Bracket Prep: East Region AnalysisPosted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 17th, 2014
Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).
You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Brian breaking down the East Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.
Favorite: #1 Virginia (28-6, 16-2 ACC) – The Cavaliers earned the final No. 1 seed and there should be no griping about that. While much is made about Virginia’s unbalanced ACC schedule, you can’t brush off both the regular season and conference tournament crowns. Tony Bennett’s team has a great blend of talent and experience with seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell leading an impressive group of sophomores. This team is one of the finest in the nation on the defensive end of the floor where it has earned its reputation for slow, physical basketball, but its offense doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Virginia ranks No. 25 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and was second behind only Duke in ACC games.
Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (28-4, 16-2 Big East) – The Wildcats blew their chance to grab the top seed in this region with a quarterfinal Big East loss to Seton Hall on Thursday. That said, Villanova remains a dangerous team. Jay Wright’s group has not received a lot of press because most people may not even know the players on this team. There are no stars or surefire NBA draft picks here, but this team plays with tremendous chemistry and is efficient on both sides of the ball. Are the Wildcats too reliant on the three-point shot? Probably, but the toughest competition for Villanova likely won’t arrive until the Sweet Sixteen at the earliest, where it may have to face Iowa State.
Grossly Overseeded: #13 Delaware (25-9, 14-2 Colonial) – Admittedly, this is a reach. There are no teams in this region I felt were overseeded, but I have to pick one, Delaware is it. The Blue Hens went just 8-7 outside of conference play and are a great example of the stark contrast between the RPI and better rating systems like KenPom. Delaware is No. 70 in the RPI, which no doubt helped them to a No. 13 seed, but its efficiency profile (No. 105 in KenPom) is much more similar to that of a #14 or #15 seed. The Blue Hens are a good team and were very competitive with Villanova and Notre Dame this season, among others, but a #14 seed may have been more appropriate. Again, this is a very minor quibble with an otherwise solid seeding job in this region by the committee.
Grossly Underseeded: #11 Providence (23-11, 10-8 Big East) – Having watched this team for much of the year and in person for three days at the Big East Tournament, I can tell you this group of Friars is way better than a #11 seed. Because of an undervalued seed, Providence got punished by having to play a strong North Carolina team in its first game instead of another team like Memphis or Connecticut. Ed Cooley’s squad had a midseason slump but is playing its best basketball of late, losing only two games down the stretch and taking home the Big East Tournament title in impressive fashion. It is a shame that they drew North Carolina and likely Iowa State after that, because this is a team that is good enough to win two NCAA Tournament games. That will be incredibly difficult to accomplish now.
Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): #12 Harvard (26-4, 13-1 Ivy League) – You would be hard pressed to find a better #12 seed than this team. Ranked No. 33 in the Pomeroy ratings, Tommy Amaker’s group is capable of winning not just one but two games. The sample size is small but Amaker is 3-3 in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach and has already made one Sweet Sixteen when coaching at Seton Hall in 2000. At Harvard, it is clear that his program is growing every year. He made the Tournament in 2012 but lost a tough one to Vanderbilt. Last year he upset New Mexico as a #14 seed. See a pattern here? I am not saying Harvard will make the Sweet Sixteen (a hot Michigan State team stands in its way, after all, should it get past Cincinnati), but the Crimson are the team that is best equipped to make that run of any of the teams seeded #12 or lower in this region.
Final Four Sleeper: #4 Michigan State (26-8, 12-6 Big Ten) – I am not sure this even needs to be discussed given how well Sparty is playing. Some would even consider them the favorite out of this region as a No. 4 seed. While I have not completely bought back in to my preseason national title pick, Michigan State’s recent play has certainly been encouraging. Tom Izzo is a master at getting his team to peak at this time of year, plus do you really think his group of seniors wants to be the first group of four-year Izzo players to never make the Final Four? This team has everything to play for given what has happened this year and there is no better coach to get them up to do that than Izzo.
Carmelo Anthony Award: DeAndre Kane, Iowa State. Fred Hoiberg’s star transfer from Marshall is a legitimate contender for All-American honors and can impact a game in so many ways. Kane can do it all, from scoring to shooting a high percentage to defending, rebounding and dropping dimes. This is a player who can absolutely put a team on his back and lead it to Arlington. Iowa State has some match-up issues but will be a trendy Final Four pick regardless. If the Cyclones get there, chances are Kane will be the primary reason why.
Stephen Curry Award: Langston Galloway, St. Joe’s. This was a tough call between Galloway and Maurice Creek of George Washington (Big Ten fans will remember him), but since St. Joe’s has a better chance of advancing, I think Galloway deserves the nod. A senior who averages 17.4 PPG, Galloway can fill it up with his terrific three-point accuracy and almost never turns the ball over. He has had six games of 25 points or more, four of those coming within the last three weeks. This will be Galloway’s first and only NCAA Tournament appearance, so you know he won’t want to go out with a dud. Expect him to be on his game against Connecticut.
Home Cooking: #1 Virginia: Wahoos fans were out in full force at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro over the weekend, so you’d better believe they’ll make the trip over to Raleigh for the second and third rounds of the NCAA Tournament as well. Nobody in this region was placed very close to home but, as you would expect, the top seed was given the shortest distance. It is only a three-and-a-half hour drive to Raleigh from Charlottesville.
Can’t Miss First Round Game: #6 North Carolina vs. #11 Providence (Friday, March 21 at 7:20 PM ET on TNT). Every casual fan will pick North Carolina because the name resonates so much more than Providence, but let me tell you something. Providence is no pushover. The Friars are hot while North Carolina has lost two straight and has proven erratic. Look for the free throw line to be a factor here with Providence ranking second in the nation and UNC near the very bottom of Division I in that shooting metric. North Carolina has more talent, but don’t sell Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts and company short. These guys are well-coached and can ball. It should be a competitive game in the Friday night prime time TV slot down in San Antonio.
Don’t Miss This One Either: #5 Cincinnati vs. #12 Harvard (Thursday, March 20 at 2:10 PM ET on TNT). This is a sleepy 11:10 AM local time tip, although it may not affect these two eastern time zone teams all that much. This should be a low-scoring but entertaining affair between two squads that play terrific defense. Harvard, however, may have an advantage here because of the balanced scoring over its starting five. All five Crimson starters average 10 or more points per game while Cincinnati depends on two players to score more than 50 percent of its output. If Harvard can somehow contain Sean Kilpatrick, this could be a classic #12/#5 upset.
Lock of the Year: Michigan State will at least make the Sweet Sixteen. The Spartans look healthy and ready to go and I don’t see Cincinnati or Harvard posing a major threat to them in the third round. Cincinnati can rebound and defend at their level but I just don’t think the Bearcats can score enough to knock off the Spartans if they meet up there.
Juciest Potential Matchup – Purists: #1 Virginia vs. #4 Michigan State. This potential Sweet Sixteen battle would be a purist’s dream. Two hard-nosed, fundamentally-sound teams would likely put an incredible basketball game on display at Madison Square Garden. It would be one of the more physical games you’ll see in this Tournament should it happen. The media may not like it because not many points will be scored, but the match-ups and contrasting styles would be a joy to watch for the rest of us.
Juciest Potential Matchup – Media: #3 Iowa State vs. #4 Michigan State. A regional final with future pros all over the court will be a delight for the New York media. Fred Hoiberg vs. Tom Izzo, two guys woven into the fabric of their respective states and programs, would be a fun storyline as well. Anything involving Michigan State in this region is a juicy match-up for the media, but Iowa State takes it to the next level given the success it has enjoyed this season.
We Got Screwed: #4 Michigan State: Not only did the Spartans get a lower seed than some expected, they got shipped all the way out west to Spokane for their opening round game. Michigan State will take on Delaware at 1:40 PM local time on Thursday afternoon.
Strongest Pod: San Antonio, Texas. This pod features Iowa State, North Carolina, Providence and North Carolina Central. Three of those four teams won their respective league titles and LeVelle Morton’s Eagles (No. 78 in KenPom) are no pushover just because of their name. Pomeroy even gives them a 27 percent chance to knock off the talented Cyclones, pretty darn good for a #14 seed. The Eagles have not lost a game since January 11.
Upset City: Harvard over Cincinnati will be the pick of most observers when it comes to this region but I am going to go with Providence over North Carolina. I just think the Friars are playing with such energy and motivation and that can be the deciding factor in this instance. The Marcus Paige vs. Bryce Cotton matchup will be one to savor, but I think Providence has the talent in the paint and on the wings to knock off the Tar Heels, provided it doesn’t get into foul trouble.
So-Called Experts: Nearly every expert I have seen is picking Michigan State to win this region. The Spartans sure looked great in the Big Ten Tournament and Tom Izzo has the history of pulling off something like this, but you shouldn’t take Virginia or Villanova for granted. I have yet to see any expert pick the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in this region while some have taken Iowa State as the trendy pick.
Vegas Odds To Win Region: