Tourney breakdown: Previewing the East Region
Selection Sunday is officially in the books, and the NCAA Tournament is upon us. In the buildup to the opening round, Footballlifestyle is previewing each region to get you prepared to pick your bracket. The East Region wraps up our series after previously touching on the South, Midwest, and West.
No. 1 Purdue
Purdue is once again led by a massive front-court star. Zach Edey, this season’s Wooden Award favorite, is the most unstoppable force in college basketball and helped deliver both the Big Ten regular-season and tourney titles to the Boilermakers. The challenge facing Purdue is whether it has the backcourt to take it deep in the Big Dance. Guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith trail only Edey in minutes played and are both freshmen in their first NCAA Tournament.
No. 2 Marquette
Shaka Smart is back in the NCAA Tournament with Marquette, shocking almost everybody in college basketball by winning the Big East and grabbing a No. 2 seed. The Golden Eagles were expected to regress after losing a number of key contributors from last year but have risen to the occasion all season. Four players score in double figures for the balanced attack, with Kam Jones leading the way at 15 points per game. The addition of transfer Tyler Kolek and his 7.7 assists per contest has been key to Marquette boasting the Big East’s second-best offense.
No. 3 Kansas State
Consider this the region of the surprise teams, as Kansas State was also picked to finish well back in the conference. Instead, the Wildcats have blockbuster wins over Texas, Kansas, and twice over Baylor on a rock-solid resume. A two-headed monster has led Kansas State to 23 wins this season, with Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell averaging a combined 34.5 points per contest. The Wildcats possess plenty of firepower to go deep, but they could be ripe for an upset based on their 5-6 record in their last 11 games.
No. 8 Memphis
Memphis comes in fresh off upsetting Houston to win the AAC title on the weekend. Outside of two previous losses to the Cougars, the Tigers have suffered only two defeats in the calendar year. That makes them a very scary team in a possible second-round matchup with Purdue. Memphis is loaded with star power, led by the duo of Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams. Combined, the pair is averaging almost 40 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists per contest heading into the tournament.
No. 12 Oral Roberts
Oral Roberts certainly won’t sneak up on anyone like it did during a shocking Sweet 16 run in 2021. Perhaps the scariest thing for first-round opponent Duke is that the Golden Eagles are better in almost every metric than the 2021 iteration. Max Abmas remains the shining star for Oral Roberts, with the high-scoring guard now a senior in his final season. The talented Blue Devils will be a tough matchup in the opening round, but the Golden Eagles have shown they can hang with just about anyone come tournament time.
Players to watch
Zach Edey, Purdue
Purdue has had a series of strong 7-footers under Matt Painter, but the level of dominance being displayed by the 7-foot-4 Edey is unmatched. The Canadian saw his minutes jump this season from 19.1 to over 30 per game and responded with an incredible stat line of 22.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. Edey showcased his ability in the Big Ten Tournament, posting back-to-back games of at least 30 points and 13 rebounds as his team secured the title.
Kendric Davis, Memphis
The electric Davis has been a revelation in his first season with Memphis after transferring from SMU. Davis is 10th in the country in scoring at just under 20 points per game and ranks in the top 25 nationally in assists. He’s among the hottest players in college basketball, absolutely scorching the nets from beyond the arc to the tune of 55% over his past three games. If he keeps that hot shooting up, Memphis has all the makings of a team that can pull off a string of upsets.
Max Abmas, Oral Roberts
Abmas was a sophomore during the memorable 2021 run but is now Oral Roberts’ senior leader. The 6-foot guard is sixth in the nation in scoring at 22 points per contest and has five games of 30-plus this season. He also enters firing on all cylinders by connecting on almost 45% of his triples over the last three games. The Golden Eagles go as Abmas does, so Duke will have a clear objective in Round 1 to shut the Texas native down.
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