The upsets and subsequent chaos were once again a big part of the first two rounds of March Madness. A look around what remains across the bracket will show low seeds and non-power five schools in abundance. For the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional, however, that is not really the case. It is the only region with three of the top four seeds set to play in the Sweet 16. The one outlier is the 11 seed, but the UCLA Bruins are of course no stranger to the bright lights of March Madness.
Sweet 16 East Regional Preview
Big Names Still Around
The East Regional is also the only portion of the bracket where the top two seeds both survived the opening weekend. Michigan and Alabama were both tested, but ultimately advanced without too much worry. Florida State was also able to play up to its seed and survive the first weekend of action. UCLA had to win three games to make it to the Sweet 16, defeating Michigan State in the First Four before beating sixth-seeded BYU and the upstart Wildcats of Abilene Christian. Now each of these programs is just two wins away from the Final Four.
(1) Michigan Wolverines vs (4) Florida State Seminoles
This match-up will be a heavyweight tilt between two programs that have had a lot of success in the last few seasons. The contrast in how they succeed will provide a clash that will be extremely intriguing to watch. The Wolverines rely on their balance and execution, and it led them to a regular-season Big Ten title. Florida State utilizes a deep rotation of length and athleticism to wear opponents down. Each of these teams is capable of getting hot from downtown as well.
Spreading it Around
Michigan will need a big game from freshman center Hunter Dickinson. The big man was solid in the first weekend but will need to step up against a tough ACC opponent. Juwan Howard‘s team shown it can win with different guys stepping up on a given night. Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown embodied that by both pouring in 21 points in the victory over LSU. Michigan’s team play and execution that helped them win 18 of their first 19 games have been on full display in the East Regional. The Wolverines have 41 assists on 54 made field goals through two games.
Florida State also spreads the ball around, with five guys averaging between nine and thirteen points a night. Leonard Hamilton’s team also spreads the minutes around. He plays a nine-man rotation, always trying to keep fresh bodies on the floor to maintain a peak level of aggression on both ends. Pace of play is also key to the Seminoles, they are 12-2 when they score more than 74 points, and just 6-4 when scoring less. They will need more production from M.J. Walker and Scottie Barnes if they hope to advance past the Big Ten Champions.
(2) Alabama Crimson Tide vs (11) UCLA Bruins
The other matchup in the East Regional pits the SEC regular-season champs with a perennial PAC 12 power. Alabama gets a lot of notice for their high-powered offense, but it is their defensive improvements that has seen them rise to a championship level. UCLA was a last-second shot away from winning the PAC 12 title. Instead, they got under seeded by the committee and had to play in the First Four. No these two will battle for a berth in the Elite Eight.
Wings Take Flight
Both of these teams are powered by their perimeter play. Alabama is an explosive group that can take a game over in a hurry with its deadly long-range shooting. The Crimson Tide were in a six-point game in the second round against Maryland, before catching fire. They hit threes on five of six possessions and turned a close contest into a blowout in a matter of minutes. Nate Oats’ team always seems to have four guys on the court that can get going from deep. John Petty, Jaden Shackelford, and Jahvon Quinerly can all take a game over with their shooting. Alabama is relentless in their attacking on both ends, and they have the deep to keep the pressure on all game.
The Bruins are led by the trio of Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez, and Jules Benard. Each of these 6’6″ California natives has a versatile scoring skill set that makes this team hard to guard. The four-game losing streak that the Bruins rode into the NCAA Tournament seems like a distant memory now. Jaquez and Juzang have been especially good in the East Regional. The former just always seems to be in the right position to make winning plays, while the latter is averaging 22 points in three tournament games. They will both need to play well if the Bruins want to keep up with Alabama.
East Regional; Heavy Weight Fights
While this is the only region with four power five schools and three of its top four seeds remaining, none of these teams were looked at as National title contenders when the season began. They are all in that category now, sitting just two wins away from the Final Four. Each of these teams can score in bunches, even though they all do it in different ways. While depth and balance define each of these teams, they also have the individual talent capable of taking over a game. The power at the top still remains in the East Regional, which will make for must-watch television on both Sunday and Tuesday.
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