Last Updated Mar 17, 2022, 12:17 PM

NCAA Tournament East Region Breakdown

The NCAA Tournament field of 68 is set, and we have a lot of intriguing matchups. Below, we'll look at some of the top teams in the East region, some teams to avoid at all costs and players to watch.

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THREE TEAMS TO WATCH

  • Murray State (+6000 to win region)
  • North Carolina (+2000)
  • Saint Mary's (+2000)

Murray State being a No. 7 seed actually might be a little on the disrespectful side. This is a team which was 28-2 in the regular season, while running the OVC with a perfect 18-0 conference record. The Racers attained a ranking in The Associated Press' Top 25 poll, as well as the Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll. It can be argued that perhaps there belonged on the six-, or even the five-line. In any event, the Racers have a nice one-two punch with Justice Hill and KJ Williams, and while San Francisco provides a rather formidable matchup in the 7-10 game to start, I think the Racers get through that game, then give Kentucky a run for its money. In fact, Kentucky might get a huge test from the Racers, and use that scare as a springboard in the rest of this region.

North Carolina spoiled the finale of Coach K at Duke in the regular-season finale, showing what this young team is capable of accomplishing. They have a legit NBA prospect in Armando Bacot, but the Tar Heels inconsistency on defense will be their undoing. It just depends on when that will be. The Tar Heels have Elite Eight talent and potential, or it could easily lose in a coin-flip game against Marquette in the opening game.

Saint Mary's split the regular-season series with Gonzaga, the top overall seed in this tournament. The Gaels have the potential to beat the elite teams in the nation, and Matthias Tass is a beast in the frontcourt. St. Mary's gets a crack at the winner of Wyoming and Indiana, and probably should be Hoosier fans for the play-in game. That's because the Cowboys have a couple of nice players who could give the Gaels problems. If IU advances, Saint Mary's should win easily, and I truly believe this team is capable of hanging with UCLA, if not advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in a Golden State showdown.

Saint Mary's is 11-5-2 ATS across the past 18 games overall. (AP)

TEAMS TO AVOID

  • Indiana (+4500)
  • San Francisco (+3200)
  • Texas (+1000)

I don't believe the Hoosiers make it out of Dayton for the play-in game, as Wyoming is a fierce team with Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado. Those two should give the Hoosiers fits. Hey, at least it's a quick jaunt back from Dayton to Bloomington, although with gas prices these days, even that's a costly trip. If Indiana should make it to the Field of 64, it would face Saint Mary's, and it won't match up very well at all with the WCC runner-up. Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson are fine players, but the Hoosiers are trash after that. And remember, this is a team which was 4-8 away from home in the regular season. In other words, if you wear crimson and cream, make sure you have a lot of corn whiskey to wash away the sorrows this week. Your stay in the tournament won't be long.

Unlike Indiana fans, San Francisco fans have to fly to Indianapolis for a first-round letdown. Murray State might not be a team most west-coast fans know well, but the Dons faithful will know all about the Racers as they're flying United Airlines back to SFO this weekend. The Dons were just 2-6 SU in eight games against teams in the NCAA Tournament field. The wins were against Davidson back on Nov. 13 in San Francisco, and against UAB on Nov. 26 on a neutral floor. Against conference mates Gonzaga and Saint Mary's, the Dons were 0-5 SU and 1-3-1 ATS. USF also lost to Loyola-Chicago at a neutral site Jan. 6. Don? Don? Where is my automobile? It's back in San Francisco International, and you can use the short-term parking. Your trip won't be long.

I am not a huge fan of Texas, and here's why. The Longhorns went 21-10 this season, and that's all well and good, but most of the damage came at home. Texas was 16-3 in Austin, and 5-7 everywhere else. We got a glimpse of Texas' potential away from home when it was dispatched from the Big 12 Tournament in its first game against TCU. They're great on the home floor, and mediocre, if not bad, away from the Lone Star State. There will be a lot of sad fans wearing burnt orange flying home Saturday or Monday from Milwaukee to Austin. The Longhorns aren't playing their way out of Cream City.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • James Akinjo, G, Baylor
  • Timmy Allen, G, Texas
  • Keve Aluma, F, Virginia Tech
  • Armando Bacot, F, North Carolina
  • Jules Bernard, G, UCLA
  • Zach Edey, C, Purdue
  • Jaden Ivey, G, Purdue
  • Jaime Jaquez, Jr., G, UCLA
  • Matthias Tass, F, Saint Mary's
  • Oscar Tshiebwe, F, Kentucky
  • Sahvir Wheeler, G, Kentucky
  • KJ Williams, F, Murray State
Kentucky is 6-2-2 ATS in its past 10 NCAA Tournament Games. (AP)

REGION WINNER

  • Kentucky Wildcats (+240)

I think the Wildcats have the makings of a Final Four team. Yes, they're a little bit young in some areas, but they check off a lot of boxes. Oscar Tshiebwe is a double-double monster, who does everything right. There isn't another big man in this region who is more dominant. Sahvir Wheeler is a flashy dime dropper, posting 6.9 APG in 27 regular-season games, while hitting 32.6% from downtown. Kellan Grady is also a deep threat, connecting on 43.1% from behind the arc. And, of course, don't forget Tyty Washington Jr., who averaged 12.2 PPG, the yin to Tshiebwe's yang, going for 12.2 PPG, 4.1 APG and 3.4 RPG.

Yes, it's easy to just take Baylor, the defending national champ, and pencil them in for New Orleans. But Baylor has a pretty tough road, facing either UNC or Marquette in Round 2, either Saint Mary's or UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen, and then, what I hope, is Kentucky in the Elite Eight for a trip to the Gulf Coast. The Wildcats have an easier road to NOLA.

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