This series of articles will break down each region of the tournament, calling out potential double-digit upsets and schools that will likely advance out of the region to give you the best odds of winning your bracket pool.
Cinderella Pick – Butler
The odds of Cinderella coming to the ball from the East is pretty slim – so slim, in fact, that the only one double-digit seed that I predict can win more than one game is Butler.
Cinderella’s middle name ought to be Butler, although when one looks at the numbers, Butler starts to seem less and less of a mid-major team and more so a regular contender. Butler has won at least one game in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments. As with seemingly every Butler squad, this year’s team features a combo of Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin that is every bit as potent as its duos in the past. Preventing Butler from making an even bigger run will likely be Purdue, an in-state rival that beat Butler by 15 points in a meeting earlier this season. Be wary picking against Butler.
Team(s) to Advance Out of Region – Florida, Villanova, Purdue
If you read my article earlier this year, Florida has been one of my teams to watch throughout the season. Since the article was posted, we have seen the highs and lows of one of the most confusing teams to decipher in the country. Florida has the recipe for making a deep tournament run: veteran guards who can defend well and shoot lights out from beyond the line, an NBA prospect in Jalen Hudson who can drop 30 in any given game, and athletic bigs who can outrebound anyone. Florida has impressive wins against Gonzaga, Kentucky (twice), Cincinnati and Auburn but head-scratching losses against subpar teams where the Gators shot poorly and defended on a high-school level. A risky pick, but one that could win you your pool if you pick the Gators to the Final Four and they deliver.
Look, sometimes the key to doing well in a bracket is to make the safest selections and to avoid getting too crazy with your picks. After all, number 1 seeds are given that honor for a reason. Villanova is 30-4 this year and has key players returning from Villanova’s 2016 championship squad (see Jalen Brunson). With a high-octane offense that averages over 87.0 PPG and is ranked #1 by the KenPom rating system, Villanova will be a tough out against anyone. Look for ‘Nova to coast through at least until the Elite Eight, but the Wildcats have aspirations way beyond that.
Speaking of electric offenses, Purdue features one of the most balanced squads with an exceptional, NBA-ready center in 7’2’’ Issac Haas. Even against respectable D1-caliber centers, Haas can seem like a giant in the paint with unmatched height and physicality. Along with Villanova, what makes Purdue so dangerous is its elite defense to go with a balanced offensive attack, allowing 55.9 PPG to its opponents this year. Although this is a Purdue squad that cranked out 19 consecutive wins earlier in the season, a cause for concern is the Boilermaker’s inability to beat the best teams it has faced. Purdue failed to beat rivals Ohio State and Michigan State in its only meetings this season and handily lost to Michigan in the Big Ten Conference Final. Further, Purdue likely has the most difficult road of any (2) seed to make it to the Final Four given the quality of teams in the East bracket.
Pick to Win Region: Villanova