NCAA Tournament: East Regional preview


By Roger Rubin - Newsday



BEST TEAM: VILLANOVA

The Wildcats are once again the team where the overall value is better than the sum of its parts. Jay Wright is one of the nation’s top coaches and he might have the best all-around player running things on the floor in Jalen Brunson. Villanova has the top scoring team in the country at 87.1 points per game and has six players who average 10.3 points or more: Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. It ranks in the top five in shooting at 50.4 percent and is deadly on the 3-point arc where it makes 40 percent. Moreover, there is a deep level of experience, including players who were on the 2016 national championship team and a toughness that seems to always prevail in tight spots.

BEST POTENTIAL MATCHUP: WEST VIRGINIA vs. WICHITA STATE

Coach Gregg Marshall’s Shockers play of style is the well-maintained engine — everything working together to become a force. Coach Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers are the ultimate disruptors, ranking 11th in the country in steals and 10th in the country in blocked shots. Something will have to give.

BEST BET TO SPRING AN UPSET: BUTLER

The Butler way never seems to let up. This season LaVall Jordan took the reins after Chris Holtmann left for Ohio State and the program didn’t miss a beat as it reached the NCAAs for the fourth straight year. The No. 10 Bulldogs (20-13) have shown a bit of a penchant for pulling the upset this season, scoring wins over Duke and Ohio State. First-round opponent No. 7 Arkansas (23-11) needs to play a fast-paced game to succeed. Butler has a way of controlling the tempo behind guards Kelan Martin and Aaron Thompson and could be dangerous.

GO-TO GUY: MIKAL BRIDGES, VILLANOVA

The athletic 6-foot-7 junior has been a talent all along, but this season got his shot at a starring role and thrived to earn first-team all-conference honors. He is a serious weapon because he can do so many different things for the Wildcats. He averages 18.0 points and shoots 52 percent, including 43 percent on 3-pointers. He averaged 5.4 rebounds, but seems to have a knack for coming up with the key offensive board. And he likes to look for his teammates when he draws the attention, which is why he averages 2.1 assists. Bridges isn’t just a player who makes winning plays on offense either. He often draws the defensive assignment on the foes’ best forward.

BEST COACHING MATCHUP: VIRGINIA TECH vs. ALABAMA

This first-round game in Pittsburgh pits a couple of coaches who have done masterful rebuilds of moribund programs. Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams, familiar to Big East fans from his days at Marquette, in 2014 took over a program that had been to the NCAA Tournament once since 1996. After an 11-22 start, the Hokies have won 20 or more three straight seasons and are in their second straight NCAA Tournament. New Yorkers know Alabama’sAvery Johnson from his two-plus seasons coaching the Nets. He took over a Crimson Tide team that hadn’t been to the tourney since 2012 and in three seasons has it back in draw. This game would also showcase Tech star Justin Robinson against ‘Bama star Collin Sexton.

BEST GUARD/PLAYMAKER: JALEN BRUNSON, VILLANOVA

He is the best all-around player on the best all-around team in the East Regional. He is a scorer, playmaker and defender all rolled into one and the beating heart of the Wildcats. Brunson averages 19.8 points and shoots 51 percent. He is good on the drive where he can get to the rim or draw in a defense and dish to the tune of 4.7 assists per game. He makes 41 percent from behind the arc. Perhaps his biggest asset is his calmness under pressure. When Villanova prevails in a critical situation, it is usually because of a play Brunson made.

BEST BIG MAN: SHAQUILLE MORRIS, WICHITA STATE

At a muscular 6-8 and 280 pounds, Morris has the raw tools, but what sets him apart is his high basketball IQ and brilliant footwork. With those in play, Morris has an all-around game where he averages 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.6 blocked shots and 1.4 assists. The redshirt senior was tabbed first-team all-American Athletic Conference. He shoots 55 percent from the floor, but also has some range, hitting 40 percent on 3s.

BEST PLAYER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF: JAYLEN ADAMS, ST. BONAVENTURE

He may be tucked away in Western New York, but Adams is one of the best point guards in the country without question. He missed time at the start of the season with an ankle injury but when he returned to the 4-3 Bonnies they won 21 of 25. He averages 19.8 points and 5.4 rebounds and it would not be surprising if his name gets called in the NBA draft. The 6-1 speedster makes 45 percent on three pointers and was Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year.

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By Roger Rubin

Newsday