The safe pick is Villanova, but there is no glory in picking the top seed. Who will emerge from the East? It's ripe for a lower-seeded run.

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First glance

Villanova is very deserving of a top seed, and two years ago the Wildcats were national champions. But throw out the great run in 2016, and the Wildcats have been a big disappointment since 2009, failing to get past the second round six times. After Villanova, this region looks to be wide open. It could be quite a second-round battle between  No. 4 seed Wichita State and No. 5 seed West Virginia, with both of those teams capable of beating Villanova. Would not be surprised to see No. 2 seed Purdue and No. 3 seed Texas Tech fail to make it past the first weekend.

By the numbers

2 The number of combined national titles among the region’s top five seeds, both by Villanova (1985 and 2016). UCLA, playing in a First Four game in the East region, has 11 national titles.

25 Wichita State has won at least 25 games each of the past nine seasons.

42 The percentage of three-point shots that Purdue makes, second best in NCAA Division I behind William & Mary.

The contenders

No. 1 Villanova: The Wildcats are the best team on paper, but the NCAA tournament seldom goes according to form. Still, if Villanova plays at its typical level, it will be tough to beat.

No. 4 Wichita State: The Shockers have been among the nation’s best teams for a decade. All they are missing is a trip to the title game, similar to Gonzaga’s situation last year before it played for the championship. But a long run for the Shockers won’t be easy, beginning with a tough opening game vs. Marshall.

The sleepers

No. 7 Arkansas: The Razorbacks have a great shot at beating Purdue if the teams meet in the second round. They are athletic and their pressure defense is relentless.

No. 11 UCLA/St. Bonaventure: The winner of this First Four game could win at least a couple more. UCLA junior point guard Aaron Holiday (20.3 points, 5.8 assists) can take over a game. Bonnies senior guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley combine to average 38.3 points and 7.9 assists.

Headed for a fall

No. 3 Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have lost five of their past seven games, have not won an NCAA tournament game since 2005 and play a very dangerous No. 14 seed in Stephen F. Austin, which won as the same seed in 2016 against West Virginia. The Lumberjacks have a great chance to knock off another No. 3.

Star power

Jevon Carter, West Virginia: The 6-foot-2 senior guard does everything for the Mountaineers, leading the team in scoring (17.0), assists (6.6) and steals (2.9) and is third in rebounding (4.7). He is shooting 39 percent from three-point range.
Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, Villanova: The junior guards are among the best players in the country. Brunson, 6-3, leads the team in scoring (19.4) and assists (4.7) and shoots 41 percent on three-pointers. Bridges, 6-6, is averaging 18.0 points and 5.4 rebounds and shoots 43 percent from long range.

Cagiest coach

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State: He has had great success at Winthrop and now at Wichita State, with a 476-178 career record. Has lost only once to a lower-seeded team in the NCAA tournament.

Best players you might not have heard of

Jon Elmore, Marshall: The 6-3 junior guard has one of the best stat lines in the country, averaging 22.8 points, 6.9 assists and 6.0 rebounds.

Kelan Martin, Butler: The 6-7 senior forward leads his team in scoring (20.8) and rebounding (6.2).

Jaylen Barford, Arkansas: The 6-3 senior guard averages a team-high 18.0 points, and shoots 47 percent from the field, including 44 percent from three-point range.

And the winner is …

Wichita State: The safe pick is Villanova, but there is no glory in picking the top seed. The Shockers seem due to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2013.