Clear sailing for Villanova?
The Wildcats were seen as one of the top two or three teams in college basketball for most of the season, and have momentum coming off the Big East Tournament title.
The region is full of good players and solid teams. But going into last week, Villanova was ranked second nationally and the next-highest ranked team is second-seeded Purdue at No. 10.
There are some feisty teams here. Third-seeded Texas Tech excels defensively, and fourth-seeded Wichita State plays with a constant chip on its shoulder.
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But this might be a region where a team comes off the pace to challenge the Jalen Brunson-led Wildcats. Fifth-seeded West Virginia, with its senior backcourt, could make a run.
Ninth-seeded Alabama walloped favored Auburn in the SEC Tournament, and Tide freshman guard Collin Sexton can take over a game.
The East also delivers an opening round spectacle with storied UCLA taking on St. Bonaventure. The winner gets Florida, an unpredictable team that swept Kentucky and beat Cincinnati but also suffered some head-shaking losses.
Seventh-seeded Arkansas takes on No. 10 Butler in a contrast of styles. Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks like to press and run, and the Bulldogs are more deliberate.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brunson is a national player of the year favorite. He’s a 53.1 percent shooter from the floor and knows the path to a national championship as a member of the 2016 title team. Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans was having a special season until a toe injury slowed him late. He’s good to go now.
Florida loses its first game. The Gators won’t know their opponent for a couple of days, but UCLA and St. Bonaventure are capable of pulling the upset.
FINAL FOUR PICK
Villanova over Purdue