We’ve already broken down the West Region of this year’s NCAA Tournament, where we’ve got the top overall seed Gonzaga advancing to the Final Four. Who will the Zags end up seeing out of the East Region? Let’s give it a look.
2021 NCAA Tournament Preview - East Region
Player to watch: James Bouknight, UConn
UConn’s star sophomore missed eight games in the middle of the season, four which ended in defeat. His return for the stretch run turned the Huskies into a completely different team. The do-it-all guard averaged 18 points and six rebounds per game in the final eight contests of the season, and UConn is hitting its stride at the right time.
Trending up: Mount St. Mary’s
It may seem weird to pick a 16 seed that finished 12-10 here, but MSM is a boom-or-bust team that ended the season booming. The Mountaineers key off diminutive point guard Damian Chong Qui. Ironically, though, with three starters at 6-8 or taller, the size of their front line stands out.
Don’t be surprised if the Mountaineers advance over Texas Southern in their play-in game and give top-seeded Michigan all the Wolverines more than they bargained for in the opening round.
Speaking of which...
Trending down: Michigan
The numbers say the Wolverines are playing some of the best basketball in the country. Aside from their 20-4 record, they’re ranked second overall in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric.
The eye test tells a different story. Losing to squads like Illinois and Ohio State isn’t a sign of a team in crisis, but losing three times in the final five games suggests Michigan’s best days are behind it. Getting blown out by the Illini in Ann Arbor was especially troubling. On top of all that, the status of swingman Isaiah Livers remains in doubt.
Put it all together, and Juwan Howard’s team looks like the most vulnerable of all the one seeds.
Best first-round matchup: No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Georgetown
You could argue that this depends on which version of the Hoyas shows up in Indianapolis. The one we saw out on the floor for most of the season had no business being anywhere near this tournament. On the other hand, Georgetown played like a juggernaut in winning the Big East Tournament.
CU is a solid, well-coached team. Assuming the Buffaloes get the new-look Hoyas in the Big Dance, the two teams should treat us to one of the most competitive games of the first round.
Most likely upset: No. 9 St. Bonaventure over No. 8 LSU
Seeing as LSU is only a one-point favorite in this game, this would technically qualify as an upset. The Tigers left a good impression in their last game, a shootout with Alabama in the final of the SEC Tournament. The Bonnies present a different kind of challenge from the Crimson Tide, though. SBU plays at a grindingly slow pace on offense and hits the offensive glass with reckless abandon. In a tournament setting, that style of play makes for a tough out.
Predicted winner: No. 2 Alabama over No. 5 Colorado
This feels like the most wide open of all the regions because the top seed is wobbling. That doesn’t mean Michigan is cooked, but surviving four games seems like a tall order.
Playing out west, CU is a bit of a mystery to many fans, but this is a good tournament team. The Buffs have a great point guard in McKinley Wright. They don’t turn the ball over. They suck up offensive rebounds and don’t give them up on defense. They hit 82% of their free throws. They seem primed to outlast Michigan and Florida State.
Bama looks like the class of the region, however. Under Nate Oats, the Crimson Tide have excelled playing their own relentless style. Ultimately, the rest of the teams in East don’t have the horses to keep up with them.