The East Region, also known as the “region of death”, displays two matchups that no one expected. When Villanova went down to Wisconsin it was surprising, but it was understandable. The defending champion always struggles, and Wisconsin is legitimate. However, when Duke lost to South Carolina, everyone was shocked! It left the East Region is shambles.
No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 Florida, Friday
Florida has had 2 relatively easy games thus far, beating East Tennessee State and a lifeless Virginia. This Gator team isn’t too efficient on offense, but has been able to get the job done. Wisconsin clearly has the greater momentum heading into this game, after defeating No. 1 seed Villanova. The Badgers have three pro-ready starters who have Sweet Sixteen experience. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin’s forward, is looking to go out on top.
No. 3 Baylor vs No. 7 South Carolina, Friday
South Carolina is clearly the surprise team here in the East Region. Somehow they outplayed Duke over the weekend, but how much of a surprise are they when they have the SEC Player of the Year in Sindarius Thornwell. The Gamecocks have seemed to fix their late season woes, which is why they are playing Baylor and Duke is not. Baylor on the other hand, has not looked great, but have only had to beat a No. 14 and a No. 11 seed. Baylor has suspect guard play, but their strength is rebounding and low-post play, which could capitalize on the lack of inside presence of South Carolina.
Gonzaga and Arizona haven’t impressed too much in the tournament yet, but they are still alive. Everyone knew the competition on the West Region was the weakest, and it has shown. The talented Notre Dame and Florida State both were unimpressive and bounced way too early for most.
No.1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 West Virginia, Thursday
Gonzaga fell one game short of a perfect season, but they are still in the running to go 6-0 and win the title. With 11/8 odds of making the Final Four and talent throughout the roster, the Bulldogs can run with any team. The real question is can they finally turn the turbos into the hyper-drive. The biggest question in this matchup is how will West Virginia’s press disrupt Gonzaga? Bob Huggins can cause many teams trouble when he gets the chance. Just look at how broken Notre Dame looked. This could be one of the underrated games of the week.
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 11 Xavier, Thursday
Is Xavier this year’s Cinderella team? Maybe, so but Arizona might disagree. Arizona, led 7’0” Lauri Markkanen, has the talent to content with any team. However, can Coach Sean Miller get this team over the hump? They’ve been extremely efficient thus far. Xavier is starting to look like the Cinderella team after demolishing Florida State in their last game. If they can shoot 55% from three ball land again like they did against the Seminoles, Arizona will be in trouble.
The only region that produced the top four seeds in the Sweet Sixteen, we are in for two great games. Both have the potential to be instant classics, mostly because of the pure talent present, as well as great coaching figures. These matchups have the potential to even overpower the noise of LaVar Ball.
No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 2 Kentucky, Friday
Most likely the most anticipated game of the Sweet Sixteen, UCLA and Kentucky have the potential to put on a classic. The talent in this game is almost NBA level with the amount of top prospects. UCLA may have the best player left in the tournament in Lonzo Ball, who makes the game look so easy. If they play a consistent 40 minutes of defense the Bruins are deadly. Kentucky may not be the most well rounded or flashy, but the John Calipari team is coached up and talented. They may put up a combined 200 points!
No. 1 UNC vs. No. 4 Butler, Friday
The South Region has two great matchups on paper. North Carolina is considered by many as the best team in the country. They just don’t always play like it, and that is how they lost to Duke twice in the regular season. The key is having Joel Berry play Joel Berry. Their opponent, Butler, beat Villanova two times this season, meaning they have to potential to knock off anyone. Two very balanced teams, will provide us a solid game Friday.
Kansas has been the best team in the Midwest far and away, but can a team like Michigan or Purdue give them a run for their money? With so many top flight programs in this Region, we were spoiled the first few rounds.
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 4 Purdue, Thursday
Bill Self has only led Kansas to the Final Four once in six times when being a one seed. This is obviously glaring, but could this be his second time? Kansas has one of the best backcourts in the nation with Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham. However, they lack a dominant frontcourt presence, which Purdue could exploit. Caleb Swanigan is a force to be reckoned with, and if he dominates Kansas’ bigs, then Purdue could find themselves in the Elite Eight.
No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 3 Oregon, Thursday
If Xavier isn’t this year’s Cinderella, then Michigan is. This Wolverines team can shoot the lights out. Since winning the Big Ten tournament, Michigan has very on fire. Now, Oregon has been hot offensively as well. Tyler Dorsey is playing out of this world, which is the sole reason the Ducks beat Rhode Island in the Round of 32. The key will be who stays hotter, Derrick Walton Jr. or Dorsey?