The brackets are out and March Madness is upon us. After missing out on the tournament a year ago, this year’s event will have a different feel but is still widely anticipated. The East Region is headlined by the regular-season champions of the Big Ten and SEC, while also having the Big 12 and Big East tournament winners. There are six former National Championship programs in the East Region.
East Region Preview
The top seeds in this region have all had remarkable seasons. The Michigan Wolverines won the Big Ten title, finishing with a 20-4 record overall. They are a balanced team with scoring options inside the paint and out, but will have to navigate their way through the bracket without senior leader Isaiah Livers. Alabama is the second seed. The Crimson Tide rolled to an SEC title, losing just twice in 18 conference games. They have the conference’s player of the year in the versatile Herb Jones. Texas and Florida State round out the top four seeds in the East, each of them are deep and athletic teams. The East Region First Four game is even high profile, with storied programs Michigan State and UCLA battling it out.
First Round Game to Watch
(7) UConn Huskies vs (10) Maryland Terrapins
Connecticut will arrive in Indianapolis playing their best basketball of the season. James Bouknight is an electrifying player for the Huskies. The 6’5″ guard scored 40 points in the Big East opener and has four 20+-point games since returning to the lineup in mid-February. Maryland has won six of their last nine games, led by Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala. The Terrapins are good enough to have six wins over tournament teams, but they were also swept by a below-average Penn State team. The Huskies are a deep team while Maryland only plays seven guys. Foul trouble and fatigue could play a factor, and that will favor UConn. Neither team is high octane on offense, but the Huskies have been scoring more since Bouknight returned.
East Region Players to Watch
Franz Wagner – Forward – Michigan Wolverines
Wagner has been excellent in his second season in Ann Arbor. He will need to raise his level of play even more in the NCAA Tournament, especially with Livers out. He has the ability to create off the dribble and is prolific from beyond the arc. His shooting is key to Michigan’s offense, as it opens the paint for big freshman Hunter Dickinson to operate. Wagner has four 20-point games this season. He will need to add a few to that total if the Wolverines are gonna get to a Final Four.
Jahvon Blair – Guard – Georgetown Hoyas
The senior guard has led the Hoya offense all season long. He has failed to score in double figures just five times all year. The offense runs through him as he also leads the team in assists. Blair is a threat all over the court, but especially from deep. The Canadian guard has hit three or more triples in 13 different contests this season. Georgetown is on a roll having won the Big East tournament crown. If they hope to pull off the 12/five upset in the first round, they will need Blair to fill up the score sheet again.
Isaiah Miller – Guard – UNC-Greensboro Spartans
Of all the players in this year’s NCAA tournament you may not have heard of yet, Miller might be the best. He is a two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year, and he does everything for the Spartans. Miller is averaging 25.4 points a game over his last five ball games. He is playing like a senior that doesn’t want his career to end, and that can be a dangerous thing to see in March. Not only does this explosive guard lead his team in points and assists, but he also pulls down a team-high seven boards a game. His effort and toughness stand out just as much as his ability to score in bunches. Even at just 6’0″ tall, he has averaged one-and-a-half offensive rebounds for his career. Miller wants the ball in his hands, and he is willing to go get it.
One of the tougher things to figure out in the East Region is how much to trust the LSU Tigers. They are a team that is capable of winning multiple games or going home on the first day. The Tigers have as much pure talent on their roster as almost anyone in NCAA Tournament. However, they have been maddening with their inconsistencies this season. The core of Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, Darius Days, and Cameron Thomas can match-up with anyone. Not many teams have four guys equally capable of impacting a game like LSU does. Their problem has been a lack of focus and intensity on defense, combined with too much individual play on offense. They are undefeated when holding opponents under 73 points. LSU is equally likely to lose to St Bonaventure in the opening game as they are to upset Michigan in the second round and advance to next weekend.
Five Days Of Madness
Due to circumstances for the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the opening weekend will start Thursday with the First Four and conclude on Monday with the second round. Most of the players are accustomed to playing in front of sparse crowds during this unique season of college basketball. However, it will be interesting how the increased intensity of March Madness will come into play without the surrounding atmosphere. The East Region has multiple intriguing storylines to follow over the weekend.
Can Rick Pitino‘s Iona Gaels give the SEC Champions trouble? Is Isaiah Miller ready to carry UNC-Greensboro to the second weekend? The Texas Longhorns were ranked as high as fourth in the nation this season, can they close the campaign as strong as they opened it? Is Michigan still one of the nation’s best teams even without a key contributor? All of these questions will be answered this weekend, let the madness begin.
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