EAST REGION PREVIEW (by Dave Zeitlin and Steve Moore)
Pittsburgh, 1, 28-4 – DZ: We at RTC love the upset. But let’s be honest: Pitt has a relative cakewalk. SM: No argument here. I’m a man of few words (not really).
Should They Falter
Villanova, 3, 26-7 – DZ: Upperclassmen guards own this tournament. And in that department, Scottie Reynolds is as good as they come. SM: I agree here, as well. Dave and I wouldn’t work well on ESPN First Take – too much agreement. DZ: Could this be because we agreed on mostly everything before we started writing? Maybe.
DZ: Xavier, 4, 25-7 – The Musketeers have lost five of their last 10 against only average competition. SM: Texas, 7, 22-11 – It’s hard to call a seven seed grossly overseeded, but count me among the non-believers when it comes to the Longhorns. A.J. Abrams can shoot the lights out, but he can also disappear in big moments. Texas feels more like a 9-to-11 seed to me.
DZ: UCLA, 6, 25-8 – A No. 9 Pomeroy rating should have outweighed a bad loss to USC in the conference tourney. SM: Minnesota, 10, 22-10 – It’s hard to ask for more than a 10 seed when you’re 9-9 in conference, but it’s easy to forget Minnesota’s win over Louisville back in the fall. And Tubby Smith in March is a pretty good bet. The Golden Gophers are the fourth team Tubby has taken to the Dance.
Sweet Sixteen Sleeper
DZ: Portland State, 13, 23-9 — Realistically, No. 12 Wisconsin probably has the better chance to get to the second weekend, but we like the little guy here. Portland State has an impressive win over Gonzaga on its resume, too. SM: Binghamton, 15, 23-8 – OK, so it probably won’t happen, but I’ve gotta show the America East some love. My alma mater (Boston University) hasn’t gone dancing since 2002, so I have to support my low-major conference brethren.
Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower)
Florida State, 5, 25-9 – DZ: Coming off an impressive run in the ACC tournament – but a tough loss, too – the Seminoles will be hungry to make a deep run. Let’s just hope they leave the tomahawk chop at home. SM: I agree the Seminoles can make noise in the second weekend. Whether those wins will be vacated in 10 years or so? That’s a different story.
Carmelo Anthony Award
DZ: DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh (15.6 ppg, 12.2 rpg, .599 FGP) – Everyone knows how strong Blair is. And everyone who doesn’t should watch this. SM: Toney Douglas, Florida State (21.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 38% 3-point pct.) – Senior guards are critical to March success, as Douglas proved during the ACC tournament last week.
Stephen Curry Award
DZ: D.J. Rivera, Binghamton (20.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.8 spg, .468 FGP) – The Philadelphia product and St. Joe’s transfer is legit – though he’s not quite as cherubic as last year’s Mr. March, Steph Curry. SM: Jeremiah Dominguez, Portland State (12.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, .437 3-pt. pct) – The Vikings could give Xavier some trouble, and yet another senior point guard will be key. Dominguez dropped 22 on Montana State in the Big Sky final just to get into the dance.
(3) Villanova, 16 miles from Wachovia Center; (2) Duke, 56 miles from Greensboro Coliseum – DZ: Villanova plays plenty of games at the Wachovia Center, so this will feel like a home game for them. And, of course, Duke in Carolina is always a tough matchup. SM: It’s likely that most Philly-area residents who bought tickets months ago for this site are Villanova fans, anyway, which gives the Wildcats a huge advantage.
Can’t Miss First Round Game
UCLA vs. VCU, Thursday – DZ: Darren Collison and Eric Maynor will battle for acronym bragging rights in this intriguing contest between a perennial giant and a strong mid-major. SM: Far and away this is the game I’m most looking forward to. The large Nova-heavy crowd will gravitate toward the underdog anyway, and Maynor should bring them to their feet.
Don’t Miss This One Either
Duke vs. Binghamton , Thursday – DZ: We love how this game pits the squeaky clean program from the ACC against the thugs and retreads from the America East. SM: As an alum of the real BU, I hate that the Bearcats try to use that moniker. But I’ll be rooting for them anyway.
Lock of the Year:
SM: Villanova cruises to the Elite 8, and is never really challenged along the way. With two games in their quasi-home gym, and a Sweet 16 date with perennial disappointment Duke, this bracket fits the Wildcats better than Jay Wright’s three-piece suit. I understand that hating on Duke is easier than getting away with a travel at Cameron Indoor, but Villanova has an experienced leader in Scottie Reynolds, and a nearly extinct collegiate species in Dante Cunningham: A big man who can consistently drill 16-footers. Want another East Region lock? Wright will edge out Bruce Pearl as the bracket’s best-dressed coach. But it’ll be close. DZ: Are you talking about Pearl’s orange blazer or his bare chest, because either way his outfits would make even Lloyd Christmas blush. I agree with a deep run for ’Nova but I’m a bit wary of its second-round matchup. Also, based on what I just wrote, I clearly don’t know what the word lock means.
Juiciest Potential Matchup – purists
Duke vs. UCLA, Sweet 16. SM: Two traditional powers with some of the most talented recruits in the nation and a bevy of devoted (and often annoying) fans. It would also bring two coaches face to face with their recent reputations for premature exits. Coach K vs. Jamie Dixon – they wouldn’t both be able to fail (there’s no ties in the Big Dance, right Mr. McNabb?). DZ: I think John Wooden deserves to see another deep tournament run before he turns 100. And I think Duke needs to be fined every time they slap the floor on defense.
Juiciest Potential Matchup – media
SM: Pittsburgh vs. Villanova, Regional Final – It’s a long way off, but this one would send the suits at ESPN into a downright tizzy. Not only would it reaffirm the Worldwide Leader’s obsession with the Big East this year (they happen to ignore the atrocities that are St. John’s, South Florida, Depaul and Rutgers), but it would provide a handful of incredible individual matchups: Blair vs. Cunningham, Fields vs. Reynolds, Wright vs. Dixon. Plus, it would further infuriate the Penn State fans to see two Pennsylvania teams fighting for a Final Four spot while they get bounced from the NIT. And as anyone who knows me can tell you, anything that makes Penn State fans cry and complain is fine with me. DZ: Pittsburgh vs. UCLA, Regional final – If UCLA makes it to the regional final against Pitt that would make for an intriguing matchup, as well. Could Howland, Pitt’s former coach, stop his old team, and good friend Jamie Dixon, from making its first final four? UCLA did beat Pitt in the 2007 tourney, but this is a much stronger Pitt team and a far worse UCLA team.
We Got Screwed
UCLA, 6, 25-8. SM: I’m no geography major, but I don’t think Philadelphia is around the corner from Pauley Pavilion. Not only do the Bruins have to fly across the country to face a trendy upset pick in Virginia Commonwealth, but they would likely face Villanova in the second round. That game would take place nearly 3,000 miles from UCLA’s campus, and about 18 miles from Villanova. UCLA may be the only team who would have rather been placed in Boise. Congratulations to the Bruins on three straight Final Fours – now that’ll be $15 for each checked bag. DZ: Agreed. UCLA has made three straight final fours, has a kickass trombone section and once made Adam Morrison cry. The committee clearly didn’t take any of this into account.
Philadelphia – Villanova, American, UCLA, VCU. SM: I don’t want to focus entirely on the lower half of the region – and especially this pod – but there’s no denying the talent at the Wachovia Center. A perennial Final Four contender in UCLA, a possible Final Four team in Villanova, a trendy upset pick in VCU, and … well … American University. Three out of four ain’t bad. The other pods in the East Region include too many first-round walkovers to be taken seriously. And who wants to go to Boise in March, anyway? DZ: Definitely. And American comes into the tourney on a 10-game win streak. Don’t sleep on the Patriot League!
Wild Card, Bitches
Like Charlie, we’re going rogue in our Green Man suits (not really). Here are some other things to watch for over the next three weeks. …
- Easiest Sweet 16 to (Literally) Write Into Your Bracket: ETSU, FSU, UCLA, Duke (there’s Duke screwing up the all-acronym thing again).
- Second-Round Rivalry Game That Will Never Happen: East Tennessee State vs. Tennessee. They’re huge rivals, like Duke-North Carolina. Right?
- Thank Goodness for NCAA Bracketing Rules: Fortunately, the committee won’t pair conference foes against each other in the first round. If they did, we could have had another 5 seed – Illinois – facing No. 12 Wisconsin. What’s the only way to make a Big Ten slugfest less entertaining? Play it in Boise, Idaho.
- Mr. & Mrs. Curry Award for CBS Parental Crowd Shots: Ralph Sampson III, Minnesota. Yes, they’re related. We don’t get to see the wonder and beauty that is Mrs. Curry this year. So we’ll have to deal with endless shots of this draft day trivia answer.
- Year of the Sophomore: With plenty of star sophomores roaming this year’s Dance, we could see a potentially good matchup in the second round pitting Pitt’s Blair against Oklahoma State’s James Anderson.
- Rookie hazing: Of the 43 rookie head coaches this season, five made the tournament and one is in the East Region – Travis Ford of Oklahoma State.
- How the Mighty Have Fallen: East Tennessee State head coach Murray Bartow once coached at UAB, while American head coach Jeff Jones once roamed the sidelines at Virginia.
- Minnesota’s Miracle Man: Not since Gordon Bombay has a sports figure in Minnesota produced more miracles than the Golden Gophers’ Blake Hoffarber. Can he make a third miracle shot this month? Stay tuned.
- All-Name Team: Nikola Dragovic, UCLA; Uche Echefu, Florida State; Larry Sanders, VCU; Moussa Camara, Binghamton; Teeng Akol, Oklahoma State.
So-Called Experts Prediction
Who cares? We’re just happy Dickie V didn’t cry. Or did he?
Vegas Odds to Win Region