NCAA Tournament: Breaking down the East Region

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One-year reunions typically aren’t a thing, but the NCAA Tournament East Region offers one worth hyperbole.

Led by defending national champion UConn, the region boasts a trio of Final Four teams from a season ago. National title runner-up San Diego State and Florida Atlantic are the others.

Huskies head coach Dan Hurley isn’t counting on trophies already on the shelf to help UConn claim another.

As for more recent developments, four conference tournament champions highlight the East fold, with Iowa State (Big 12), Illinois (Big Ten), and Auburn (SEC) joining UConn (Big East).

The Huskies, who enter the tournament at 31-3, are the No. 1 overall seed in the 68-team field.

“That’s not gonna do anything for us starting on Friday. We can’t cash that in for a trip to the Elite 8,” Hurley said.

TOP SHOT UConn regrouped from a lopsided loss at Big East rival Creighton on Feb. 20 by winning its next seven games, including five by double figures. Five different players finished as the Huskies’ leading scorer over that span, reinforcing the program’s depth.

Five players average double figures: Tristen Newton (15.2 points a game), Cam Spencer (14.5), Alex Karaban (13.9), Donovan Clingan (12.5), and Stephon Castle (10.8)

Iowa State, defensive-minded as usual under third-year coach T.J. Otzelberger, is the region’s No. 2 seed, and enters the tournament on a high note after throttling South Region No. 1 seed 69-41 for the Big 12 tourney title.

GAMES TO WATCH 6 BYU vs. 11 Duquesne Duquesne is back in the Big Dance for the first time since 1977 after winning four games in five days to take the Atlantic 10 tournament title. Winning their first NCAA tournament game since 1969 will hinge on the Dukes slowing the multi-pronged Cougars, who have seven players averaging at least 9.0 points.

7 Washington State vs. 10 Drake The matchup between 6-foot-8 Jaylen Wells of Washington State and 6-7 Drake standout (and coach’s son) Tucker DeVries looms large in this one. The “yeah, and” attributes of both players could make a difference in a close game. Wells hits 42.5 percent of his long-range attempts, while DeVries passes well, averaging 3.6 assists.

8 Florida Atlantic vs. 9 Northwestern Florida Atlantic made a successful transition to the American Athletic Conference, winning 25 games while averaging 83 points. The Wildcats have struggled with their scoring depth but know how to slow the tempo when needed.

GET TO KNOW Boo Buie, guard, Northwestern. The fifth-year point guard has the Wildcats in consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time in school history. His averages in scoring (18.9 points a game), assists (5.2) and steals (1.3) all are career bests.

Terrence Shannon Jr., guard, Illinois. Shannon Jr. helps make the No. 3 Illini attack go, averaging 21.6 points. But his narrative also includes off-court controversy — Shannon faces felony rape charges related to an incident in September.

Danny Wolf, forward, Yale. He’s one of multiple big men in the region who also can connect from long range. The 7-footer averages 14.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and shoots 37 percent from deep.

SPREAD THE NEWS Top seed UConn (-26.5) is a heavy favorite against Stetson, and deservedly so. But the first-time NCAA tourney participant Hatters have sharpshooting Jalen Blackmon, who could make things slightly less lopsided.

San Diego State (-8.5), which advanced to the Final Four as a No. 5 seed last season, is on the same seed line this time around. But a potentially tricky matchup with upstart UAB awaits.

The lines in this region’s seven-10 and eight-nine games perpetuate the longstanding view of these contests as toss-ups, with No. 7 Washington State (-1.5) and No. 8 FAU (-1.5) both slight favorites.

OUT OF THE EAST Men’s college basketball has not crowned a repeat national champion since Florida in 2006 and 2007. UConn remains a real threat to repeat thanks to its balance and big-game experience.

The Huskies built on last season’s success and are adept at winning games in multiple ways. While the defensive intensity has been a constant and Spencer (44.4 percent) and Karaban (39.5) typically shine from beyond the arc, Clingan’s presence around the basket sets the team apart. The 7-foor-2 sophomore also leads UConn with 7.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a game.

A potential regional final matchup with Iowa State could get gritty, but the Cyclones’ free-throw woes can’t be ignored. Iowa State has hit just 69.5 percent of its attempts from the line, which ranks 278th in the nation.