoyas to play at SMU last season, Agau received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after battling injury for much of his career.

Agau gives Louisville an experienced forward who should earn some solid minutes next season. With the Mustangs during the 2017-18 season, Agau averaged 5.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 16.1 minutes per contest.

While this isn’t the biggest splash for the Cardinals, they have plenty of scholarships to use for next season as new head coach Chris Mack tries to find a stable rotation. Getting a graduate transfer like Agau, who should be familiar with the school and the conference at the very least, is a nice step for a one-year placeholder.