EAST REGION PREVIEW
The East is far from the region of death, but there are number of qualities teams capable of earning a trip to the Final Four. There appears to be little room for double-digit seeds to shine and advance past the first weekend of games. Still, the weakest No. 1 seed landed in this region in the the Virginia Cavaliers, despite UVA winning the ACC regular season and tournament crowns. A meeting with Michigan State in the Sweet 16 could spell doom for the Cavaliers. This region is not the prettiest side of the bracket to watch, with several defensively superior units.
No. 1 Virginia - The Cavaliers haven't seen this type of success since Ralph Sampson took the court more than 30 years ago. Virginia provides stifling defense; the Cavaliers are No. 1 in the country in fewest points allowed, yielding just 55.3 points per game. Coach Tony Bennett employs a slow-down offense as well, which forces bruising, grind-out victories. Still, the emergence of sophomore Malcolm Brogdon has provided a steady hand on offense. Senior Joe Harris saw his scoring drop this season, but he can still stroke it. The Cavaliers have won 16 of their last 17 games and are most effective when they make opponents play at their speed and tempo.
No. 2 Villanova - The Wildcats could have been a one seed, but the buzzer-beating loss to Seton Hall in a weakened Big East tourney prevented that. Still, coach Jay Wright has seen unexpected growth this season. The Cats only lost four games, and two came against Creighton. With the Bluejays nowhere in sight in the East bracket, the Wildcats can use an efficient, balanced offensive attack with guard-oriented play to wear down opponents.
No. 3 Iowa State - The Cyclones reached new heights as a program this season, winning the conference tournament by taking down the vaunted Kansas Jayhawks in the process. Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane has done a little bit of everything for the Cyclones at the point, while big man Melvin Ejim played far bigger than his 6-foot-6 size en route to Big 12 Player of the Year honors. The Cyclones share the ball extremely well, are near the top in the nation in scoring and can rebound with the best, as well.
No. 4 Michigan State - The Spartans were the preseason No. 1 but battled injuries to their key players. MSU is healthy now, though, and fresh off a Big Ten tournament title. The Spartans possess an excellent inside-out game with Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne down low, along with Gary Harris on the wing and Travis Trice and Keith Appling running the show. The Spartans are physical, experienced and extremely well coached.
No. 12 Harvard - The Crimson are no strangers to March Madness, making the tournament for the third consecutive season. Harvard beat New Mexico last season as a No. 14 seed and brings back largely the same squad. Combo guard Wesley Saunders will once again lead the Crimson, though the junior has been bothered by a knee injury this season that has limited his production. Still, the Crimson are battle tested, experienced and deep. They did not have Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey last season, who were suspended for their involvement in a cheating scandal.
No. 10 Saint Joseph's - The Hawks are an experienced, senior-laden group that shoots 47.3 percent from the field. The frontcourt duo of Ronald Roberts Jr. and Halil Kanacevic can manhandle less physical squads, while 6-2 Langston Galloway dials it up from long distance, hitting 42 percent of his shots from downtown. Interestingly, the aforementioned 6-8 Kanacevic leads the team in assists at 4.5 per game, showing the inside-out philosophy employed by St. Joe's. The Hawks have been known to fall in love with the three-pointer, though, which could mean an early exit from the tourney if the treys are not hitting. It could also mean a stunning upset if the Hawks get hot. Winners of the A-10 tourney, the Hawks have shown that they are certainly not to be taken lightly.
No. 3 Iowa State - Virginia was almost the pick here, but the Cyclones will have an extremely difficult matchup if they get past North Carolina Central in their first game. A battle with North Carolina or Providence looms, and the athletic Tar Heels match up extremely well with Fred Hoiberg's bunch. James Michael McAdoo can contain Melvin Ejim, and DeAndre Kane won't necessarily have his way with Marcus Paige. This pick may be more about UNC's upside rather than ISU's deficiencies, but the Cyclones could still be in trouble if they draw the Tar Heels in the following round. Likewise, in a bracket dominated by defense, the offensive-minded Cyclones could be vulnerable if their shots don't fall on a given night.
ROUND OF 64 UPSET
No. 12. Harvard vs. No. 5 Cincinnati - The classic 12-5 trap game provides another intriguing matchup in the East regional. The Crimson have been here before, playing the role of Cinderella in last season's Big Dance. Cincinnati played in a weak conference and struggled down the stretch. The Bearcats also struggle to score at times, and the Bearcats don't have the size to bully the Crimson, either. In a game that should be a defensive struggle, the Bearcats could get tight if their shots don't fall early.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Marcus Paige, Guard, North Carolina - The Tar Heels have been one of the toughest teams to figure out this season. They started off slow, took off toward the end of the season, but then floundered in the ACC tournament. Still, Paige is the catalyst for the Heels, who have beaten quality teams in Duke, Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky. The sophomore can dash to the rim to find an open teammate for an easy bucket or step out to can a three-pointer, where he shoots almost 40 percent. If Paige gets hot, the Tar Heels have enough talent to blaze their way through their side of the region.
SWEET 16 PICKS
No. 1 Virginia - A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed, and it's not going to happen for Coastal Carolina, either. Virginia should face George Washington in the next round, but the Colonials play a similar type of game as the Cavaliers. Only problem, Virginia plays it better.
No. 2 Villanova - The Wildcats should breeze past Milwaukee in the first game, as the Panthers were not even .500 in the Horizon League despite winning their conference tourney. The next round is extremely interesting, though; either Shabazz Napier and the Huskies, or an all-Philly tilt with A-10 Champ St. Joseph's. Although it was much earlier this season, Villanova played St. Joe's in December and beat the Hawks by 30 points. The Wildcats should squeak by.
No. 6 North Carolina - The Tar Heels have been up and down this season, but are immensely talented. Providence won a watered-down Big East Tournament, and Iowa State is a poor defensive team. If UNC is focused, the Tar Heels could be a mild surprise to enter the Sweet 16.
No. 4 Michigan State - Delaware has been a nice story this season, but the high-scoring Blue Hens do not rebound well and are a sub-standard defensive squad. Michigan State will score at will and stymie UD's offensive attack. Cincinnati is a pint-sized version of MSU, and Harvard also does not rebound particularly effectively. The Spartans should out-muscle their opponents into the Sweet 16.
FINAL FOUR PICK
No. 4 Michigan State - Coach Tom Izzo has been incredibly successful in the NCAA Tournament during his tenure with the Spartans, and they are finally healthy and clicking at the right time. They have the bracket with the "worst" No. 1 seed and are a well-rounded team that can impose its will on the interior, play suffocating defense and score enough with Gary Harris and Keith Appling from the outside. The Spartans started the season as the No. 1 team in the country, and they're playing like it now.