The East region figures to be one of the more fun corners of the NCAA Tournament bracket, with several powerhouse NBA Draft prospects.
Viewers in South Carolina, California, Jacksonville and Des Moines will be in for a treat this weekend watching the East region of the NCAA Tournament, featuring Duke as well as the country’s most fearsome No. 2 seed, Michigan State.
If you care more about the NBA Draft and haven’t made the time to get eyes on this year’s crop of prospects, the East region also features several great matchups to tune in for.
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central/North Dakota State
Prospects to watch: All the Blue Devils not named Goldwire or O’Connell
Go ahead and shut your eyes whenever the scrawny dudes come in for Duke. During all other moments of Duke’s expected deep run in this tournament, grab some snacks and get comfy for the best entertainment you’ll see for a while. The thrill of watching the Blue Devils’ draft prospects may even help make up for how bad Captain Marvel was. Enjoy it.
Aside from the phenom Zion Williamson, whom you should never miss the opportunity to watch, Duke has several other guys who should be on your radar. R.J. Barrett is the presumptive No. 1 pick in the draft, and you can decide for yourself whether his 22.9 points per game scoring average is a result of abnormal talent or an intense love of… having the ball.
Then there’s Cam Reddish, the picture-perfect NBA wing whose skill is wanting. You could see Reddish having a nice March for a role player, similar to the breakouts from Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk for Kansas last spring. You could also see Reddish fall out of the top four in the 2019 draft class.
Rounding out the group are efficient, unexciting point guard Tre Jones and 3-and-D big man Jack White. The former is the brother of NBA point guard and 2015 national champion Tyus Jones, while the latter looked like a potential first-round pick before falling off big time late in the year. White may end up back in Durham for his senior season, or he could use a huge tournament performance to get back on NBA teams’ radars.
No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Saint Louis
Prospects to watch: G Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G Justin Robinson (both Virginia Tech)
The backcourt talent at Virginia Tech makes them one of the more exciting teams in the country. NBA fans will love the style Buzz Williams has the Hokies playing, with tons of 3s, a quick pace and playmaking at every position.
That versatility is also why his players look like high-floor draft prospects. Alexander-Walker, like his cousin, Clippers guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, has a long, NBA-ready frame. He is also an incredible shooter, finishing the year at 38.1 percent on 4.7 attempts per game, including 40.2 percent on NBA 3s according to The Stepien’s shot charts.
Initiating Virginia Tech’s offense and creating open looks for Alexander-Walker all year was Robinson, another big playmaker. He, like Alexander-Walker, created a ton of steals to spur the Hokies’ transition offense. Most importantly, Robinson’s frame allowed him to be effective around the rim, drawing a ton of fouls, another mark of efficiency for the 10th-most efficient offense in the country.
No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Temple/Belmont
Prospects to watch: Maryland C Bruno Fernando, Belmont F Dylan Windler
Fernando is the best modern big man prospect you’ve never heard of. He expanded his range slowly over the course of the year, and though he only took eight 3s all season, his jumper has a quick release and good form. Fernando also boasts a 7.4 percent block rate, an elite number, particularly for Maryland’s middling defense.
Fernando is projected to go in the late first-round this June, but a big March could put him in lottery consideration.
He will have a tough test against the balanced Belmont Bruins (should they win their play-in game), led by 3-and-D prospect Dylan Windler. The senior put up 21 and 11 per game in the Ohio Valley Conference and at 6-8 shooting 41 percent on 214 3-point attempts this year, his value in the NBA is obvious.
No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Yale
Prospects to watch: LSU F Naz Reid, Yale F Miye Oni
As a junior at Yale, Oni took his 3-and-D game to another level, taking on a 28.8 percent usage rate and taking the Ivy League Player of the Year by raising his true shooting percentage by 6.5 percentage points. He’s also a sneaky comfortable playmaker and can protect the rim. His all-around talent will make this game fascinating.
Reid has a lot on the line in the tournament, as current whispers have him leaving after one season to join the NBA. Most draft boards have him as a mid-to-late-second-round pick right now, though, so he may need a few huge performances to lock in guaranteed money on his first NBA deal.