As I stated earlier during my live blog of the selection show, the East Regional definitely seems likely the toughest of the four regions, which seems a little unfair to #1 overall seed UNC. I also included links to the team’s ESPN pages that includes schedules and rosters.
#1 UNC: Despite all the hype that the analysts are giving UCLA, I still think UNC is the team to beat as they have Hansbrough, the most reliable player in the nation on a team that doesn’t have a #2 guy who lay a 0-for-14 in a big game, a very good if not great yet perimeter player in Ellington, and one of the best PGs in the nation in Lawson (still unsure when he will be back to his prior form). They also have Roy Williams, who despite his record of losing tournament games with superior teams has also won a national title before so at least he knows how it is done. Schedule/Roster.
#2 Tennessee: Out of all the #2 seeds, the Vols definitely got the short end of the stick. For all the talk of Wisconsin being cheated out of a #3 seed, I would almost prefer to be in Wisconsin’s position rather than Tennessee’s. The Vols have one of the most exciting/athletic teams in the country, but sometimes they just don’t show up. I’m still waiting for Chris Lofton to turn into the potential national POY that he was hyped as coming into the season. Even though their first round game should a cakewalk, the second round will be a challenge as they will end up with either Butler (much, much better than its 7th seed) or South Alabama (the game is in Birmingham, AL). This is a pretty rough bracket for the team that most would consider the best #2 seed especially since Wisconsin didn’t even get a #2 seed. Schedule/Roster.
#3 Louisville: Despite their horrendous early-season start, Rick Pitino (and the team recovering from injuries) turned the season around and has Louisville at a very respectable seed. While they lack the star power of some of the top teams, Louisville makes up for it with their depth. Their most explosive scorer (Sosa) comes off the bench and they also have solid (if somewhat anonymous) play out of the backcourt to compliment Padgett, Character, and Palacios, who actually started on their Final 4 team. Normally, I would give this group a good chance to make the Final 4, but with UNC and Tennessee in their bracket they will be hard-pressed to make it to San Antonio. Schedule/Roster.
#4 Washington State: It’s hard to believe that earlier in the season this team was ranked #4 and now they are probably getting the 4th most hype out of the Pac-10 teams in the tournament. With tons of experience and solid play from Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low, the Cougars should be competitive with almost any team in the tournament, but their lack of firepower and depth will probably cost them if they get deep into the tournament. I’m sure that all of you are also looking at Winthrop as a potential Cinderella based on their prior performance so the Cougars also have that to worry about. Schedule/Roster.
#5 Notre Dame: Led by Big East POY candidate Luke Harangody, the Irish were one of the big surprises for us out of the Big East. We didn’t get to see them play much, but when we did they looked very good. Part of their success seems to be related to their home-court winning streak. It’s too bad for the Irish the tournament isn’t played in South Bend. They play the 2006 Cinderella George Mason in the first round, which should be an interesting matchup (we’ll leave the Irish/Cinderella commentary/jokes to someone else). Like Duke, the Irish rely on the 3 although they are not completely lacking an inside presence. This makes them dangerous on a given night, but also subject to an early upset. Schedule/Roster.
#6 Oklahoma: It looks like that whole Kelvin Sampson leaving thing didn’t turn out so bad for the Sooners. Somehow they ended up a higher seed than Sampson’s more recent previous team. The Sooners are led by Blake Griffin who managed to put up big numbers (15.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG) despite injury both knees this season. Jeff Capel has done a good job replacing Sampson on the sideline while staying off the cell phone (we hope). The Sooners aren’t a force offensively so they have to rely on their defense. While that normally is a good thing for a team, we wonder how far this team can go with all the offensive firepower in this region. Schedule/Roster.
#7 Butler: Seriously, this is unbelievable. 29-3. Ranked #10 or 11 depending on which poll you believe. They’re a #7 seed?!?!? Normally with a balanced attack (4 guys average double figures), experience (a Sweet 16 trip last year), and several impressive non-conference victories, we would expect the Bulldogs to outperform their seed, but Committee Chairman Tom O’Connor must think Butler head coach Brad Stevens looks like a bitch because. . .well you know the rest of the line. This is one of the all-time great screwjobs. They play #10 seed South Alabama in the first round in Birmingham, Alabama. If they survive that, the Bulldogs will likely face Tennessee, the best #2 seed in the tournament. Schedule/Roster.
#8 Indiana: Honestly, this is the most surprising seed that I can remember. I wouldn’t have pictured the Hoosiers as anything lower than a 6. It’s amazing that the team with the Big 10 POY (DJ White) and possibly the best freshman in the nation (Eric Gordon) along with a host of other solid players could be a #8 seed. I realize they lost 3 of their last 4, but one was in OT and the other was on a last second miracle shot (I wonder if Tubby got the idea after hearing about it so much while he was at UK). We would pick the Hoosiers to go deep in the tournament, but they have lost to every elite team they played this year (Xavier, UConn, and Wisconsin). Perhaps, Dakich can work some of his magic or Dick Vitale will be calling for the return of Robert Montgomery Knight. Schedule/Roster.
#9 Arkansas: Led by new coach John Pelphrey (look for him in the background of rtmsf’s favorite March moment), the Razorbacks have had an impressive season after a few bad non-conference losses. Much like Nolan Richardson’s teams (although not nearly as good), the Razorbacks like a quick pace. After a nice run to the SEC tournament finals, Arkansas might be a trendy pick to make a run, but they have a killer draw (Indiana then UNC if they want to make the Sweet 16). While this stat won’t help you make your picks, watch for how the Razorbacks start the game for a hint at the outcome. During the regular season, they were 18-0 with a halftime lead and 2-10 when trailing at the half. Schedule/Roster.
#10 South Alabama: After failing to win the Sun Belt tournament, South Alabama was on the edge of not making the tournament. The good news: they’re in and their pod is in Alabama. The bad news: to make it out of the sub-region they will have to be Butler and Tennessee. If they are going to make a run, they will have to feed off the home crowd and need a big performance out of star Demetric Bennett. Schedule/Roster.
#11 Saint Joseph’s: Led by Pat Calathes (older brother of UF star Nick Calathes), the Hawks made the tournament by winning the Atlantic 10 tournament. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, St. Joe’s was on the verge of a perfect regular season and almost made the Final 4. It’s also hard to believe that Jameer Nelson and Delonte West played at St. Joe’s at the same time. If Phil Martelli wants to survive the opening weekend, the Hawks will need to step up their defense. Fortunately for them, they start off with Oklahoma, a team that isn’t know for being high-scoring. Schedule/Roster.
#12 George Mason: The Patriots (Final 4 Cinderella in 2006) are back and they start off against Notre Dame. We don’t see the Patriots making a deep run this year, but then again we never would have imagined they could beat a loaded UCONN team back in 2006. Schedule/Roster.
#13 Winthrop: If the Eagles are to pull off another upset, they will need a big night out of Michael Jenkins (14.3 PPG). Before you go out and make the Eagles a Cinderella you should realize this is a different team, which is most noticeable when you see they have a new coach on the sideline.Schedule/Roster.
#14 Boise State: It looks they know one thing at Boise State and we’re not referring to the hideous blue football field that makes you try to adjust your TV every bowl season. Like the football team, the basketball Broncos can light up the scoreboard averaging 81.2 PPG (12th nationally) and shoots 51.5% from the field (2nd nationally). They are led by first team All-WAC Reggie Larry (19.3 PPG and 9.1 RPG) along with 2 other forwards who average double figures. Side note: We loved watching replays of their Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma (didn’t see live because I had to be in the hospital at 4 am for an orthopedic surgery rotation) and would love for them to meet in the 2nd round of the tournament so we can root for that. Schedule/Roster.
#15 American: I’m not going to put much time into this because well they aren’t going to be spending much time in the tournament. They like to slow the game down and they shoot 40.9% as a team from 3. Unfortunately, both of their starting guards are under 6′ tall. The result is that they might hang with the Vols for 10 minutes then it’s over. Schedule/Roster.
#16 Mount Saint Mary’s / Coppin State: Honestly, we don’t know anything about either of these teams except that Coppin State is the first 20-loss team to ever make the tournament. Nothing against either of these teams, but a detailed analysis of these teams isn’t really worth the time since they will likely be gone 5 minutes into their game with UNC. Mount Saint Mary’s Schedule/Roster. Coppin State’s Schedule/Roster.
P.S. Kelvin Sampson must love this region with his two former teams in it. I wonder how much he will be mentioned during their games. We know it’s pretty much impossible, but we would love the possibility of an Indiana-Oklahoma Elite 8 match-up.