NCAA Regional Reset: East RegionPosted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 2012
Brian Otskey is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent.
The East Regional begins Thursday night in Boston with Syracuse vs. Wisconsin followed by Ohio State vs. Cincinnati. Our West Regional Reset will published later today, while our South and Midwest Regional Resets will publish Wednesday. Make sure to follow RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Boston throughout the weekend.
New Favorite: #2 Ohio State (29-7, 13-5 Big Ten). The Buckeyes got by Loyola (MD) and survived a tough matchup against Gonzaga. With Syracuse missing Fab Melo, Ohio State gets the nod as most likely to get to New Orleans in a region where nobody would be stunned if any of the four remaining teams breaks out of the pack.
Horse of Darkness: #4 Wisconsin (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten). People doubt Bo Ryan and his program time and time again but the Badgers always seem to overachieve, although by now we should be calling it the Wisconsin Way. Bucky matches up very well with top-seeded Syracuse in the regional semifinals and should be able to keep the Orange in the half court. Should they get by Syracuse, the Badgers will face Cincinnati or Big Ten rival Ohio State in the regional finals. If Wisconsin gets by the ‘Cuse, there’s no reason why it can’t beat the Seminoles or Buckeyes either.
Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #6 Cincinnati (26-10, 12-6 Big East). While it isn’t a huge surprise considering Cincinnati won nine of its last 12 games coming into the NCAA Tournament, the Bearcats broke up the chalk party by advancing past Florida State late on Sunday night, the only lower seed to win a game in this region to date. Mick Cronin’s squad plays a physical brand of basketball and features a four-guard offense, allowing Cincinnati to adjust well to different styles of play. UC will take on in-state foe Ohio State on Thursday in Boston.
Completely Expected (1st Weekend): #1 Syracuse (33-2, 17-1 Big East). Others may disagree but I couldn’t see any way Syracuse wasn’t going to make it to Boston even without Fab Melo. The Orange survived a major scare in their first game against UNCAsheville but settled in nicely on Saturday against Kansas State. A lot of folks made Syracuse’s defensive rebounding a huge issue against a K-State team that hits the glass hard but the game really was a good matchup for Jim Boeheim’s team. Kansas State just can’t keep pace with Syracuse offensively and that’s exactly what we saw. You have to make jump shots against a zone and that’s not one of the Wildcats’ strengths.
I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: I said Vanderbilt would win its first game and it did, breaking a long streak of early round futility. Harvard was a terrific matchup for the Commodores, a team that has to be challenged by a physical opponent such as Wisconsin, the team that beat them on Saturday. Harvard made a late run to make the score respectable but Vandy was in control from start to finish. Unfortunately for Kevin Stallings, his team fell to Wisconsin on Saturday in Albuquerque.
Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: In my first look at this region, I said Gonzaga against West Virginia was a can’t-miss game. So much for that. The Bulldogs took it to the Mountaineers from start to finish, embarrassing West Virginia just a short bus ride away from its Morgantown campus. Not a good way to go out for seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant. Despite selecting Wisconsin as my Final Four sleeper, I went ahead and picked Vanderbilt to beat the Badgers in my personal bracket. I’m still shaking my head and feeling embarrassed for doubting my favorite coach, Bo Ryan, and his team.
First Weekend MVP: Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State. I wouldn’t say there is a clear winner for this award in the East region but I’ll give it to Thomas. The outstanding Buckeye sophomore scored 31 points in a win over Loyola (MD) and followed that up two days later with 18 important points in a hard-fought win over Gonzaga. Having Thomas as a viable scoring option is huge for an Ohio State team that needs other players to complement Jared Sullinger’s production. Jon Diebler played that role last year and if players like Thomas and William Buford continue to step up and play that role, Ohio State could be Final Four bound.
Breakout Star: Ben Brust, Wisconsin. While not quite a star just yet, Brust scored 11 key points in Wisconsin’s victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday. The former Iowa commitment had seen his production and minutes plummet over the final month of the regular season but he’s a guy who can shoot the rock and come up with big hustle plays at key times. Get to know Brust, only a sophomore, because he’ll be a key player and will likely improve in Bo Ryan’s system next season as a junior.
More Home Cooking: #1 Syracuse, 314 miles from Boston. While not exactly next door, Boston is a lot closer to Syracuse than any of the other teams in the region. The next closest, Ohio State (802 miles), is more than double Syracuse’s distance. Orange fans travel pretty well, especially in the eastern part of the country, and they’ll be there in large numbers on Thursday.
Best Regional Semifinal Game: #1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin (Thursday, March 22 at 7:15pm ET on CBS). The matchups in this game are fascinating from Jordan Taylor against Scoop Jardine to Syracuse’s transition attack against Wisconsin’s tempo-controlling style of play and more. Both teams bring very strong defense to the table but will have to win in different ways. The Badgers have to make threes while Syracuse needs to wear Wisconsin out inside with guards penetrating or guys like Kris Joseph having a major impact. This is a must-watch game just for the contrasting styles alone.
Best Regional Final Game (projected): #1 Syracuse vs. #2 Ohio State (Saturday, March 24, time TBD). The two heavyweights in this region would duke it out on Saturday if each gets by lower-seeded opponents on Thursday evening. Given Syracuse’s rebounding issues, Jared Sullinger and Ohio State would have a huge edge on the glass. Ohio State isn’t afraid to push the pace though and that could actually benefit Syracuse. When the Orange get out in transition, they are pretty much unstoppable. Aaron Craft guarding Scoop Jardine would be fun, as would William Buford and Deshaun Thomas going up against Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph. From a talent and fan experience perspective, this would be the best regional final.
Top Storyline: Big East vs. Big Ten. Arguably the top two conferences in the nation will go head to head in both regional semifinal games. Each conference placed four teams apiece in the Sweet Sixteen and half of those are found here in Boston. The last time this city hosted a regional was 2009 and it was an all-Big East final between Pittsburgh and Villanova. An intra-conference regional final is certainly possible yet again but the smart money is on another Big East/Big Ten matchup on Saturday.
Top Storyline for Contrarians: Syracuse’s Final Four Prospects. Ever since the Fab Melo news broke, fans and so-called “experts” have been looking for every reason in the world to knock Syracuse out. After surviving a major scare against No. 16 seed UNC-Asheville, the Orange ran past Kansas State and seem to have their swagger back. Perhaps their first game was the desperately needed wake-up call to forget about Melo and focus on the task at hand. People forget this is still a very talented and deep team, one certainly capable of emerging from Boston unscathed. Motivation is a funny thing and you can bet Jim Boeheim and his team will be out to prove the doubters wrong when they take the floor again later this week.
My Pick: Ohio State. While I’ve been down on Ohio State for pretty much the entire season, I’m having a hard time seeing the Buckeyes lose to either Cincinnati or Syracuse/Wisconsin. Cincinnati would need to get Sullinger in early foul trouble and shoot the lights out from three while the Buckeyes will destroy Syracuse on the boards should they meet. I believe you’ll see Ohio State in New Orleans next Saturday.
Revised Vegas Odds To Win Region: