The East Region is full of many questions and potential for upsets. With two play-in games set to determine the 11 and 16 seeds, a strong top four and many strong lower seeds, this region is as balanced as it gets.
At fourth overall and top ranked in the region, the Michigan Wolverines are still wondering if they will have star player senior Isaiah Livers, who re-aggravated a stress-fracture that he has been dealing with since January. Livers averages 13.1 PPG, and his 43% shooting from beyond the three point line makes him a tough assignment for other post players to defend.
The Crimson Tide of Alabama has played well all season, winning the SEC regular season title and the tournament title last weekend with a thrilling one-point victory over LSU. The Tide shot 38% from three and led the SEC in defensive efficiency this season, earning them a record of 16-2 in conference play. Alabama has not lost since Feb. 6, giving them strong momentum entering the tournament. Led by SEC Player of the Year Herbert Jones, Alabama has all of the pieces to make a run in this tournament.
Another team to watch, the Texas Longhorns, have been impressive all year, winning 11 of their first 12 games, sweeping the season series with Kansas and fighting their way to a Big 12 Tournament Title. From the start of this season, the Longhorns and head coach Shaka Smart were challenged and questioned, playing with a chip on their shoulder, but their success in the season proved the critics wrong.
Behind a veteran three-guard lineup, the Longhorns rely heavily on their shooting ability to win games. Will shooting slumps hurt Texas and result in an early exit from the tournament, or will the Longhorns keep up the consistency and continue to surprise their critics?
Rounding out the top four is the Seminoles of Florida State. Despite falling short in the ACC tournament, this team has the foundation to make it deep into the tournament. FSU has benefited from balanced scoring and strong defense all year. It has two starters averaging double-digits, as well as three bench players averaging more than nine points per game.
The Seminoles led the ACC in defensive efficiency and three point shooting percentage at 40.3%.
The East region is also full of promising middle-ranked teams. Programs such as UConn, Georgetown and BYU could pose issues for the region’s top four.
Georgetown is coming off of an impressive and unexpected Big East tournament championship. It was an eight seed with wins over No. 1 Villanova and No. 5 Seton Hall in the quarterfinals and semis, finishing with a 25-point victory over No. 2 Creighton in the championship game. This is Georgetown’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2015 and the first under head coach Patrick Ewing.
The Hoyas are the 12 seed in this region and will face No. 5 Colorado on Saturday in the always highly anticipated 5-12 matchup. This game is always looked to for a possible upset, and this year is no different. Both the Hoyas and the Buffaloes of Colorado are at a peak in performance, and with Georgetown carrying momentum from the Big East tournament, this will be a game to watch with strong upset potential.
Another Big East team, the UConn Huskies, earned an at-large bid and a 7 seed in the East region. The Huskies, in their first season back in the Big East, finished third in the regular season and lost a nail-bitter to No. 2 Creighton in the semifinals of the conference tournament. UConn has the athleticism and star power to advance in the tournament, but the team must stay healthy to do so.
Star-player James Bouknight, averaging 19.4 ppg, has faced injury struggles all year, missing multiple games with an elbow injury, followed by another scare in the semifinals of the conference tournament. If Bouknight and the rest of UConn’s team can stay healthy, the Huskies are tough to beat.
The No. 6 seed BYU is peaking at the right time, winning five of its last six games, the one loss coming at the hands of top-ranked, undefeated Gonzaga. The Cougars faced Gonzaga in the WCC Conference Finals and led by 12 at the half, Gonzaga’s first double-digit halftime deficit of the season. Led by Purdue transfer Matt Haarms, the Cougars will not be an easy win for anyone they face in the tournament.
Lastly, the play-in game for the No. 11 seed could shake things up for the East region. The matchup between Michigan State and UCLA will be one to watch. With the Spartans of Michigan State on a roll, beating Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan in the last three weeks, it is looking to make a run.
However, UCLA has been facing a slump in the last month of the season but has hopes to defeat the Spartans and start fresh from there. Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team has all of the pieces to go deep into the tournament, but it must get through the Bruins first.
This region will arguably be full of the most exciting and unexpected matchups, given the balance of talent and the evenly matched top four seeds.
The Final Four slot for the East is up for grabs, and there are plenty of hungry and able teams waiting to claim it.