Villanova headlines a region chalk full of talent, especially in the backcourt. You could make a legitimate argument for any of the top 6 seeds to reach San Antonio, which makes this region unbelievably competitive. Let’s dig right in.
Editor’s Note: Big wins are typically going to be wins against Top-25 Kenpom teams, whereas bad losses include losses to teams that either didn’t make the tournament or are outside the Top 50 in Kenpom. There is some subjectivity in the bad losses department.
1 - Villanova Wildcats (30-4, 14-4 Big East, KenPom Rank #2)
Big Wins: Tennessee, Penn, Gonzaga, Xavier (x2), Creighton, Seton Hall, Butler (x2)
Bad Losses: St. John’s, Providence
The Breakdown: Villanova looks to win its second title over the past three years as they begin the 2018 Tournament as the top seed in the East. The Wildcats are undoubtedly the betting favorite here, but as you’ll soon see, there is plenty of talent available to knock them off. In order for that to happen, though, someone will have to figure out how to stop the Wildcats offensively. Villanova is the #1 adjusted offensive efficiency team in the country AND the #1 effective FG% team. The defense isn’t too shabby either, rated at #22 in the country by KenPom. Additionally, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson is a finalist for the Naismith Award.
2 - Purdue Boilermakers (28-6, 15-3 Big 10, KR: 5)
Big Wins: Arizona, Butler, Michigan (x2), Lipscomb
Bad Losses: Wisconsin, Western Kentucky
The Breakdown: Purdue was a trendy Final Four pick at the beginning of February, before the Boilers lost three in a row to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. The Big 10 as a whole was garbage this year, so Purdue piled up wins against the likes of Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa, Illinois - wow was the Big 10 bad. I digress. Western Kentucky honestly probably isn’t that bad of a loss considering the Hilltoppers went 25-10 and are currently the #58 team in KenPom, but it doesn’t look great when you look at Purdue’s overall schedule. Sophomore Carsen Edwards provides Purdue with good guard play, while 7’2” Isaac Haas will give a lot of teams matchup problems down low. The Boilers are #2 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings.
3 - Texas Tech Red Raiders (24-9, 11-7 Big 12, KR: 12)
Big Wins: Kansas, West Virginia
Bad Losses: Iowa State
The Breakdown: Texas Tech beat Northwestern, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Baylor while those teams were ranked, but only Oklahoma held on to make the Tournament. The Red Raiders struggled in Ames vs Iowa State, losing by 18 (!!!) points in what was probably their worst game of the year. Kansas fans know all about Keenan Evans, and provided his ankle holds up, he could be a household name around the rest of the country come April 2. Texas Tech’s calling card is its defense, with the Red Raiders in the top 20 in turnover percentage (#16), effective FG% (#14), and adjusted defensive efficiency (#3).
4 - Wichita State Shockers (25-7, 14-4 AAC, KR: 20)
Big Wins: Cincinnati, Houston
Bad Losses: Temple, SMU
The Breakdown: The Shockers had some big wins early in the season over Cal, Notre Dame, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and UConn, but none of those teams would end up dancing in March. Kansas City native Landry Shamet is one of the best three point shooters around, and Connor Frankamp can light it up as well. With Shaquille Morris down low, WSU has the size and the talent to matchup with just about anyone. In fact, the Shockers are #4 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings.
5 - West Virginia Mountaineers (24-10, 11-7 Big 12, KR: 13)
Big Wins: Virginia, Texas Tech (x2)
Bad Losses: Iowa State
The Breakdown: Of the Mountaineers 10 losses, only one really sticks out - a 14-point loss at Iowa State. They blew big second-half leads against Kansas (twice) and Kentucky, but managed to hand Virginia one of their two losses on the season. Jevon Carter and Sagaba Konate form a terrific high-low duo, and both are excellent defenders. I’m just not sure who on this team you want with the ball in their hands come crunch time. West Virginia is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, #4 per KenPom. The Mountaineers are widely regarded as the strongest 5-seed in the field.
6 - Florida Gators (20-12, 11-7 SEC, KR: 23)
Big Wins: Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Arkansas, Kentucky (x2), Auburn, Alabama
Bad Losses: Vanderbilt
The Breakdown: Perhaps the strongest 6-seed in the field, Florida is top-40 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency AND adjusted defense. The Gators do it with turnovers, on both sides of the court. Florida ranks sixth in both fewest offensive turnover percentage and in defensive steal percentage. If Florida has a weakness, it’s likely their inside presence, as a strong trio of guards lead by Jalen Hudson is what the Gators rely on.
7 - Arkansas Razorbacks (23-11, 10-8 SEC, KR: 36)
Big Wins: Tennessee, Auburn, Florida
Bad Losses: LSU (x2), Mississippi State
The Breakdown: Arkansas’ freshman phenom Daniel Gafford highlights KenPom’s #19 adjusted offensive efficiency squad. Like Florida, the Razorbacks count on limiting turnovers offensively (#17) and creating them defensively (#10) to win games. Arkansas knocked off Oklahoma, Minnesota, and UConn early in the season, but for some reason couldn’t beat a thoroughly mediocre LSU team this season.
8 - Virginia Tech Hokies (21-11, 10-8 ACC, KR: 32)
Big Wins: North Carolina, Virginia, Duke, Clemson
Bad Losses: Saint Louis
The Breakdown: Yet another top-20 effective FG% team joins the East Region, with VaTech sitting at #12 per KenPom. Juniors Justin Robinson and Kerry Blackshear provide the Hokies with solid production inside and outside. While that questionable loss to Saint Louis happened way back in mid-November, Virginia Tech doesn’t exactly come into the Tournament on fire, having dropped five of its last 10 games.
9 - Alabama Crimson Tide (19-15, 8-10 SEC, KR: 51)
Big Wins: Auburn (x2), Florida, Tennessee
Bad Losses: Ole Miss, Vanderbilt
The Breakdown: Collin Sexton is the name folks already think of when they think Alabama basketball, and the kid didn’t disappoint this year. The freshman leads Alabama in usage rate, taking nearly 1⁄3 of Alabama’s shots. As a team, the Tide actually seem to make their mark on defense, ranking as KenPom’s #13 adjusted efficiency defense and #29 defensive effective FG%. Alabama dropped its final five matches of the regular season before going 2-1 in the SEC Tournament to secure an at-large bid.
10 - Butler Bulldogs (20-13, 9-9 Big East, KR: 25)
Big Wins: Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall
Bad Losses: St. John’s, Georgetown,
The Breakdown: A well-balance team, Butler is in the top-50 of both KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. Butler struggled to end the regular season, dropping six of their final nine matches (including the conference tournament). Again per KenPom, Butler is by far the highest rated double-digit seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, and could give Arkansas and Purdue a run for the Sweet 16 berth at the bottom of the bracket.
11 - St. Bonaventure Bonnies (26-7, Atlantic 10 Regular Season Champions, KR: 49)
Best Wins: Maryland, Davidson, Rhode Island
Bad Losses: Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, Niagara
The Breakdown: St. Bonaventure knocked off UCLA in the play-in round in Dayton to earn their spot into the field of 64. The Bonnies like to bomb away from behind the arc, hitting over 39% as a team from three, good for 24th in the country. However, they hit just 48.5% from two, which is in the lower third of Division 1. The Bonnies are a top-50 team in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage. Jaylen Adams is one of the top 10 individual players in this region, and possibly top 5.
12 - Murray State Racers (26-5, Ohio Valley Conference Regular Season and Tournament Champions, KR: 60)
Best Win: Belmont
Bad Losses: Saint Louis, Jacksonville State
The Breakdown: Murray State comes in on a 13-game winning streak. Led by senior guard Jonathan Stark, the Racers should be a trendy 12/5 upset pick with veteran leadership in the backcourt and the confidence that comes from winning a ton of games during the regular season. Murray State ranks in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive effective FG%.
13 - Marshall Thundering Herd (24-10, 4th in Conference USA, Conference Tournament Champions, KR: 111)
Best Wins: Middle Tennessee (x2)
Bad Losses: Morehead State, William & Mary, UT San Antonio
The Breakdown: This is the 1st appearance for Marshall since 1987, and the 6th overall. The Thundering Herd are one of the most up-tempo teams in the tournament, coming in at #3 in KenPom’s average possession length with just over 14 seconds per possession. For the season, Marshall shoots over 56% on 2-pointers and 35% from behind the arc. If Wichita State happens to catch them on a hot shooting day, watch out.
14 - Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks (28-6, 3rd in Southland, Conference Tournament Champions, KR: 112)
Best Win: LSU
Bad Losses: Southeastern Louisiana, Central Arkansas, Lamar (x2)
The Breakdown: This is the first appearance for the Lumberjacks since a three year stretch from 2014-2016 in which they won two first round games against West Virginia and VCU. This is their fifth overall appearance. SFA is the #1 defense in terms of defensive turnover percentage, taking the ball away from their opponents on over 26% of possessions. The first round matchup with Texas Tech has defensive struggle written all over it.
15 - Cal State Fullerton Titans (20-11, 4th in Big West, Conference Tournament Champions, KR: 153)
Best Wins: Utah Valley, UC Davis (x3)
Bad Losses: Long Beach State, UC Riverside, Hawaii
The Breakdown: The Titans are middle of the road to bad in every advance metric save one: Free Throw Rate. They are the best team in the country at getting to the free throw line, and once there, they hit 73.7% of their attempts. This is the first appearance for the Titans since 2008 and third overall.
16 - Radford Highlanders (23-12, T-2nd and Big South Tournament Champions, KR: 167)
Best Wins: UC Davis, Winthrop (x2)
Bad Losses: UNC Asheville, High Point, Charleston Southern, Elon
The Breakdown: Although Radford comes in on an 8-game win streak, it should be noted that all of their games against P5 competition earlier in the season ended with double-digit defeats. The Highlanders knocked off LIU-Brooklyn in the First Four in Dayton on Tuesday. This is the first appearance for the Highlanders since 2009 and third overall.
Ed Note: UCLA and LIU Brooklyn were not included in the breakdown as they had already been eliminated by press time.