Everyone is talking about how killer the Midwest regional will be in the NCAA Tournament, but don’t sleep on the East.
After finishing atop the ACC during the regular season Virginia went on win the conference tournament and earned a No. 1 seed as a result. Villanova “fell” to a 2-seed after suffering a loss in their conference tourney. The Iowa State Cyclones are the 3-seed after beating Baylor in the Big 12 tournament championship game. Rounding out the top four is Michigan State, a squad whom many are considering to be the favorite in the East regional. Unfortunately for Michigan State or whoever survives the region, the national champion probably won’t come from this bracket. The last time the winner came out of the East was in 2005 when North Carolina did so, who is also in this regional as a 6-seed. By the way, don’t be surprised if the Tar Heels make a nice run in the tourney. I’ve actually got them making it to the Elite 8 in a couple of my brackets; I’ve filled out seven, don’t judge me.
The Spartans are getting healthy and peaking at the right time. Tom Izzo’s crew started the season 18-1 before suffering injuries to three starters: Keith Appling, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne. Things got so rough for Sparty, they even suffered losses to Illinois and Penn State. What makes Michigan State great is their ability to score in transition, which could pose a problem for a team like Virginia.
It feels odd calling the Tar Heels a sleeper, but given their seeding, how up and down they have been, and their potential, Roy Williams and Carolina get the distinct honor of being the sleeper in the East. When the Heels are able to run they can play with anyone. They’ve beaten Duke, Louisville, Kentucky, and bracket-buddy Michigan State. On the other hand, North Carolina has also lost to Belmont and UAB. They could lose in the first round or run all the way to the Final Four. Either way, don’t be surprised is North Carolina busts your bracket.
Everybody and their mama is picking Harvard to upset Cincinnati in the 5 vs. 12 matchup. The Bearcats are really athletic but Harvard has tons of depth and experience. They are led by one of the best guards you’ve never heard of in Wesley Saunders and have great shooters in Siyani Chambers and Laurent Rivard, who will prove to be challenging to defend if they get hot. By the way, the Crimson are no stranger to pulling off an upset either after doing so last year against a very talented New Mexico State squad.
Connecticut and St. Joseph’s square off in the 7-10 matchup. UConn has one of the best players in the country in Shabazz Napier but St. Joe’s is really hot right now after holding VCU to 61 points in the Atlantic 10 final. If Napier has a good game and the Huskies play solid defense like they usually do then St. Joes might be an afterthought.
There is another upset brewing that no one is talking about, which is 3-seed Iowa St. against 14-seed North Carolina Central University. The Cyclones are good but so are the MEAC conference champion Eagles. How good is NCCU? They beat North Carolina State and only lost to 1-seed Wichita State by 11 points. If Iowa State isn’t careful their time on the tournament dance floor could be over before it gets started. But if you want to do something really cool with your bracket, pick NCCU to face UNC in the second round.
The whole world is picking Michigan State to win the East bracket but the Virginia Cavaliers are the 1-seed in this region. What sets Virginia apart from the other teams is their defense. Their size and athleticism at every position allows them to match-up well with any opponent they come across. They are experienced and battle-tested, having played in one of the deepest conferences in the country in the ACC. Offensively, the Cavs are not flashy but they execute their half court sets very well and make the opposing defense play the entire shot clock. Virginia will win the East regional because, just like during the regular season, nobody is talking about them now. But when the smoke clears and the dust settles. the Cavs will finish on top like they have done all season.
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