This region features the Big East regular season champs, the tournament champs from the ACC, SEC, and Atlantic 10, not to mention perennial mid-major power Gonzaga. The East plain and simple is loaded.
As I have said earlier, no #1 seed has ever lost to a #16 seed. Syracuse should have no problem with UNC Asheville. Syracuse will await the winner of an intriguing 8-9 matchup of Kansas State and Southern Miss. One guy I would not want to pick a fight with is Wildcats head coach Frank Martin. He is the definition of intensity. Under Martin’s scowl, Kansas State plays an aggressive man to man defense, while offensively they are not great outside shooters preferring to get the ball inside. Southern Miss’ inclusion to the tourney is a bit of redemption for head coach Larry Eustachy.
Both teams don’t shoot the ball well from outside and play a physical brand of defense. I expect a low scoring affair with Southern Miss coming out on top. Syracuse v Southern Miss will be one sided in the favor of Syracuse. Southern Miss is not a very good perimeter shooting team. The Orange are notorious for playing a 2-3 zone which clogs the middle and the paint but does on occasion leave shooters open in the corners. Southern Miss will not be able to take advantage of their open shots and Syracuse will advance to the Sweet 16.
After handing Kentucky only their second loss of the season in the SEC tournament final, #5 seed Vanderbilt is a trendy pick to make the Final Four. They have a good post player in Festus Ezeli, and spread the floor with good shooters on the perimeter. Vandy’s big problem in recent years is getting beat by mid-majors in the first round. Well Vandy has a shot at redemption as it gets to play a quality mid-major in #12 seed Harvard University. Former Michigan head coach Tommy Ammaker has led the Crimson to the tournament for the first time since 1946.
Harvard has beaten UCONN and Florida State this year and should not be taken lightly by the Commodores. Given Vandy’s momentum, I don’t think they are going to lose to Harvard but this is one of those 5-12 games that may come down to the team with the last shot. #4 seed Wisconsin takes on the Big Sky champions #13Montana Grizzlies. PG Jordan Taylor is the catalyst for Bo Ryan’s Badgers. The Badgers are statistically one of the best defensive teams in the country. That has been a staple of Wisconsin for years. Montana meanwhile will try and get out in transition against the methodical defense of Wisconsin. Montana is not very good in running a half court offense. They will struggle against the grind it out defense and lose to the Badgers. Wisconsin v Vanderbilt will come down to one thing and that is Vandy’s ability to shoot the basketball. If they make their shots they will advance, if not they will go home. I am thinking it will be the latter and the Badgers will advance to the Sweet 16.
The 6-11 matchup features the Cincinnati Bobcats versus the Texas Longhorns. I have been extremely impressed with the way Mick Cronin has handled the Bobcats after the Queen City Brawl with arch rival Xavier. Cincy has been playing out of its mind to reach the finals of the Big East tournament only to come up short against Louisville. Toughness is something that is not lacking from the Bearcats. They definitely play a physical brand of basketball. Texas is young intriguing team. They are talented but inconsistent and that usually spells disaster in the tournament. On rare occasion youth may rise to the top a la Kentucky but I don’t see this happening from the ‘Horns. The Bearcats are going to feast on Bevo Friday in Nashville.
The 3-14 matchup features two tournament champions Florida State from the ACC and upset minded St. Bonaventure from the Atlantic 10. Let me preference this, I am a huge Seminoles fan. I usually watch all their games, and have coached against Michael Snaer in high school out here in California. With all that being said, I love FSU to demolish the Bonnies. FSU play the most physical brand of defense I have seen all season. They are very long and athletic. Bernard James shores up the front court and Snaer has hit 2 game winning shots this year. Where State gets in trouble is when they turn the ball over. They do that way too much for a potential Final Four team. The Bonnies have an NBA caliber player in Andrew Nicholson. He is there star. The Noles will shut him down and win convincingly setting up a showdown with Cincy. That matchup somebody may be leaving on a stretcher. The score may also be 14-14 at halftime. State can score in bunches and will squeak out a hard fought victory earning them their second straight Sweet 16 berth.
Everybody’s favorite mid major checks in this region as the #7 seed. The Gonzaga Bulldogs take on 10th seed West Virginia Moutaineers. They have an ultra talented but young PG in Kevin Pangos who has been dubbed the next Steve Nash. The ‘Zags are relatively young but extremely well coached by Mark Few. West Virginia is led by coach Bob Huggins and gets to play essentially in their own backyard in Pittsburgh. Kevin Jones is the man for WVU. He does a little bit of everything. Gonzaga would like to push the pace and attack the transition defense of WVU.
So from this region I like the top 4 seeds advancing to the Sweet 16. 2 regions down and 2 to go. Next time I will preview the Midwest region. Until next time, have a wonderful and prosperous day.
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