The days following Selection Sunday are chock full of analyzing and over-analyzing until the Round of 64 mercifully begins early Thursday afternoon. Before filling out your bracket, check out my breakdown of each region here at KMOV.com.
Best first-round game: #7 Arkansas vs. #10 Butler
This region is chock full of intriguing first-round matchups, but Arkansas/Butler takes the cake for me. Both teams are frequenters of the NCAA Tournament, and their match-up this year should be especially fun, with both teams rank in the top 50 in points per game. Both Arkansas (243rd) and Butler (171st) also rank poorly in opponent’s points per game. If this one turned into an opening round barn burner—would anyone mind?
Upset alert: #11 St. Bonaventure/UCLA over #6 Florida
The Gators are no pushover, so this is no slam dunk. And depending on how you feel about either of these teams looking to play their way into the 11-seed in the East region, you may want to wait to see who emerges from the First Four in Dayton before picking the upset. But it’s worth noting: since the First Four was implemented in 2011, one of the winners of those games has advanced beyond the round of 64 in each year. If they get by UCLA, the Bonnies could be that team this year.
Bold prediction: Facing #3 Texas Tech in an all-Lonestar State affair, #14 Stephen F. Austin has a chance to add to its Cinderella scrapbook. The Lumberjacks are 11-point underdogs in this one, but they’ll take the Red Raiders down to the wire in what could be a wild atmosphere in Dallas. If they pull off the win—which they’ve done before as a 14-seed, over West Virginia in 2016—the Jacks will axe their way to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
Great draw: ...is there one?
Look, Villanova and Purdue are daunting top seeds in this region. Texas Tech might be a vulnerable 3-seed, which could render the path for Purdue to the Elite Eight a bit more manageable, but they’ll still face a capable winner out of the Arkansas/Butler contest referenced above. It feels like everyone in this region was seeded pretty fairly, and considering the overall strength of the East—I view it as the deepest region in the tournament—it’s tough to say anyone got a particularly favorable draw, here.
Tough draw: #4 Wichita State
Again, this is a balanced region, so it’s difficult to parse out whether anyone’s getting a truly raw deal, but let’s go with the Shockers, here. As a 4-seed making its seventh straight appearance in the tournament, it’s not unreasonable for Wichita State to expect to make a deep run. That said, their path to the Elite Eight seems especially tough this time around. Even if they avoid the upset against Marshall, probable matches against West Virginia and Villanova to follow would make for a stifling journey through the bracket for Gregg Marshall's squad.
Sleeper: #9 Alabama
I already mentioned a couple double-digit seeds I’ve got my eye on from this region, so let me change course here and look to a single-digit seed that few are considering for any sort of run. While Villanova is the rightful favorite from the region, there’s a non-zero chance the Wildcats fall victim in the Round of 32 to one of the leading examples of why we love this month: watching a single player, one special talent, put his team on his back for a historic tourney performance. Villanova has that kind of guy in Jalen Brunson, but Alabama has a candidate of their own; if Collin Sexton can find his groove this week, he’s capable of leading Bama past anyone, Nova included. Just something to keep in mind if the Tide can roll through its opening game against Virginia Tech.
Potential game(s) I’d want to see: #2 Purdue vs. #7 Arkansas would be strong entertainment if we get the same Razorbacks that bullied Florida in the SEC tourney. And not to be boring or uncreative, but if chalk holds in the East, #1 Villanova vs. #2 Purdue for a trip to the Final Four would be a lot of fun, too.
Regional Final prediction: #1 Villanova 76, #2 Purdue 72