EAST REGION PREVIEW
The region's top two seeds have followed vastly different paths to the pinnacle of college basketball. The No. 1 seed, the Indiana Hoosiers, is the team that received the most preseason hype. Meanwhile, the No. 2 seed was not even on the radar screen when this year's campaign began; that would be the ACC champion Miami Hurricanes. Although not the strongest region, the East has very few small schools and, as a result, this side of the bracket might not be upset city.
No. 1 Indiana - The Hoosiers have been a lock for a No. 1 seed for some time now. They possess an extremely well-rounded attack with Cody Zeller and Christian Watford up front, along with sharpshooter Jordan Hulls, freshman point guard Yogi Farrell and bruiser Will Sheehee. Let's not forget about Victor Oladipo, Mr. Everything for Indiana. The preseason No. 1 in the nation brings an impressive resume to the tournament, though it sputtered a bit down the stretch, losing three of its last six games.
No. 2 Miami - It's been a record-breaking season for the Hurricanes. Miami clinched its first regular season ACC crown, followed by its first ACC tournament Championship. The Hurricanes are fueled by sophomore point guard Shane Larkin; the Hurricanes utilize the high pick-and-roll to perfection. Larkin is a master decision-maker, seeming to know when to take over and when to find his teammates. Miami can shoot the three with players like Trey McKinney-Jones and finesse big man Kenny Kadji, or bang down low with Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson. Coach Jim Larranaga should be the Coach of the Year with Miami's rapid ascent to the top of the basketball world. The Canes could have easily been a No. 1 seed.
No. 3 Marquette - The Golden Eagles weren't supposed to be here this season. They lost Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder to the pros, as well as Darius Johnson-Odom to graduation. Yet somehow, some way, coach Buzz Williams worked his magic and got the absolute most out of his players. Vander Blue stepped up to become the leading scorer for the squad, and Davante Gardner is a load down low at 6-foot-8, 290. They're still largely guard oriented, though, which might make it difficult to survive with some of the bigger teams in this region.
No. 4 Syracuse - The Orange hit a rough patch just before the Big East tournament, and looked the part of an early exit. Instead, Syracuse caught fire from 3-point land, led by a record-breaking performance by James Southerland, and were 15 minutes away from a Big East championship. Michael Carter-Williams is the catalyst for this squad, third in the nation in assists this season. C.J. Fair has probably been the most consistent player for Syracuse, and he could be the difference maker if the Orange advance deep in the tourney.
No. 14 Davidson - The Wildcats take a 17-game winning streak into the Tournament. The Wildcats lost just once in the Southern conference this season. Davidson has an excellent one-two punch in 6-10 senior Jake Cohen and junior swingman De'Mon Brooks. The Wildcats faced Duke and Gonzaga this season, so they won't be afraid of being on the big stage. An experienced squad that has been here before, the slipper may just fit for the Wildcats.
No. 11 Bucknell - The best player you've never heard of is Bucknell big man Mike Muscala. The senior center averaged 19.0 points and 11.2 points per game this season for the Bison. He notched 22 double-doubles this season, including three consecutive in the Patriot League Tournament. The Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the conference, Muscala is going to give Butler fits in the first game.
No. 3 Marquette - The Golden Eagles overachieved this season under Buzz Williams. They were able to grind out games in the rough-and-tumble Big East against opponents with similar skill sets. They lost to Butler this year, a possible future foe in this region, and were absolutely dismantled by Florida early in the season. They are the weakest three seed in the bracket, and some of the No. 4 seeds in other brackets could have a better chance at making it to Atlanta than the Golden Eagles.
No. 12. California vs. No. 5 UNLV - The Mountain West has not fared well in the Big Dance the last few years, and the Rebels fall into that dangerous 12-5 trap game. In a curious case for the NCAA Tournament, these teams actually played earlier this season. UNLV pulled out a 76-75 victory on a put back with 1.2 seconds left at Berkeley. The Bears get a chance at a rematch, and once again in the state of California, no less. The Rebels could be in for a short stay in San Jose.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Victor Oladipo, Forward, Indiana - The frontrunner for the Naismith Award as the NCAA Player of the Year, Oladipo has been the X-factor for the Hoosiers this season. He is long and athletic, serving as the spark for Indiana on both ends of the floor. He can provide highlight-reel dunks or spectacular chase-down blocks on an opponent's fastbreak. His impact is more than what is seen in the box score.
SWEET 16 PICKS
No. 1 Indiana - The Hoosiers aren't losing to LIU or JMU. In the next round, they'll get an inconsistent Temple squad or an underachieving N.C. State team that should be better than it actually is. Indiana should get to the Sweet 16 in a walk.
No. 2 Miami - The first opponent for Miami is Pacific; the Tigers have beaten St. Mary's and played Gonzaga this season but shouldn't give the Canes much trouble. A meeting with either Illinois or Colorado, two of the weaker 7 and 10 seeds, respectively, shouldn't be a problem, either.
No. 6 Butler - A rematch with Marquette looms in the Round of 32, should the Bulldogs fend off a feisty Bucknell squad. The Bulldogs took the first contest with Marquette in a thrilling 72-71 neutral-site victory on a Rotnei Clarke trey at the buzzer. That could be the best game in the East until the Regional Final.
No. 4 Syracuse - Montana could also play the role of giant killer this season, but the 2-3 zone will spell doom for the Grizzlies. A meeting with Cal or UNLV, two teams that have not been completely impressive, leads to a selection of the Orange in the Sweet 16.
FINAL FOUR PICK
No. 2 Miami - The Hurricanes are experienced and extremely well-balanced. Shane Larkin should have been the ACC Player of the Year, and forms the best backcourt tandem in the land with Durand Scott. Miami possesses the inside presence to dominate boards, as well as the prowess from the perimeter to run up the score. Indiana will be a tough out, but Miami is back on track and has the toughness to get to Atlanta.