The East Region of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is, in a word, nuts.
It’s the only region that doesn’t have a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16, and the No. 2 seed, Kentucky, fell in one of the biggest first-round upsets in tournament history. The authors of that upset, the No. 15 Saint Peter’s Peacocks, will look to continue their storybook run when they face No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers on Friday night. No. 4 UCLA Bruins and No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels make up the region’s other semifinal Friday from Philadelphia.
No. 15 Saint Peter’s vs. No. 3 Purdue, 7:09 p.m. ET Friday
Spread: Purdue -12.5
Moneyline: Saint Peter’s +650, Purdue -1000
The tournament’s darlings got by Kentucky by shooting better than 50 percent from the field, including 9-for-17 from 3-point range. The Peacocks’ defense then took center stage in the Second Round as it limited Murray State, one of the nation’s best offenses, to a mere 60 points and 34.6 percent shooting. Saint Peter’s mustached on-court leader — and new chicken spokesman — Doug Edert has scored 33 points over the two wins.
For Saint Peter’s to advance to the Elite Eight — something a No. 15 seed has never done since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 — it will have to have an answer for Purdue’s size. Thanks to 7-foot-4 Zach Edey and 6-foot-10 Trevion Williams, Purdue has one of the tallest teams in the nation. That size has helped them become an elite rebounding team and post the second-best adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Beyond that, Jaden Ivey is a star scorer who has put up 18 and 22 points, respectively, in Purdue’s victories over No. 14 Yale and No. 6 Texas.
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 4 UCLA, 9:39 p.m. ET Friday
Spread: UCLA -2.5
Moneyline: UCLA -140, UNC +120
The Bruins are marching toward their second Final Four in as many years, but one huge question looms over the team as it prepares for this Sweet 16 battle: Will star junior guard Jaime Jaquez be able to play after spraining his right ankle during UCLA’s Second Round win over Saint Mary’s? To the Bruins’ credit, they actually played better without Jaquez in that game, outscoring the Gaels 17-9 over the final seven minutes. But as the team’s leader in points, rebounds and field-goal percentage — as well as being a very strong defender — Jaquez’s value can’t be overstated. Even if Jaquez sits, UCLA has plenty of firepower with Johnny Juzang, Tyger Campbell and Jules Bernard carrying the offensive burden. They were all a part of UCLA’s run from the First Four to the Final Four last season, too.
The Tar Heels have been among college basketball’s most impressive teams for more than a month now. They knocked off Duke and Virginia Tech on the road before the NCAA Tournament and then absolutely ran roughshod over Marquette in the First Round, 95-63. UNC was pulling off the same trick against No. 1 Baylor in the Second Round before seeing Brady Manek get ejected and subsequently choking away a 24-point lead over the ensuing 10-plus minutes. The Tar Heels somehow composed themselves to still take down the defending national champs in overtime, 93-86. Sophomore guard RJ Davis scored 30 points that day. Star forward Armando Bacot has registered a double-double in both of North Carolina’s wins. And Manek, the Oklahoma transfer, has been incredibly hot from the floor through two games, shooting 18-for-28 overall and 9-for-18 from long range.
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