NCAA Regional Reset: East RegionPosted by Brian Otskey on March 25th, 2013
Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent.
The East Regional begins Thursday night in Washington, DC, with Marquette vs. Miami (FL) followed by Indiana vs. Syracuse. Be sure to look out for the West, South and Midwest Regional Resets later today. Also make sure to follow RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Washington throughout the week.
New Favorite: #1 Indiana. Despite a challenge from Temple on Sunday, nothing changes for the Hoosiers. This team remains the prohibitive favorite to get to Atlanta out of this region but will have to get through two teams playing well in order to do that. With Syracuse defending as well as it is and Marquette and Miami staying hot, the road is not as smooth for Indiana as it looked when the brackets came out last week.
Horse of Darkness: #3 Marquette. The Golden Eagles nearly lost both of their NCAA Tournament games over the weekend but, as the old adage goes, they survived and advanced. Marquette has limitations but this team is tough as nails and plays with great confidence in pressure situations. A potential Elite Eight match-up with Indiana and former head coach Tom Crean would also serve as extra motivation to push through to Atlanta.
Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #3 Marquette. It’s hard to pick a surprise in a region that saw all four top seeds advance to Washington but we’ll go with the Golden Eagles. Marquette was a trendy upset pick in the first round and was outplayed by Davidson for 39 of the 40 minutes in that game. Even after escaping Davidson in the round of 64, the Golden Eagles were on the ropes yet again Saturday against Butler. It’s not a surprise that Marquette is playing in the Sweet Sixteen; the surprising thing is the way it got there.
Completely Expected: #1 Indiana. We said on the podblast last week that Indiana should come out of this region so it is completely expected to see the Hoosiers in DC this week, halfway through their trek to Atlanta. Indiana easily dispatched of James Madison before fielding quite a challenge from Temple and Khalif Wyatt in the round of 32. Victor Oladipo came up huge for the top-seeded Hoosiers and Tom Crean’s team held Wyatt’s supporting cast in check en route to the victory. Indiana has a target on its back this week at the Verizon Center, but the Hoosiers will be the favorite in the one or two games they play.
I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: This is admittedly rather weak in a region where the four best teams advanced but I did say Syracuse would make it here despite its struggles at the end of the regular season. The Orange seemed to have found something at the Big East Tournament and it has carried over through two games in this event. Syracuse absolutely obliterated Montana and was able to get by California in San Jose on Saturday night. The Orange will give Indiana a run for its money on Thursday night.
Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: The Lexington pod was a complete disaster for my bracket. Not only did I pick Davidson over Marquette (I’ll give myself partial credit for that!), I had Bucknell going to the… wait for it… Elite Eight! Oops. The Bison played well and had the potential to win a few games but it was incredibly stupid of me to go against Brad Stevens and Butler. The Bulldogs shut down Mike Muscala and were able to withstand a second half Bucknell surge before falling to Marquette in a classic round of 32 game on Saturday night.
First Weekend MVP: Vander Blue, Marquette. Blue not only hit the game-winner against Davidson on Thursday, but he followed that up by posting 29 points in the win over Butler two days later. Blue is one heck of a tough player with a knack for getting into the lane and finishing whether it’s through contact or not. His game-winner against Davidson was very similar to what he did against St. John’s to win Marquette a share of the Big East regular season title earlier this month. Blue has turned into the best player on Buzz Williams’ team over the course of this season and has now broken out and become a national name. Speaking of that…
Breakout Star: Vander Blue, Marquette. Why not? Blue had been a known commodity in Big East circles but the general consensus is that he has yet to fulfill his potential. Now you can throw that out the window. Blue will be a bona fide star in the new Big East next year after this performance, but in the more immediate future, he becomes a headache for Miami and Jim Larranaga.
More Home Cooking: #4 Syracuse, 376 miles from Washington, DC. Indiana is the top seed but Syracuse is easily the closest school to the nation’s capital, although 376 miles is still quite a hike. It’s not much of an advantage because Indiana’s fans travel so well but you can bet that Syracuse will be well-represented in an arena it has already played in many times over the years, including once already this season (even if the Orange don’t want to remember their 39-point performance).
Best Regional Semifinal Game: #1 Indiana vs. #4 Syracuse (Thursday, March 28 at 9:45 PM on CBS). Two of the nation’s most well-known programs meet on Thursday night in what should be a tremendous match-up between an offensive juggernaut and a team defending as well as it has all year. It’ll be interesting to see if Cody Zeller can operate behind Syracuse’s back line and if Victor Oladipo can get inside the zone and bust it apart. If Syracuse is hot offensively, the Orange can go toe-to-toe with the Hoosiers.
Best Regional Final Game (projected): #1 Indiana vs. #3 Marquette (Saturday, March 30, time TBD). Call this the Tom Crean Bowl? The head coach of Indiana and the former head man at Marquette is not particularly well-liked in Milwaukee and the Golden Eagles faithful would absolutely love to stick it to him and his national championship contender Hoosiers. Crean made the Final Four with Marquette 10 years ago this March but hasn’t been back since. For him, beating former assistant Buzz Williams and Marquette to get back to college basketball’s promised land would be quite a sweet deal.
Top Storyline: Will Indiana survive and get to Atlanta? The Hoosiers have been national championship contenders since last year’s season ended with a Sweet Sixteen loss to Kentucky. Indiana is no doubt capable but it’ll be interesting to see if the pressure has an effect on the team as the scrutiny increases and the opponents get tougher. It all begins Thursday night against a very good Syracuse club, a game in which Indiana will be favored but is certainly no pushover.
Top Storyline for Contrarians: Will this be Jim Boeheim’s last go-around? Nobody truly knows what the longtime Syracuse coach will do but there’s at least a slight possibility that this could be Boeheim’s last game or two if his team doesn’t advance to Atlanta. Reports of NCAA investigations and mysterious tweets have only heightened the speculation ahead of the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse showed no signs of being distracted by what could be major violations when it dispatched Montana and California in San Jose, though.
My Pick: Indiana. Although the Temple game is somewhat concerning, it would make absolutely no sense to abandon the Hoosiers now, just two wins from the Final Four. Indiana is one of the most (if not the most) talented teams in the nation and will not go quietly into the night. Syracuse will be a difficult match-up for the Hoosiers but they have the personnel to open up the Syracuse zone and find some easy baskets. Indiana’s potential Elite Eight game may be more difficult simply because either Miami or Marquette will be playing with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Both have had terrific seasons, far exceeding even the most optimistic fan expectations. That said, Indiana should come out on top and fulfill its goal of playing for a national championship in Atlanta.