NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2011

Zach Hayes is an RTC editor and contributor.

We’re down to sixteen teams, so it’s time to visit with each of our regional experts and analyze what happened in each of the four regions and what should be expected this coming weekend.  Every one of these predictions is guaranteed to be absolutely and totally correct.

Region: East

The Rock Hosts a Blue-Chip Crew This Weekend

New Favorite (Same as the Old Favorite?): #1 Ohio State, 34-2. The Buckeyes travel to Newark maintaining the favorite status that their #1 overall seed would indicate. An easy win over UT-San Antonio and a thrashing of George Mason did nothing to alter conventional wisdom.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Kentucky, 27-8. John Calipari knows deep down that his Wildcats, chock full of McDonalds All-Americans but light on experience, has the talent to dethrone the mighty Bucks. A starting lineup that starts three freshmen also knocking off either North Carolina or Marquette two days later is quite the task.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #11 Marquette, 22-14. The only double-digit seed still alive was the last team to be granted inclusion out of the 11-team Big East. Marquette finished just 9-9 in conference play but outlasted Xavier and Syracuse to reach their first Sweet 16 since Dwyane Wade graced the blue and gold.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): #2 North Carolina, 28-7. The Tar Heels” first two rounds went almost exactly as anticipated. UNC posted 100+ points against fast-paced Long Island and then survived a Washington team most anticipated would be a formidable foe for Roy Williams’ team. Led by 24 Kendall Marshall dimes, Carolina scored 188 points in Charlotte.

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: #11 Marquette, 22-14. Yours truly touted Marquette last week as the under-seeded team of the region, citing numerous close losses to elite competition and signature wins over Notre Dame, Syracuse, Connecticut and West Virginia. The Golden Eagles then went out and knocked off #6 seed Xavier and upended #3 seed Syracuse for the second time this season.

Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: #6 Xavier, 24-8. It wasn’t so much the Musketeers as a whole, but my prediction of Tu Holloway potentially carrying Xavier to the second weekend didn’t quite turn out as anticipated. Flummoxed by Jimmy Butler and a stable Marquette defense, Holloway scored five points on 1-8 shooting after posting over 20 per contest during the regular season.

First Weekend MVP: Brandon Knight, Kentucky, 16.0 PPG, 4.5 APG. Knight’s only basket of Kentucky’s escape of Princeton came at the best possible time, a floater in the lane that sealed a two-point victory over the upstart Tigers. The talented freshmen carried that momentum into Saturday’s second round meeting with West Virginia where Knight shredded the WVU defense for a game-high 30 points on 9-20 FG and 9-10 FT.

Breakout Star: Josh Harrellson, Kentucky, 15.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 78% FG. Let’s stay in the Bluegrass state, shall we? Nobody will ever confuse Harrellson for a star, but fans are starting to notice how vital the 6’10 center is to Calipari’s Wildcats. Harrellson, who played 4.0 MPG last season, has been Kentucky’s best rebounder and most efficient post scorer through two games. He’ll need to continue this remarkable play against the superior skill of Jared Sullinger on Friday.

More Home Cooking: #2 North Carolina, 496 miles to Newark. Chapel Hill is technically the shortest distance to Newark, barely edging Columbus. Knowing these passionate fan bases, expect both Carolina and Kentucky blue-clad fans to take over the arena. If Cleveland was any indication, Ohio State red may be a prominent color as well. It should create a phenomenally divided atmosphere with no discernible advantage.

Best Regional Semifinal Game: #1 Ohio State vs. #4 Kentucky. The best #1 seed against arguably the best #4 seed. Two of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball. Two of the most talented rosters in the sport. Two of the top freshman point guards in Brandon Knight and Aaron Craft. Two of the top shooters in Doron Lamb and Jon Diebler. Two more first round picks in Jared Sullinger and Terrence Jones. Need I continue?

Best Regional Final Game (projected): #1 Ohio State vs. #2 North Carolina. This high-powered matchup to determine a trip to Houston would be the highlight of regional final weekend. The best team in the nation from November to March meets a Tar Heel squad that played their best basketball in the second half of the campaign. Not only would there be offensive firepower all over the court, but these are two of the top ten defenses in the country matching wits.

Top Storyline: Can Ohio State complete the task? As the #1 overall seed in the tournament, the Buckeyes are expected to win this region. Neither the committee nor the results of last weekend did Ohio State any favors, though, especially compared to fellow top seed Kansas. The Buckeyes have so many capable options offensively it seems incomprehensible they could fall before reaching Houston, but potentially bouncing two teams with the bulk of talent of Kentucky and North Carolina is daunting.

Top Storyline for Contrarians: How far can Kendall Marshall lead North Carolina? Ever since replacing the now-departed Larry Drew in the starting lineup, Marshall’s incredible point guard play has vaulted Carolina back to normalcy one year after NIT relegation. Will Marshall’s Heels win two games in Newark and meet those lofty hopes? Or will the suddenly tenacious Marquette resistance and the stalwart defense of either Aaron Craft or Brandon Knight prompt Marshall to lay an inopportune egg?

Revised Vegas Odds to Win Region:

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