NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 North Carolina. What do you mean, ‘new favorite?’ The Tar Heels enter the Sweet Sixteen as they began the Tournament, the heavy favorite in this region. Roy Williams’ team dispatched Florida Gulf Coast before turning on the afterburners in the second half against a good Providence squad to break open what was a close game. In a region with the #5-#7 seeds all still alive, North Carolina is an even heavier favorite to make an appearance in Houston on April 2.

Roy has to be pretty happy with how things are working out in the East Region

Horse of Darkness: #6 Notre Dame. It may have taken a little luck of the Irish to get by Stephen F. Austin in the Second Round, but Notre Dame survived and showed it is capable of a deep run in two games in Brooklyn. Against Michigan the Irish locked down defensively in the second half and they responded well in the face of a Cinderella in the game against the Lumberjacks. Defense is still a concern here but you cannot ignore this team’s ability to put points on the board. Mike Brey is an underrated coach and had his team in a regional final last year too. You never know what can happen in a single elimination situation and the Irish already have a win over North Carolina to their credit this season.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #7 Wisconsin. After surviving the ugliest game of the NCAA Tournament in its First Round victory over Pittsburgh, Wisconsin stayed with second-seeded Xavier most of the game before Bronson Koenig drove two daggers straight through the heart of the Musketeers. The first, a deep three ball to tie it up was followed by the second, a fading away buzzer-beater from the right corner that sent the Badgers to their fifth Sweet Sixteen in six years.

Bronson Koenig's Dagger Three Advanced Wisconsin to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Bronson Koenig’s Dagger Three Advanced Wisconsin to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Completely Expected (First Weekend): No. 1 North Carolina. Was there anyone who expected North Carolina to lose a game this weekend in Raleigh? Providence kept it interesting for a while, but foul trouble and depth eventually caught up to the Friars.

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient. I told you the West Virginia-Stephen F. Austin matchup would be a good candidate for a major upset and it surely didn’t disappoint. The Lumberjacks pulled it off behind 33 points from the Lumberjack himself, Thomas Walkup. Brad Underwood’s team had no difficulty with West Virginia’s vaunted full-court pressure in turning the Mountaineers over 22 times themselves. If it wasn’t for Rex Pflueger’s last-second tip-in for Notre Dame, Stephen F. Austin would be advancing to Philadelphia next week.

Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: I admit it, I fell for the Kentucky hype. After the Wildcats captured the SEC Tournament, I pegged them as the team to take the mantle from North Carolina in this region should the Tar Heels falter. Well, Tom Crean and Indiana had something to say about that in sending John Calipari’s talented but flawed team back to Lexington on an early flight. Kentucky shot only 42 percent against the Hoosiers and turned the ball over 16 times on Saturday. In retrospect, there was something missing from this Kentucky team that I can’t quite put my finger on — it seems as if Jamal Murray (and maybe some others) never fully bought in to what Calipari was selling this season.

First Weekend MVP: Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin. Sure, his team didn’t make it to the regional semifinals but Walkup was the main reason the Lumberjacks were ever in position to do so. The senior tallied 54 points over two games in Brooklyn along with a stellar 18 assists and just two turnovers. Walkup took over both games on bothe ends of the floor. He dominated West Virginia down the stretch and nearly put the Lumberjacks over the top in the final minutes against Notre Dame as well. Walkup was aggressive, going to the free throw line 27 times over the two games and only missing ONE shot when he got there. It was quite the closeout performance for the underrated senior in the New York City and NCAA Tournament spotlight.

Breakout Star: VJ Beachem, Notre Dame. Beachem literally didn’t miss a shot in his team’s win over #11 Michigan late Friday night. All told, the junior forward amassed 33 points over two games on 13-of-20 shooting (65%) while grabbing 13 rebounds. Beachem, the fourth leading scorer on an Irish team with an elite offense, made big shot after big shot in the First Round, and continued his steady play against Stephen F. Austin on Sunday.

More Home Cooking: No team. If this regional was in Indianapolis, I’d have two good candidates for this award. However, it’s in Philadelphia which is not particularly close to any of the four teams still alive. I guess you could say the NCAA committee helped out North Carolina the most here because it sent Villanova to the South Region. That means the Tar Heels won’t have to face the Wildcats on their second home court at the Wells Fargo Center in a potential regional final matchup.

Best Regional Semifinal Game: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Indiana (Friday, March 25 approx. 9:57 PM EDT on TBS). Yet another game between blue-bloods is coming as the stakes are raised in the Sweet Sixteen. After going through Kentucky on Saturday, Indiana gets no reprieve with North Carolina. The individual matchups here are great with Yogi Ferrell battling Marcus Paige and Thomas Bryant battling inside with the likes of Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. Make sure you don’t miss this one late Friday night.

Thomas Bryant Led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Thomas Bryant Led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Best Regional Final (projected): No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (Sunday, March 27). This is a tough one because all of the potential games in this region are great ones. You could have an intrastate battle between Indiana and Notre Dame, an all-Big Ten match-up with Indiana and Wisconsin, or a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen battle between North Carolina and Wisconsin. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll go with the all-ACC showdown. Notre Dame has already defeated North Carolina once this season and there is just something about this year’s Irish team that makes me think they’re destined. If it happens, Notre Dame will be looking to avenge last year’s regional final loss to Kentucky in an absolutely epic game in Cleveland.

Top Storyline: Tom Crean silencing his critics. The embattled Indiana coach has the Hoosiers back in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in three seasons after a signature win against John Calipari and Kentucky. Crean, who began this season in Bloomington on the hot seat, is losing doubters by the day as Indiana makes its run. Truthfully, the job he has done (including a Big Ten regular season championship) bringing this team together after a tough start has been remarkable.

Top Storyline for Contrarians: Can Greg Gard get Wisconsin to a third consecutive Final Four? After stunning Xavier on Sunday night, the possibility of the Badgers getting back to college basketball’s pinnacle is becoming more real. They’re still a significant underdog in this region, but what a story it would be if Gard could make it happen. Wisconsin was 9-9 and 1-4 in the Big Ten after a loss to Northwestern on January 12. A little over two months later, the Badgers find themselves 22-12 overall and two wins away from the Final Four. Gard has done a remarkable job in a tough situation after Bo Ryan’s retirement. Add in the fact that he lost his father during the season and you have the makings of a great story.

My Pick: No. 6 Notre Dame. Like I said above, there is just something about this team that tells me they are destined for the Final Four this year. Mike Brey may be the best coach of the four in this region when it comes to a single elimination scenario. The Irish can space the floor with shooters at every position and have a big man in Zach Auguste who can battle with Brice Johnson and the rest of the bouncy Tar Heels inside. In a potential matchup with North Carolina, Notre Dame’s three-point shooters have the potential to light up a defense that has been suspect against the long ball. I’ll go with the upset and send the Irish to Houston with a win over North Carolina in the regional final.

Brian Otskey (269 Posts)

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One response to “NCAA Regional Reset: East Region”

  1. Ron says:

    The only game the Irish won they did so because a ridiculous free throw advantage (see home court – South Bend) – a game which otherwise the Tar heels were controlling and was still a narrow margin of defeat.

    You do realize the Tar Heels are less than a couple weeks from last beating ND by 30 pts on a neutral court?

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