East Regional Preview
March 19, 2014
By Joe Nelson
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The debate for the fourth #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament consumed the nation during the conference tournaments and Virginia was the eventual victor of that spot, leading the East region. This is a region where the #3 and #4 seeds are viewed as just as dangerous as the top seeds as the #4 seed is actually the odds-on favorite to advance to Dallas. Here is a look at the storylines in the East.
Favorite – Michigan State
The fourth seeded Spartans are actually the favorites in the region with the roster finally complete after battling injuries all season. Michigan State was dominant in three Big Ten Tournament games with hot shooting to quickly erase the memory of losing seven of the final 12 games of the regular season. With Coach Izzo and a proven tournament track record Michigan State is certainly a threat but playing as well as the Spartans did in Indianapolis last week is certainly not a given and there are plenty of talented teams in this region.
Final Four Sleeper – Villanova
It seems silly to suggest that a #2 seed that has lost four games all season is a sleeper but Villanova is getting very little national respect. The Wildcats beat Kansas on a neutral court early in the season and while they struggled in two ugly losses against Creighton they were dominant in a quality new look Big East. The upset loss in the Big East Tournament could be a motivating factor for one of the better shooting teams in the tournament and a team that has top 16 efficiency rankings on both sides of the ball. With four overtime wins this season Villanova’s record may be a bit inflated but the Wildcats played a high caliber schedule and the path in this region is reasonable.
Sweet 16 Sleeper – North Carolina
The Tar Heels lost seven of the first 18 games this season but they posted wins over Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky. North Carolina won 12 games in a row late in the season in ACC play before losing the final two games, falling against Duke in a difficult spot and then getting blasted by a Pittsburgh team that felt it needed to win to make the NCAA Tournament field. North Carolina actually fought back commendably in that game against Pittsburgh and the Tar Heels will draw some hot teams this week. Providence made a great run to win the Big East tournament and could face a bit of a letdown while Iowa State is another team that may be at risk for an early upset in the Big Dance after a great run to win the Big XII Tournament. North Carolina is far better defensively than either of those teams and in a bottom half of the East bracket that looks wide open, the Tar Heels are a viable threat for a run.
Best Early Round Location Edge – George Washington
There are no obvious advantages in the East region early in the bracket as contenders Villanova and Iowa State have solid hauls to Buffalo and San Antonio respectively. Michigan State and Cincinnati were shipped off to Spokane for some of the tougher travel situations for stronger seeds. Virginia enjoys another short trip to North Carolina after winning the ACC Tournament last week in Greensboro but the location edge in Raleigh will be greater in the opening game for #9 seed George Washington, also facing a short trip south. Memphis will be at a disadvantage in that matchup and could help the Colonials to a minor upset. The bracket moves to New York for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games which will be a reasonable but not overly advantageous venture for most of the contenders.
Best Opening Game – Connecticut vs. St. Joseph’s
The Huskies lost eight games this season but five of those losses came to the same two teams, Louisville and SMU. The Huskies are one of two teams to beat Florida this season but they face a tough first round game against a St. Joseph’s squad that won three big games in a row to seal a NCAA Tournament spot, winning the A-10 Conference tournament in the process. St. Joseph’s went 5-0 against VCU and Dayton this season but the Hawks only had one other win against a NCAA Tournament team all season. This should be an interesting game in Buffalo but one big advantage for Connecticut is at the line where the Huskies have shot 12 percent better than the Hawks on the season.
Trendy Upset that won’t be – Michigan State over Virginia
A lot of things have to happen for this game to occur but most expect the Spartans to take on Virginia in the Sweet 16 in New York. Most expect Michigan State to win that potential matchup as well despite the seeding in the bracket. Virginia is one of the most complete teams in the nation however, certainly among the best defensive teams and a lot better on offense than the scoring averages suggest. The ACC has been underrated this season and Virginia won the league going away while also capturing the ACC Tournament crown. Michigan State finally put it all together in the Big Ten Tournament but that has not been the norm this season as the Spartans have been all over the map offensively. Michigan State also has to travel to Spokane before heading to New York and the Spartans are just as likely to be upset early as they are to make the Final Four.
ODDS TO WIN EAST REGIONAL (New York, NY)
Provided by the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (LVH) SuperBook
(Seeds listed in Parenthesis)
(4) MICHIGAN STATE 8/5
(1) VIRGINIA 3/1
(2) VILLANOVA 3/1
(3) IOWA STATE 7/1
(6) NORTH CAROLINA 10/1
(7) UCONN 10/1
(5) CINCINNATI 20/1
(8) MEMPHIS 30/1
(12) HARVARD 40/1
(11) PROVIDENCE 60/1
(9) GEORGE WASHINGTON 75/1
(10) ST JOE'S 75/1
(13) DELAWARE 500/1
(14) NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL 1000/1
(15) MILWAUKEE 1000/1
(16) COASTAL CAROLINA 5000/1
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