The Gamecocks found themselves in the East region in the 2017 NCAA Tournament and, to their fans’ delight, will open at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville on Friday. While they face a matchup against Marquette that should be fairly tough, they very well may have to get through Duke if they’re to get to a Sweet 16.
But what about everyone else? Let’s take a look at every single team in the East region, starting with Villanova and going all the way down to the bottom.
- Villanova 31-3, Big East Champions. The names and faces may have changed, but the Wildcats are the defending national champions. The matchups favor a trip to another Sweet 16 as they’ll take on the winner of a Mount St. Mary’s/New Orleans First Four matchup to start before facing either Wisconsin or Virginia Tech in Buffalo.
- Duke: 27-8, ACC Champions. It’s not unheard of to see a two-seed fall in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Just ask the 2012 Blue Devils that lost to Lehigh - or Michigan State last year (Middle Tennessee) or Georgetown in 2015 (FGCU). The 2012 tournament actually saw two #2s fall (Mizzou to Norfolk State was the other). With that said, don’t expect it to happen again to the Blue Devils this time around.
- Baylor: 25-7, Big 12 at-large. Kansas State’s victory over the Bears in the Big 12 Tournament (and in the regular season) was part of the reason they made it to the field of 68 (albeit as a First Four team), but the Bears’ body of work was good enough to get them a three seed. Will they be able to take down a New Mexico State team that will be looking for a first-round victory? I’d be hesitant to call this an upset special - see below for the team I do think has the ability to pull off a shocker.
- Florida: 24-8, SEC at-large. Mike White and his Gators squad more than earned their keep as they battled their way to an second-place finish in the SEC. That didn’t translate to tournament success as Vanderbilt knocked them out in the quarterfinals. On paper, their matchup against East Tennessee State looks pretty solid, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bucs give the Gators a scare early before Florida pulls away.
- Virginia: 22-10, ACC at-large. Last year, Tony Bennett’s team was 29-8 and an Elite Eight team as a #1 seed. This year, I doubt they even make it that far. The Cavs lost six of eight before a four-game winning streak, which was snapped in the ACC quarterfinals. Things go pretty good for Virginia when they’re good...but when things go bad (i.e. 48 points scored against Miami, 41 against North Carolina, losses to Syracuse and Pitt), they’re pretty bad. It wouldn’t shock me to see them beat UNC Wilmington, but if the Seahawks grab the 5/12 upset, that wouldn’t surprise me either.
- SMU: 30-4, American Athletic Champions. Tim Jankovich came in and did more than a remarkable job cleaning up the mess Larry Brown left behind in Dallas (Larry Brown? Violations? Who knew?). Depending on who comes out of the First Four game between Providence and USC, this might be an interesting matchup to watch.
- South Carolina
- Wisconsin: 25-8, Big Ten at-large. The 8/9 matchup favors the Badgers quite well: their worst losses (if you can even call them bad) was against Ohio State and Iowa, and while the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes were in the midst of off-years and didn’t make the tournament, there are still worse teams to lose to. Still, the timing of it (which came on either side of a loss to Michigan State) hurt. Their other defeats? Creighton, North Carolina, Northwestern, Michigan 2x (in the regular season and in the B1G Tournament).
- Virginia Tech: 22-9, ACC at-large. Buzz Williams’ crew were dealt a couple of losses to N.C. State and Wake Forest that saw their profile take a small dent, but wins over teams like Virginia, Duke and Miami along with a non-con win over Michigan that improved later in the season was enough to buoy them to an at-large bid.
- Marquette: 19-12, Big East at-large. The Golden Eagles don’t have the worst resume, but they don’t have the best, either. They did beat Michigan and, more notably, Villanova, but lost to St. John’s and Georgetown among others. But they played Butler well both times and lost to Wisconsin by only nine points. One thing for Gamecocks fans to note: the Golden Eagles are the country’s top three-point shooting team at 43.0
- Providence (20-12, Big East at-large)/USC (24-9, Pac-12 at-large) Wins over Butler and Creighton coupled with a pretty good non-conference slate and a tough Big East helped Providence get in, while USC had a much better profile with their worst loss coming to Arizona State - but not-so-bad losses to UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona. I’d probably make the case for the Trojans getting a high seed than they did; in my eyes, they also have a better chance of taking out SMU if they’re able to get the win in Dayton.
- UNC Wilmington: 29-5, CAA Champions. Go ahead and mark Kevin Keatts’ team down as an upset special. The Seahawks are one of the country’s mid-major powers, and with a few Power 5 jobs opening up, don’t be surprised to see Keatts snapped up if the situation is right.
- East Tennessee State: 27-7, SoCon Champions. The Buccaneers are coached by Steve Forbes. No, not that one. The Bucs went 24-12 last year en route to a Vegas 16 title (which had eight teams participate...don’t ask). This year, they find themselves in the field of 68 by virtue of a Southern Conference title.
- New Mexico State: 28-5, WAC Champions. Not a bad start to Paul Weir’s career in Las Cruces; a season that saw them rattle off 20 straight wins on the way to an WAC title and an NCAA tournament bid. They’ll definitely have their hands full with Baylor, though.
- Troy: 22-14, Sun Belt Champions. I alluded to this earlier, but the Trojans may want to draw inspiration from teams like FGCU, Middle Tennessee and Norfolk State before them when it comes to 15 seeds beating one seeds. However, my gut says that it won’t be the case between Duke and Troy this year.
- Mount St. Mary’s (18-15, NEC Champions)/New Orleans (18-11, Southland Champions) The winner of this First Four matchup takes on defending champion and #1 overall seed Villanova in the first round. Consider this the “just happy to be here” portion of the bracket.
Team in the East region with best shot at winning the tournament? Probably Villanova, but don’t count out Duke
Dark horse? I wouldn’t be shocked to see Florida make a run at it. They won’t win the tournament, but a Sweet 16 bid wouldn’t surprise me.
Should have been seeded higher: Wisconsin
Seeded too high: Virginia
Biggest upset potential? UNCW over Virginia in a heartbeat.