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East region loaded with talent, name brands, but Baylor has to lose

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USA TODAY Sports breaks down the NCAA Tournament East Region:

Best first-round matchup: Where to start? Star power and brands abound in the East, beginning with defending national champion Baylor, the No. 1 seed. (Don’t look to the Bears to battle No. 16 Norfolk State.) And as Baylor joins a handful of other national programs: No. 2 Kentucky, No. 4 UCLA and No. 8 North Carolina, to name a few. – the best first-round matchup comes between two mid-majors: No. 7 Murray State against No. 10 San Francisco.

The Dons (24-9, 10-6) are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998 after advancing to the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals, where they fell to No. 1 seed overall Gonzaga. . Murray State (30-2, 18-0) hasn’t lost since just before Christmas and finished the regular season ranked 20th in the Ferris Mowers coaches’ poll. The Ohio Valley Conference champions rank in the top 40 nationally in offense and defense, based on Pomeroy efficiency ratings.

Potential discomfort: No. 11 Virginia Tech heads into tournament play having won the first ACC tournament championship in program history. The Hokies will face No. 6 Texas, which stumbled in the postseason after losing three straight and five of eight. The Longhorns do it defensively, with a unit ranked 13th nationally in adjusted efficiency ratings, according to Pomeroy. The Hokies are more reliable on the offensive end and are playing at their best this season: Tech dropped at least 72 points in conference tournament wins against Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke.

Justyn Mutts and the Hokies advanced to the Eastern Region from their ACC Tournament win over Duke.

The sleeper: It feels ridiculous to call No. 2 Kentucky a sleeper, so let’s ditch the Wildcats in favor of No. 5 Saint Mary’s, who await the winner of the play-in game between No. 12 Wyoming and No. 12 Indiana. The No. 16 team in the Coaches Poll finished 1.5 games behind Gonzaga in the WCC and was responsible for the Bulldogs’ only league loss, in late February.

The winner: Baylor. Not that it will be easy. In the second round, a talented team from North Carolina is always poised to play at a level high enough to beat just about any opponent in the country. In the Sweet 16, UCLA or a hot-shooting Saint Mary’s team could take out the defending champions. Further down the line, a Kentucky or No. 3 Purdue has the training and ability to keep Baylor a secret. But the Bears are the safest pick in a star-studded region.

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No. 1 Baylor

Record: (26-6, 14-4 Big 12 overall)

Coach: scott drew

Top scorer: James Akinjo, 13.4 points per game

No. 2 Kentucky

Record: (26-7, 14-4 SEC overall)

Coach: John Calipari

Top scorer: Oscar Tshiebwe, 17.0 points per game

No. 3 Purdue

Record: (27-6, 14-6 Big Ten overall)

Coach: matte painter

Top scorer: Zach Edey, 14.6 points per game

No. 4 UCLA

Record: (21-7, 15-5 Pac-12 overall)

Coach: mick cronin

Top scorer: Johnny Juzang, 16.0 points per game

No. 5 Santa Maria

Record: (25-7, 12-3 overall West Coast)

Coach: Randy Bennett

Top scorer: Matthias Tass, 12.6 points per game

No. 6 Tiles

Record: (21-11, 10-8 Big 12 overall)

Coach: chris beard

Top scorer: Timmy Allen, 12.3 points per game

No. 7 Murray State

Record: (30-2, 18-0 Ohio Valley champion)

Coach: matt mc mahon

Top scorer: KJ Williams, 18.2 points per game

No. 8 North Carolina

Record: (24-9, 15-5 ACC overall)

Coach: Hubert Davis

Top scorer: Armando Bacot, 16.5 points per game

No. 9 Marquette

Record: (19-12, 11-8 Grand East overall)

Coach: smart shake

Top scorer: Justin Lewis, 17.1 points per game

#10 San Francisco

Record: (24-9, 10-6 on the West Coast overall)

Coach: golden todd

Top scorer: Jamaree Bouyea, 16.7 points per game

No. 11 Virginia Tech

Record: (23-12, 11-9 ACC champion)

Coach: mike young

Top scorer: Keve Aluma, 15.7 points per game

No. 12 Indiana

Record: (20-13, 9-1 Big Ten overall)

Coach: mike woodson

Top scorer: Trayce Jackson-Davis, 18.1 points per game

No. 12 Wyoming

Record: (25-8, 13-5 Mountain West overall)

Coach: jeff linder

Top scorer: Graham Ike, 19.6 points per game

No. 13 Akron

Record: (24-9, 14-6 MAC champion)

Coach: John Groce

Top scorer: Ali Ali, 14.2 points per game

No. 14 Yale

Record: (18-11, 11-3 Ivy League champion)

Coach: James Jones

Top scorer: Azar Swain, 19.1 points per game

No. 15 St. Peter

Record: (19-11, 14-6 MAAC champion)

Coach: Shaheen Holloway

Top scorer: Daryl Banks III, 11.1 points per game

No. 16 Norfolk State

Record: (26-6, 15-2 MEAC champion)

Coach: robert jones

Top scorer: Joe Bryant, 16.6 points per game

Follow Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness 2022: Baylor to test in the loaded East Region

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