The Runner Sports

2017 NCAA Tournament: Round Of 64 – East Region

Selections made, brackets filled out, the First Four did a flyover in Dayton, and it’s the greatest time of the year. March Madness! The 2017 NCAA Tournament is on hand and ready to break brackets and hearts, put Cinderellas on the center dance floor, and crown a champion to a college basketball season that saw six teams claim top of the AP poll and none for more than five weeks.

Midwest | South | West

 

#1 Villanova Wildcats vs #16 Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers

There are a number of things that ultimately work against Villanova as they enter the 2017 NCAA Tournament as the top overall seed. Just five top AP poll teams have won the tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams, and nobody since Duke in 2001. Despite earning the top seed in the eyes of the committee, they’ve done them no favors, as most bracket analysts come to a pretty clear consensus on the East region looking like the toughest draw. The big stats in their corner? The 1 seed has never lost to a 16, boasting a 128-0 all-time record. We’ll see plenty more from Jay Wright’s squad, so let’s show some love for the Mountaineers.

Knocking off New Orleans in the First Four, the Mountaineers should be ecstatic to be here. They blew a halftime lead and nearly squandered the whole thing away before a high inbound pass sailed before the Privateers could threaten with a buzzer beater.

They had a few exciting players make a national name for themselves as tiny 5’5″ Junior Robinson dodged, ducked, dipped, dove, and dodged all over the court. He led the team with his 23 points. Miles Wilson threw in 17 of his own, but this squad would need all but a near perfect storm to make history.

It’s a big shining moment for seniors Khalid Nwandu and Will Miller as basketball careers come to a conclusion. This squad is young and with some new tournament experience could turn around and find themselves right back here next year.

Prediction: Villanova

#2 Duke Blue Devils vs #15 Troy Trojans

Winners of the ACC Tournament, Duke faces a pretty clean run to at the very least a Sweet 16. Duke is getting a lot of popular traction as national champions in brackets, and for good reason. Still, Duke has been the face to some of the tournament’s biggest upsets, and are in fact one of just eight total teams to lose an opening round game as a 2 seed.

Troy will just about need short of a biblical miracle to pull that upset off, however. They have depth working in their favor, though. They’re adept rebounders and don’t shy away from lighting it up from deep, despite seeing moderate success while doing so.

Duke has Coach K back, and as long as Grayson Allen cuts the tripping out long enough to avoid getting tossed in any of these games, have the scoring threat to just bury this overwhelmed Trojan squad.

Prediction: Duke

#3 Baylor Bears vs #14 New Mexico State Aggies

Experience will be one of Baylor’s biggest advantages in this tournament. All five of their starters are either fourth or fifth-year players. Baylor has 11 wins after trailing at any point in the second half this year, and that level headiness that comes with sheer experience is a big reason why. Tournament games get hectic, and for many, it’s simply the overwhelming atmosphere that eats away at them. This team has been to the tournament in seven of the last 10 years, including the last four, yet haven’t found too much of a late March success. In fact, they’ve made it through the opening weekend just once in their last four visits.

New Mexico State set a school record collecting 28 wins this year, and the last time they were near that mark (1970 27 wins) they went to the Final Four. Historical quirks are fun, but the Aggies have also posted 25 plus win seasons seven other times and made it out of the first weekend just once.

Baylor, for all their repetitive tournament shortfallings, come in relatively tested this year, going 6-3 against Top 25 teams this season with non-conference wins over Oregon and Louisville, who are getting high marks here in March.

New Mexico State finds the most success running a smaller lineup and letting their shooters move the offense, but that’ll be a tougher thing to master against Baylor’s relatively tall lineup.

Both squads struggle early in the tournament, so whoever wins this should have the monkey off their back and go on a tear into April in theory…right?

Prediction: Baylor

#4 Florida Gators vs #13 East Tennessee State Buccaneers

There’s some growing buzz about East Tennessee and I’d be careful before buying into it. The SEC was weaker than we’ve seen in recent years but Florida still went 14-4 in conference play this year.

The Buccaneers have a deep roster, which is always a tourney plus. It’s hard to remember to find ways to pace your play in the biggest games of your life, so having fresh bodies that can make an impact on the game is vital. The nine-man rotation can score for just about everywhere, and their attack of the basket results in them getting to the line more than their fair share, 840 times to be exact, 7th most in the nation.

Scoring has been nothing short of a headache against these Gators this season. They were top 50 in blocks, steals, as well as opponent three-point and field goal percentage.

East Tennessee cruised through a very light schedule, and buying into top scoring teams without facing any solid defenses can always be dangerous. In pursuit of upset picks, we sometimes latch on to irrational hopes.

Prediction: Florida

#5 Virginia Cavaliers vs #12 NC Wilmington Seahawks

Virginia has the ability to fill shoes with cement and take offense to a crawl. The top-rated defense in the country not only held foes to 55.6 PPG, they did it in arguably the most competitive conference. Offensive output can haunt this team at times, but at least through the first two rounds, foes will have a tough time cracking this daunting beast.

UNC Wilmington played Duke really tight last year, so they’re not afraid of stepping into the bright lights in March and leaving it all on the hardwood. Whether they have a way to actually score against the Cavs and simply find enough possessions in 40 minutes will be the question. They’ll need their offense to carry them to victory with a defense that’s vastly undersized.

Virginia’s offense has gone MIA on more than one occasion including posting a stretch that saw them score just 55, 41, and 48 points, the schools’ worst three-game scoring output since 1951; mind you there was no three-point shot until 1986.

The Seahawks can score in bunches, but facing their toughest defensive test all season, we’ll quickly find out how versatile they are.

Prediction: Virginia

#6 SMU Mustangs vs #11

Game preview to come following First Four match between USC and Providence.

#7 South Carolina Gamecocks vs #10 Marquette Golden Eagles

7/10 matches are always exciting in the tournament. Not quite the coin toss 8/9, it’s still typically a chance to see a double-digit seed extend their play into at least the second batch of games. Going the distance for the 10 is a whole other story. Syracuse, last year, was the first and only 10 seed to make the Final Four in a field of 64 or more. Still, more 10 seeds have historically made the Sweet 16 (20) and Elite 8 (5) than 9 seeds (5, 2).

Inconsistencies have plagued Marquette, and they’ll need to be on their toes against a fierce in your face defense the Gamecocks thrust at foes. South Carolina forces the nation’s 6th most turnovers. Usually a team this aggressive also finds itself in the top 10 in fouls, but the SEC’s USC were just inside the top 50 total fouls, an impressive feat considering their defensive style.

Marquette lacks experience, only grad transfer Katin Reinhardt, a key part of the reserve unit, has been here before. He’ll actually become the second player to ever play in the NCAA Tournament for three different teams (USC, UNLV) the moment he steps foot on the court. Effective shooting is the name of the game here, and the Eagles feature the 6th best effective field goal percentage in the country, besting even a pair of the top seeds in this field (Kansas & North Carolina).

This game is getting some attractive buzz as a 10/7 upset. Will you ride em?

 Prediction: Marquette

#8 Wisconsin Badgers vs #9 Virginia Tech Hokies

The East region might just be labeled the “has reason to complain” region depending on how things work out. Not only does the top overall seed get a tough draw, we’re looking at possibly one of the three biggest selection gaffes of the year. How Wisconsin draws an 8 seed is beyond me. The selection committee has no easy task, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody that doesn’t feel like the Badgers got squeezed. Maybe also a bit of a disservice to Virginia Tech, who draws a pretty tough 8 seed, and especially top-seeded Villanova who faces a potential second round bout with them.

Virginia Tech has a lethal second unit led by Seth Allen and Zach LeDay. The two actually lead the scoring sheet despite starting in just five games this season. Nine players see over 10 minutes per game in Buzz William’s balanced attack and that’s trying for even the vastly experienced Badgers team.

Wisconsin’s primary five were all here a year ago, and the seniors (Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown) have been around for a run that’s seen the Badgers make it into the second weekend three consecutive years.

The Badgers’ rough February was clearly enough to take a tumble in the seedings, but they’ll just have to do what they do, show up and win some basketball games.

Prediction: Wisconsin

Midwest | South | West

Be sure to check out the remaining region previews. Games kick-off Thursday at noon and we don’t slow down from there.

Join the TRS staff writers in Bracket Challenge action. 

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold

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