Hey, welcome to the East Region! The most boring region since the basketball switched to nets over actual baskets! If the East were a Divergent faction, it would be Abnegation. Among Virginia, Villanova and Iowa State, barely a whisper was spoken from pundits before Selection Sunday. The media coverage on the best teams in the East is the basically the polar opposite of coverage on Malaysia 370.
But if somebody’s got to dive deep into discussing these teams, than daggunit, I’m your guy. Let’s continue the pursuit of the Perfect Bracket!
(1) Virginia Cavaliers OVER (16) Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Virginia is probably the most overlooked one-seed in modern Tournament history, somehow topping Syracuse, Duke, and UNC for the ACC regular season and tournament championships with less people paying attention than Malaysian air traffic control. Coach Tony Bennett, sadly not the songwriter with the olive-oil voice, but a former “Coach of the Year,” brought an attitude of teamwork and discipline that would have made founder Thomas Jefferson proud. Granted, their slow-down style of play could make them susceptible to upsets from a team that hangs around just long enough to get lucky. That slight possibility would make this a fun one if you wanted to try to be the degenerate that correctly picks the 16-seed when an upset finally happens, but if anybody is more vanilla than Virginia, it’s the team named after a men’s choir. Chanticleers lose listlessly.
(9) George Washington Colonials OVER (8) Memphis Tigers
Maybe I’m still having warm and fuzzy flashbacks to 2006 and Pops Mensah-Bonsu (aka the “King Whale Killer”)…
Perhaps, but George Washington is an exciting team. The scoring can come from anywhere with five players averaging in double figures. Indiana transfer Maurice Creek and Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood have experience in the Elite 8 and Final Four, respectively, to lead the Colonials. Meanwhile, 3 starters return for a Memphis squad that had an underwhelming performance in last year’s tournament. Memphis had impressive games this season beating Louisville twice and barely losing to Florida by 2. But the tournament is a strange animal, and despite Memphis’ superior resume, I’m going with the Colonials’ senior leadership and the aforementioned advantage for capitols.
(5) Cincinnati Bearcats OVER (12) Harvard Crimson
Whether you root for nerds or have a crush on the Winklevoss twins, people love to pick Ivy League upsets. Harvard did provide some ammo for that affinity last year by beating New Mexico, but that was an overrated team with a coach with one-step out the door. This Bearcats team is a group of GROWN MEN! Seniors Justin Jackson and Sean Kilpatrick bring an element of toughness to Cincy that will remind Harvard of when they were getting wedgies in high school.
(13) Delaware Blue Hens OVER (4) Michigan State Spartans
First, when every ESPN expert picks your team to win the National Championship, odds are the team is going to disappoint. Second, when the original 300 was released in 2006, the basketball Spartans lost in a shocking upset to the 11-seed George Mason Patriots. This season, Delaware dominated the Colonial Conference, the same conference George Mason played in and 300: Rise of an Empire remains in theaters. Sometimes, the picks just seems serendipitous.
Most importantly, all the experts seem to be picking the Spartans because of stubbornness on preseason predictions and it’s easier TV analysis to just yell, “IZZZZZOOOOOO!” Since Michigan State became number one after defeating a Kentucky team undeserving of the hype, they finished the regular season on a 5-7 skid before getting everybody excited again with a Big 10 Tournament win. But, as a Spartan skeptic, I’ll point out that victory was against an always-erratic Michigan team after the Wolverines already beat Izzo twice weeks earlier.
Delaware, on the other hand, is a completely underrated team that both dominated their Colonial Conference. The high-flying offense averaged 80 PPG en-route to a top-25 offensive ranking. Five players average double figures with stars Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, and PG Jarvis Threatt (great name of random player to root for!) hovering around 20ppg each. I’m calling the surprise, and the Blue Hens fly on!
(6) North Carolina Tar Heels OVER (11) Providence Friars
Without many grizzled veterans, the Tar Heels are just young and emotional enough to be fortunate to have lost their last two games. After a 12 game win streak, UNC dropped their climatic game in Cameron Indoor and lost the first game in the ACC Tourney against Pitt. If that is enough to get Roy Williams’ squad engaged, UNC is going to be dangerous.
(3) Iowa State Cyclones OVER (14) North Carolina Central Eagles
I wish I was as excited for UNC’s North Carolinian neighbor. The Eagles have a really good scorer in senior guard Jeremy Ingram (21 ppg), but he will have to play hero ball. Iowa State’s stingy defense will force other teammates to beat them, and the Cyclones have too many offensive weapons for NCCU to keep up.
(7) Connecticut Huskies OVER (10) Saint Joseph’s Hawks
While VCU Coach Shaka Smart has been voicing his opinion on why the A-10 deserves more credit, Saint Joseph’s didn’t do much this season to back Shaka’s points up. In key out of conference games, Saint Joseph’s wilted, losing to Creigton, Temple, LSU by 17 and Villanova by 30. Senior Shabazz Napier has been doing his best Kemba Walker impression and will be getting a streak started against Saint Joe’s.
(2) Villanova Wildcats OVER (15) Milwaukee Panthers
Now a Panther versus a Wildcat would be a battle I’m interested in. But in real basketball, the only advantage the Milwaukee Panthers will have is that the host of their game, Buffalo, will remind them a lot of their hometown. I don’t know which city I just insulted more, but the main point remains, Villanova is going to cruise through this game.
(1) Virginia Cavaliers OVER (9) George Washington Colonials
The Colonials have a versatile offense that’s difficult to defend… for other teams. Virginia, on the other hand, touts possibly the best team defense in the land. Tony Bennett’s squad can be susceptible to getting outscored, but the Colonials simply don’t have the weapons to break Virginia down. The Cavaliers move on.
(5) Cincinnati Bearcats OVER (13) Delaware Blue Hens
I’m picking Delaware in the first round because, with everybody shoving sunshine up Michigan State’s *you know* I think they are doomed for a let down. But Cincinnati has too much of a wild side to ever have a let down. You are going to have to out hustle and outplay Sean Kilpatrick and the grown up Bearcats if you want to escape, and Delaware isn’t capable of that.
(6) North Carolina Tar Heels OVER (3) Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State has a great basketball team, but sometimes at this level, you need a couple stars. UNC’s point guard, Marcus Paige is good enough to score points in bunches and single-handedly win a couple games. The tournament edge is going to remain from the rocky end to the regular season, and UNC will be crashing the glass like a stunt double. UNC has a rare meeting with its potential and sends Iowa State packing.
Yes! One season after another conference realignment, I’m sure we’re all happy to see a classic Big East matchup. To get a good perspective on a team, look at the regular season games that seem like outliers to paint a picture of what may happen if the team plays above or below average. Well, despite one above average game when Villanova defeated a still-learning Kansas, the Wildcats lost by 16 to Syracuse and two games to Creighton by a combined 49 points. Lastly, right before the tournament began they dropped what should have been an easy game to a bad Seton Hall team. I’m going to again ride Shabazz, the blossoming superstar.
(1) Virginia Cavaliers OVER (5) Cincinnati Bearcats
Sean Kilpatrick may finally meet his match in Virginia’s London Perrantes. The Freshman point guard has gone toe to toe with Quinn Cook, Marcus Paige and the other ACC elite, shutting the opponent down each time. Down low, Virginia has Akil Mitchell and Justin Anderson to bang bodies with Cincy’s Justin Jackson. The Bearcats will have advanced to the Sweet 16 with a reputation for toughness, but will get derailed by the toughest team in the tournament.
The star power of UNC will be creating the buzz with Paige launching up draft charts, but the real advantage will come from the nitty gritty stuff. North Carolina pretty much out rebounds everybody they play, ranking 9th in country in Rebounds Per Game. Connecticut on the other hand is ranked far below at 146th in the country. I expect North Carolina to bang UConn around in the post and bully their way to the Elite 8.
(1) Virginia Cavaliers OVER (6) North Carolina Tar Heels
The ACC rivals clash for the second time this season, but with the stakes much higher. Although the game happened in January, arguably before the Tar Heels found their groove, the way Virginia won is very repeatable. Malcolm Brogdon and Perrantes hit a couple big 3-pointers from outside, Joe Harris cruised to 16 points and the defense was suffocating limiting Paige and McAdoo to only score 20 combined points. In a tournament with one-dimensional teams, Virginia probably owns their dimension the best, ranking first by a wide margin in scoring defense and seventh in FG percentage defense. Yes, their slow style could keep teams around for an early exit, but after we all doubted the Cavaliers all year, I’m predicting the disciplined approach takes a slow, calculated route to the Final Four.
East Region Champions: Virginia Cavaliers
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