NCAA Tournament: East Region preview


By Shannon Ryan - Chicago Tribune



NCAA Tournament East Region preview.

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Get to know No. 1

Villanova (31-3, RPI 1, SOS 24)

The Wildcats had a target on their backs all season as the defending national champions, but they dodged most of the punches thrown their way. With many of the key characters from last season’s team, Villanova beat 12 top-50 RPI opponents and posted one of the highest combined efficiency ratings for offense and defense — ranking second offensively and 12th defensively — according to KenPom.com.

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Cinderella

No. 12 UNC Wilmington

The Seahawks (29-5), who open against Virginia, have a top-40 RPI and are a better team than the one that nearly knocked off Duke in last season’s tournament.

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Best first-round matchup

No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech

Hokies coach Buzz Williams, who formerly coached at Marquette, is familiar with the Badgers. Wisconsin got out of a funk by advancing to the Big Ten championship game. The Hokies were often an afterthought in the ACC but managed to regroup after losing double-digit scorer Chris Clarke to a torn ACL.

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Free throws

Some argued Duke should have been a No. 1 seed after beating North Carolina twice in three meetings. … Wisconsin advanced to the Big Ten tournament title game but earned only a No. 8 seed because of a late slump in which it lost five of six. … Some have argued No. 4 seed Florida was overrated this season, but the Gators beat six teams that are in the tournament. They were dealt a blow, however, when they lost center John Egbunu (7.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) to an ACL tear late in the regular season.

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Players to watch

Josh Hart, Villanova

The senior guard had to assume a larger role this season for the defending champions and led the Wildcats to a third straight Big East championship game, averaging 18.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

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Grayson Allen, Duke

Only politics are more polarizing than Allen, who has earned a reputation for unsportsmanlike plays. The junior guard is averaging about seven points fewer than last season but has scored double-digit points in four of his last five games. All eyes will be on Allen, who rightly or wrongly has been knighted Duke’s latest villain.

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Johnathan Motley, Baylor

Averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds, the 6-foot-10 junior forward has been a consistent threat all season. He scored 20-plus in 10 games and has made some second-team All-America lists.

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By Shannon Ryan

Chicago Tribune