Best Game: #8 NC State vs. #9 LSU
Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack teams have had some tournament success in his tenure. With the draw they received in the East region I think they are primed for another Sweet 16 run, which they reached as an 11 seed under Gottfried in 2012. Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey has immediately become a team leader in his first season with Pack, leading the team in scoring. NC State doesn't play excellent defense, ranking towards the bottom of the NCAA in steals and middle of the pack, no pun intended, in scoring defense. However, they are peaking at the right time, having won six of their past eight games. The Tigers are also a strong offensive team, and weaker defensively, but they do rank highly in rebounds, blocks and steals. Offensively, they are paced on the boards and scoring by forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Texas Tech transfer guard, Josh Gray is more of a passer than a scorer, and their other guard Tim Quarterman has seen his minutes triple this season from last year and has responded well. Both teams have had their coaches criticized for not maximizing the talent they have, but Gottfried gets a bad rap in my opinion as he has returned the Wolfpack to the success level they had lost under Sidney Lowe. These teams are evenly matched and this is a game that should be competitive throughout and not be decided until the very end.
Player to Watch: Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield
This isn't a region filled with big name stars so I had some trouble when deciding what player was worth watching. That led me to who would be the most exciting and that player is the Big 12's leading scorer, the Sooners Buddy Hield. Hield's shooting accuracy can leave a bit to be desired but he is similar to a Marshall Henderson in that no matter how well he is going, he isn't afraid to shoot and take the pressure off of his teammates. Hield is also a very good free throw shooter, so he is at his best when he is driving to the hoop and forcing contact. If the Sooners make it to the second week of the tournament it will be on the back of Hield.
Best Potential Game: #7 Michigan State vs. #2 Virginia
This game would be a rematch of last year's Sweet Sixteen game that the Spartans won.Virginia enters the Tournament trying to figure out how they can get Justin Anderson worked back into the rotation. Anderson was awful in the ACC Tournament, shooting 0 for 6 in two games. That means more pressure on Malcolm Brogdon to try to produce for UVA. Of course, Virginia has their most success when opposing teams wilt under their suffocating defense. North Carolina was able to shoot lights out on their defense in the ACC Tournament and Michigan State is another team that shoots the ball well and can be hard to stop from scoring. Virginia would certainly have the added motivation of looking for revenge from last season but for a 2 seed, this is quite the challenging matchup they could have so early in the Tournament.
Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend: #8 NC State
I like the Wolfpack to take down the Tigers and then I think they have what it takes to beat the weakest #1 seed in my opinion, Villanova. The committee thinks Villanova is the second best team in the country, but they showed signs of overvaluing the Big East throughout their seeding of those teams. Now, to be honest, I couldn't name a single Villanova player and have barely seen them play since the Big East is relegated to Fox Sports 1, but there is precedence to my doubting the Cats. They were a 2 seed last season after steamrolling through the sorry Big East and then were manhandled by the eventual champion UCONN Huskies in the Third Round. Things change from year to year, but I am in a show me mood when it comes to the Wildcats this year.
#11 Dayton over #11 Boise State
#1 Villanova over #16 Lafayette
#8 NC State over #9 LSU
#12 Wyoming over #5 Northern Iowa
#4 Louisville over #13 UC-Irvine
#11 Dayton over #6 Providence
#3 Oklahoma over #14 Albany
#7 Michigan State over #10 Georgia
#2 Virginia over #15 Belmont
#8 NC State over #1 Villanova
#4 Louisville over #12 Wyoming
#3 Oklahoma over #11 Dayton
#2 Virginia over #7 Michigan State