Bracket Breakdown: East Region
Breakdown: If every region needs a theme then the East’s region could be upsets. It’s bracket full of vulnerable high seeds and upset-minded smaller seeds. However, the top two seeds seem to have nice paths to the elite eight. It’s the meat of the bracket that could provide the tournament with the most chaos. Teams like Bucknell, Davidson, and Montana have players that can single-handedly turn the tide of a game. This region also features several Jekyll and Hyde teams that can’t decide whether they are elite or average. Illinois is one of those teams. The Illini have shown flashes of brilliance this year, but they always seemed to follow them with spasms of terribleness. The Butler Bulldogs were once a top 10 this season with wins over Gonzaga and Indiana. Now, they have fallen to the six line and will face one of the toughest small conference teams in America. If there’s a region that’s going to ruin your bracket it’s likely this one.
Chalk holds if…: Indiana and Miami can avoid slow it down, grind it out teams they will meet in the elite eight with little problem. The Hoosiers are highly susceptible to grind it out teams, but anyone that has failed to slow them down has lost. The Hurricanes would like the tempo high, but they are more than capable of slugging it out if need be. Their bigger problem is mentally. The Canes are prone to over-confidence and mental lapses that have caused them to lose mind-numbing games to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Florida Gulf Coast, and Indiana State. So, if both teams avoid the pitfalls and meet it could be a final four berth for Indiana. Miami is tough, but they don’t have the type of team that can force the Hoosiers into a grind.
If it’s not number one then it’s…: Like the last paragraph mentioned the Hurricanes are the team most likely to bring home the East if Indiana falls early. Miami won the ACC regular season and tournament titles. They are the type of team that enjoys rising to the occasion, and they tend to play better in big games. Their biggest question marks could come in the early rounds where feeling too confident can lead to unexpected upsets. The other team in this region that could be considered a favorite is Syracuse. They struggled down the stretch before running to the Big East tournament finals. Their 2-3 zone can cause nightmares for almost anyone, and if James Southerland can stay out of foul trouble they have enough offense to play with the elite teams in the country.
Ripe for an upset: Butler is a team that seemed to get worse as the season went along. They never really went on an extended losing streak, but they did have a confusing loss to Charlotte. Their road loss to La Salle was also out of character for this team. The Bulldogs struggled with turnovers in their losses, and their first round match against Bucknell’s rock solid defense could give them issues. Marquette is a solid team, but they are way overseeded at three, and despite Syracuse’s bounce back in the conference tournament they did struggle mightily down the stretch. Both Big East teams could find themselves in an unexpected battle in their first game.
Thinking Deep: This bracket features several intriguing sleepers. Little known Bucknell has tournament upset history, and they have a legit NBA prospect. They didn’t play an overly challenging schedule, but wins over La Salle and New Mexico State are solid. And they played Missouri within two points at Mizzou Arena, a place the Tigers didn’t lose all season. Davidson is another pesky small conference school with an upset pedigree that’s worth watching. Steph Curry isn’t still there, but head coach Bob McKillop is still running an offensive coaching clinic. Davidson is always one of the most disciplined teams in the country. They make up for their lack of athleticism with excellent preparation. De’Mon Brooks is an undersized big man, but he’s a talented scorer and rebounder. He’s effective despite his size, and he could give Marquette problems on the block. And, it may seem weird to call California a sleeper, but they are a twelve seed in this region. The Golden Bears own several top 25 wins this season, and only lost to UNLV by one point when they met earlier this year. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they could change their fate against the Runnin’ Rebels this time around.
Players To Watch: Four of my favorite players in the entire tournament reside in this region. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo is the rare player that can affect the game on the both ends of the court. His speed and quickness make him nearly impossible to stay in front of on offense. And those same skills allow him to be a lock down defender on the perimeter. UNLV features one of the best inside-outside players in America. Anthony Bennett averages 16 points and 8 boards per game while shooting nearly 54% from the field. He’s a handful on the blocks, but he can also knock down mid-range and outside jumpers. He also has the ability to put it on the floor and take bigger defenders off the dribble. He’s the complete package and will likely be a lottery pick this summer. Miami’s rise to basketball’s elite coincided with the rise of Shane Larkin. The sophomore took his game to another level this season. He might be the best pure point guard in the country. His game management is reminiscent of Chris Paul’s days at Wake Forest. He also knows when to take over and when to distribute. Larkin can destroy teams without taking a shot, or he can bury them with outside shooting and drives to the bucket. Perhaps the country’s least hyped great player holds down the post for Bucknell. Mike Muscala is a 6-11 pure post player. He’s averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds per game this year. He’s a tough match-up for just about any team in the country, because there are so few true post players in college basketball.
Best First Round Games:
Marquette vs. Davidson – Who doesn’t love a possible upset. Marquette is not a push over, but they’re also not overly talented. Buzz Williams’ squad gets by with grit and work ethic, and they are generally able to wear down their opponents. Davidson is too disciplined to break their scheme, and they are unlikely to get outworked by anyone as long as McKillop is their coach. This should be an exciting game that could be decided in the final minutes.
Syracuse vs. Montana – Call this a gut pick. On paper it looks like Cuse should win in a walk. Their athletic 2-3 zone should be able to force Montana to take long jumpers. On offense they should be able to work the ball into the post and get whatever they want. But, the Grizzlies won’t back down from anyone. Will Cherry is as talented as any guard in the country. He’s a senior and knows what it takes to win. Mathias Ward and Kareem Jamar can both score and make it hard for teams to key in on Cherry. This could be a blowout, but if Montana hangs around for a half they could pull the upset.
The Pick is…: Indiana. The Hoosiers might have lost a couple times down the stretch, but there’s no one in this region that can expose their one flaw. With no one to slow them down the Hoosier will roll to the Final Four.