One of ND's former Big East rivals, the Villanova Wildcats, are the top seeded team in the East Region after posting a 32-2 regular season record. The Wildcats were given the second overall seed in the tournament behind obvious favorite Kentucky. ND fans will recognize the ACC schools that could stand in the way of Nova. If seeds hold true, the Cats will face #8 NC State in the round of 32, and #4 Louisville might await in the Sweet Sixteen. The Regional Semifinals and Regional Finals will take place in a building ND fans are familiar with. Syracuse, New York hosts the regional, and the games will be played at the Carrier Dome which will allow fans of the Orange to enjoy postseason hoops while their own team sits out voluntarily. Here's your rundown for this region.
#1 Villanova v. #16 Lafayette
#2 Virginia v. #15 Belmont
#3 Oklahoma v. #14 Albany
#4 Louisville v. #13 UC Irvine
#5 Northern Iowa v. #12 Wyoming
#6 Providence v. #11 Boise State/Dayton
#7 Michigan State v. #10 Georgia
#8 NC State v. #9 LSU
Sleeper Pick: #6 Providence Friars
The Irish saw how good Providence can be when the Friars beat ND 75-74 back in November. The Providence backcourt of LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn average a combined 35.5 points per game, and Dunn dishes out over 7 assists on his own. Henton has the ability to go off against anyone as evidenced by his 38 point performance against the Irish. The Friars finished 11-7 in a tough Big East Conference, and they came with two points of upsetting Villanova in the conference semifinals last week. Don't be surprised to see Providence knock off #3 Oklahoma to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
First Round Upset: #11 Dayton over #6 Providence
I don't love any of the potential upsets in this Region, but be wary of the Dayton Flyers. While I just talked up the Friars Cinderella chances, their game against the Boise State-Dayton winner will be in Columbus, Ohio which is just 70 miles from Dayton. If the Flyers win their First Four game in their own gym, they'll have only slightly less home court advantage against the Friars. Dayton made a great Cinderella run to the Elite Eight last season, and they have a chance to make some noise again in this year's tournament.
Potential First Weekend Game to Watch: #2 Virginia v. #7 Michigan State - Sunday
One year ago, the Spartans knocked out Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen in a tight 61-59 game. Additionally, UVA has looked far from their early season selves since the injury to Justin Anderson. The Cavilers lost at Louisville before getting bounced by UNC in the ACC Quarterfinals. While neither loss is bad, the Hoos' offense just hasn't been the same. Since Virginia plays so slowly, they're prime for an upset if their opponent can knock down a few threes. Denzel Valentine shoots 41.8% from deep, and coach Tom Izzo knows how to win games in March.
Player to Watch: Seth Tuttle - Northern Iowa Panthers
Since Irish fans have already had a chance to see Virginia, Providence, and Louisville, check out Northern Iowa's Seth Tuttle. The senior forward won the Missouri Valley Player of the Year Award, and is averaging over 15 points per game. Tuttle can shoot the three (>40% 3pt), rebound (nearly 8 per game), finish around the rim (61.6% FG), and isn't a liability at the line (75.4% FT). Seth can do it all, and if didn't get the chance to see him during the regular season, don't miss him now.
Top Four Seed That Won't Make the Second Weekend: Louisville Cardinals
The Cardinals have struggled mightily since dismissing guard Chris Jones. Jones has missed six games for Louisville, and the Cards are just 3-3 in those games. Furthermore, the wins over UVA and Georgia Tech were by a combined three points. Louisville can still play solid defense, but that might not be enough to get them past a potential showdown with Tuttle and UNI who have lost just once (@ Wichita State) in their last 20 games.
Final Four Pick: #1 Villanova over #2 Virginia
Yes it's chalk, but these two are the clear favorites and look to be head and shoulders above the rest of the region. #3 Oklahoma seems overseeded, and #4 Louisville has struggled since the dismissal of Jones. While UNI could play spoiler, I like the balanced scoring of Villanova to get them to the Elite Eight. Since UVA hasn't looked great lately, I like the Wildcats to make the Final Four.