Brandon Paul doing what Brandon Paul does. - Jonathan Daniel
The games start in the East Region, where overseedings abound and several great matchups populate the first round.
Our regional previews are designed to get you the information you need to help with filling out a bracket (of course) but also to highlight a few specific things in each region. We'll have a look at the teams in the wrong seeds, who to watch, who to like, who to hate, a dangerous team, the best matchup, and a player to keep an eye on. If you disagree, feel free to tell us here or on Twitter @BannersParkway. Grab a bracket here, and also take the opportunity to join our first ever $10 gift card bracket challenge.
It will all start in the East Region at 12:40 on Thursday, when Butler meets Bucknell. The region is headlined by Indiana, who missed the home court advantage of playing in Indianapolis. Having home court in a tournament is absurd anyway, so that shouldn't matter much. The Big East is very much in evidence, placing Georgetown, Marquette, and Syracuse in to round out the top four.
Overseeded: #3 Marquette. The Golden Eagles landed a three seed despite being 25th in the KenPom and 20th in ESPN's BPI. Ahead of them sit Missouri (#9 seed), St. Mary's (#11), and Colorado St. (#8). Marquette isn't a bad team, but they don't deserve to be seeded where they are. Of course, Davidson is hardly a reward for the committee's treachery. Look for a high scoring game. Equal mention should be made of #7 Illinois, who should be thankful just to be in the tournament.
Underseeded: #15 Pacific. Ok, bear with me on this one. Pacific is 121st in KenPom and 114th in BPI. Blown away, right? Well #13 seed Montana finished well below them in both systems, as did #14 Northwestern St. Pacific gets stuck with underseeded in its own right #2 Miami, while Montana gets a Syracuse team that Pacific would be salivating at the thought of pulling apart from deep. So it might not seem like much, but some seed line laziness changes Pacific from chic upset pick to warmup game fodder.
Easy to like: #11 Bucknell. It's difficult not to like a team that so unapologetically relies on a redhead. Mike Muscala leads the nation in defensive rebounding rate, leads his team in scoring by a wide margin, and also represents a great chance for Butler to lose in the first round. More than that, Bucknell is almost completely bereft of any sort of negative news connotation. They're just about as in-offensive and decent as you can get... And they might beat Butler.
Fun to watch: #8 NC State. The Wolfpack think a fun way to win games would be go fast (68.2 pace), score a ton of points (77.5 per game, 13th in the nation), and let silly things like defense and rebounding sort themselves out later. More impressively, State does it without shooting a ton of threes, so there is very little chance you don't tune in to see a high scoring game. This team is the cure for the people that think college basketball is all grind it out boredom.
Easy to hate: #6 Butler. Grind it out boredom, cookie dough soft guards, and a home gymnasium more suited to milking cows. If Butler hadn't folded in their first shot at a national championship, maybe we wouldn't have to be constantly reminded of their darling little Cinderella run, the Hinkle magic, and Rotnei Clarke and his adorable habit of only trying when he has the ball. This in addition to the fact that a six seed is absurdly high. Instead, expect to get force fed Butler stories until a team capable of pushing the pace or playing above (or really even near) the rim inevitably eliminates them. Or, hope Mike Muscala goes off in the first round and rids us of Indiana's most annoying team.
Danger team: #5 UNLV. People are sleeping on the Running Rebels because of their rather pedestrian offense and a brutally tough draw. That said, UNLV defends will enough to beat any team in the East bracket. The Rebels don't turn teams over, but they will force an incredible number of missed shots, and they'll block a few (10th nationally in block%) as well. Throw in a few shooters capable of having a torrid night, and UNLV could very well shock just about anyone.
Best matchup: #5 UNLV v. #12 California. UNLV could also lose in the first round, because the committee slapped it in the face when setting the pairings. These teams met on December 9th and the Rebels escaped with a one point victory. Had the Golden Bears shot better than 54% from the line, UNLV would have lost. Now, the teams meet again, and this time it is in San Jose, rather notably inside the state of California. The Bears are a slightly worse mirror image of UNLV. A couple of breaks either way and this game turns into another first round classic. A UNLV v. Indiana game in the Sweet 16 would also be a great matchup, simply for the fact that the Rebels maybe one of the few teams athletic enough to slow the Hoosiers.
Player to watch: Scott Wood, NC State. The Wolfpack prefer to score on the run and inside, but if they have one guy who can get buckets in a hurry, it's Wood. The senior forward average 12.7 points per game, but that came on the back of a .440/.443/.920 shooting line. If Wood gets space, he can absolutely destroy a team in a matter of minutes. Illinois' Brandon Paul is also worth watching, because he's shooting all night whether they go or not.