|NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: EAST REGION
March 17, 2008
Daniel, SCS.com Staff Writer
The East regional is clearly this yearís most difficult bracket. North Carolina will face a challenge in its quest for a Final Four berth, and the Tar Heels drew an unlucky two-seed on the other side of the bracket in Tennessee, who was vying for a top seed before Saturdayís loss to Arkansas. Besides the top two, Louisville was a pre-season top 10 team and finished second in the Big East, Washington State and Notre Dame are very capable squads and even Butler is dangerous as a 7 seed, where the Bulldogs are vastly underseeded. North Carolina may be the favorite to come out of the East regional, but the Tar Heels will be met with a stiff test from several other teams in this bracket.
(1) North Carolina As the top overall seed in this yearís NCAA tournament bracket, the Tar Heels donít have many weaknesses. In fact, the one area of concern for Roy Williams should be North Carolinaís ability to defend, but this team has shown throughout the season it is capable of playing solid defense. The Tar Heels boast the nationís top player in Tyler Hansbrough, a steady and explosive point guard in Ty Lawson, a sharpshooter in Wayne Ellington, and a deep supporting cast. North Carolina rebounds ferociously, scores inside and from the perimeter, and has a team full of NBA draft picks. To me, thatís the formula for a Final Four team, even if the Tar Heels do play in the tournamentís toughest region.
(2) Tennessee Less than a month ago, Tennessee knocked off Memphis on the road and became the nationís top ranked team. Of course, a loss to Vanderbilt a few days later ended the fun, but Bruce Pearl has the perfect squad to run his up-tempo style of play. The Volunteers force turnovers with their press and while they do play a bit unorganized at times, this team has athleticism and versatility from every position on the court. It seems like the entire team can knock down three-pointers, but nobody does that better than Chris Lofton, of course. Inside play could be an issue for Bruce Pearl, because the Volunteers donít have any traditional post players on their roster, and Tennesseeís shot selection on offense can be very questionable.
(3) Louisville When injuries and suspensions rocked Louisville in the non-conference season, nobody ever believed Rick Pitino could get his team to finish second in the Big East and grab a three seed. In reality, we never should have doubted this team. The Cardinalsí frontcourt can overpower any team in the East Regional, but the problem for Louisville is in the backcourt. There are no guards on this team that can step up and take a game over, which is a major deficiency.
(4) Washington State Playing in such a tough Pac-10 conference, Washington State has not gotten the attention it deserves this season. The Cougars still finished 11-7 in the countryís best conference, and their strength in the backcourt will make Wazzu an extremely difficult team to beat.
(5) Notre Dame Luke Harangody alone can carry a team, but when you add in Notre Dameís outstanding perimeter shooting and guard play, the Irish could easily win several games in this tournament. The one thing that worries me about Notre Dame is it did not perform well in big road games this season, and has not proven itself against the nationís top teams.
(7) Butler Despite being ranked inside the top 15 almost the entire season, Butler finds itself stuck with a seven seed. Before the brackets were announced, I wouldnít have thought of the Bulldogs as a sleeper, but that was before I knew they would have such a low seed. Butlerís success last season in the NCAA tournament will help it this year, but unfortunately the Bulldogs do face South Alabama in Alabama in the first round, which could end their dreams of a tournament run.
(11) St. Josephís The Hawks lost some questionable games in the Atlantic 10 this season, but they do have the size up front to compete with Oklahoma and Louisville in the first two rounds. There is a reason St. Josephís received an 11 seed, and I am not saying the Hawks will cakewalk into the Sweet 16 or anything. Looking purely at the match-ups, St. Josephís at least has a shot to win a few games this season.
Most Over-Seeded Team Oklahoma: Due to some injuries, most notably to Blake Griffin, the Sooners were probably given a bit of a break by the selection committee. A few nice non-conference wins and a solid 9-7 Big 12 record was enough to get Oklahoma into the field of 65, but should not have been good enough for a six seed.
Runner-Up: Arkansas: The Razorbacks had some very bad losses this year and did not pick up many quality wins. This is a team that should have been seeded in the 11-12 range.
Most Under-Seeded Team Butler: This is an obvious choice. Sure, Butler didnít play anyone this year (just one NCAA tournament team), but the Bulldogs lost just three games this season and proved last year they are capable of beating just about anybody in the nation.
Runner-Up: Tennessee: Definitely a two seed, but the committee should not have picked the Volunteers as the lowest-rated two seed.
Team On a Roll Butler: The Bulldogs are 13-1 in the last 14 games, with the only loss coming to Drake. Of course, the competition isnít great, but Butler has at least avoided constant upset threats.
Runner-Up: Coppin State: Maybe it seems crazy that a team with 20 losses could be on a roll. But look a little closer, and youíll see that Coppin State has won 12 of 13 games, including four in a row to win the MEAC tournament.
Team In a Slump Indiana: Things are getting really bad in Bloomington. The Hoosiers had such promise entering the season, but the whole Kelvin Sampson situation has doomed them. I never thought Iíd see Indiana drop to an eight seed this year, but the Hoosiers have been horrid lately, losing games to Penn State and Minnesota in just the past two weeks.
Best First Round Matchup Butler vs. South Alabama: The Bulldogs really got shafted, having to travel to the state of Alabama to play South Alabama. Besides the location, South Alabama had a very successful season and has a star in Demetric Bennett.
Runner-Up: Indiana vs. Arkansas: 8 vs. 9 games are always fun, and this should be a pretty competitive game.
Best Potential Second Round Matchup Notre Dame vs. Washington State: The winner of this game has the potential to upset North Carolina in the Sweet 16. Both teams are balanced and will battle each other with a physical style of play.
Runner-Up: Butler vs. Tennessee: I hope you like threes because these two teams jack them up all day long.
Best First Round Coaching Matchup Butlerís Brad Stevens vs. South Alabamaís Ronnie Arrow: Stevens and Arrow are both first year coaches looking for their first NCAA tournament victories.
Best Bet for a First Round Upset St. Josephís over Oklahoma: As I said earlier, St. Josephís can match Oklahomaís physical style of play up front. Take away that strength and the Sooners will have to beat St. Josephís with guard play.
Runner-Up: Winthrop over Washington State: This isnít a very likely upset, but Winthrop plays a very similar style to Wazzu and could keep the game close.
Best Player You Know All About Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina: Iíd like to have a more creative pick here, but heís simply the best player in college basketball. Iíll leave it at that.
Runner-Up: Luke Harangody, Notre Dame: The guy has simply destroyed everybody in the post this season.
Best Player You've Never Heard Of Demetric Bennett, South Alabama: Bennett is one of the better wings in the entire nation. He can shoot from the perimeter, get to the free throw line and rebound. Heís averaging more than 20 points per game and can do almost everything on a basketball court.
Runner-Up: Will Thomas, George Mason: Thomas is a dominant rebounder and post presence.
Best Name Constantin Motnii, American: I had to really dig deep for this guy, but this backup center from American had little competition for ďBest NameĒ award.
Runner-Up: Sonny Weems, Arkansas: I wish my first name were Sonny. It sends off a positive vibe to people.
Best Reason to Watch this Region The East regional is by far the toughest bracket in the NCAA tournament this season. I donít forsee many upsets, which is actually a good thing, because it will make for a fantastic second weekend.
Runner-Up: There are a lot of different styles of play- teams like North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas will try to run, and teams like Washington State and Oklahoma will slow it down.
G/F: Demetric Bennett, South Alabama
G: Eric Gordon, Indiana
F: Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
F: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
C: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
This is a star-studded regional. Gordonís team has tanked, but he is still one of the nationís best freshman, and many people forget about Blake Griffinís rookie year at Oklahoma. Bennett had a stellar season for South Alabama, and Harangody and Hansbrough anchored their teams in the paint all year long.
North Carolina is my pick for national champion this season. The Tar Heels are certainly not invincible by any means, and several teams in this region could beat them. However, this is the most complete team in the nation, and although North Carolina may face challenges against Tennessee, Louisville, Notre Dame, Washington State, or anyone else that crosses its path, the Tar Heels will finally get back to the Final Four after two failed attempts in a row.