A familiar foe tops the East region, and is rewarded with a potential matchup with the 2013 Tournament's Cinderella squad FGCU Dunk City. On ND's side of the bracket, Xavier and West Virginia lay in waiting should the Irish advance past the first round. Last but not least, two low majors, Stephen F. Austin and Stony Brook, were pegged by many before Selection Sunday to be potential spoilers. Check out OFD's preview of the East Region before the action kicks off Thursday afternoon.
|(1) North Carolina Tar Heels||(16) FGCU Osperys/Fairleigh Dickinson Knights||Raleigh, NC|
|(8) Southern Cal Trojans||(9) Providence Friars||Raleigh, NC|
|(5) Indiana Hoosiers||(12) Chattanooga Mocs||Des Moines, IA|
|(4) Kentucky Wildcats||(13) Stony Brook Seawolves||Des Moines, IA|
|(6) Notre Dame Fighting Irish||(11) Michigan Wolverines/Tulsa Golden Hurricane||Brooklyn, NY|
|(3) West Virginia Mountaineers||(14) Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks||Brooklyn, NY|
|(7) Wisconsin Badgers||(10) Pittsburgh Panthers||St. Louis, MO|
|(2) Xavier Musketeers||(15) Weber State Wildcats||St. Louis, MO|
Potential Cinderella: #9 Providence Friars
Providence has an NBA talent in guard Kris Dunn, a projected lottery pick, and he isn't even the Friars leading scorer. Providence has just one bad loss this year (@DePaul), but swept Butler and split with Villanova in the Big East regular season, and added another win over Butler in the Big East Tournament. They also beat Arizona in the non-conference where they went 12-1 with the only L coming to Michigan State. With how inconsistent UNC can be, the Friars could have the best shot of any 8 or 9 seed to make the Sweet 16.
First Round Upset: #11 Michigan over #6 Notre Dame
#9 Providence over #8 Southern Cal
Taking the 9 over the 8 is kind of a cop out, but I don't really like any of the lower seeded teams in this region. Had Stony Brook or Stephen F. Austin (33rd in KenPom!) been facing other top 3-5 seeds (Iowa State, Utah, Cal or Duke), I'd have liked their chances to pull an upset. I don't see it against the 'Eers or Wildcats, however. Meanwhile, Chattanooga isn't even in the top 100, yet was given as 12 seed. They do have wins over bad high major teams, and a nice win over Dayton, but Georgia and Illinois aren't Indiana. The Irish should handle Michigan or Tulsa, and Wisconsin has really punched above their weight this season following the retirement of Bo Ryan. That leaves Providence led by Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil to upset Southern Cal. Just because it's basketball season doesn't mean it's okay to stop hating the Trojans.
Can't Miss First Weekend Game: #4 Kentucky Wildcats v. #5 Indiana Hoosiers
Before the season, most thought this game would be taking place in the Final Four or Elite Eight. Instead, basketball fans could be treated to a battle between two historic programs that have an intense rivalry on the tournament's first weekend. Despite beating Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament Championship, Kentucky was seeded behind the Aggies on the four line leading to UK coach John Calipari to rant about the selection committee. Indiana won the Big Ten outright, but fell to a five seed. Both squads are probably underseeded, but for neutrals, it just means we'll get a better game earlier in the tournament. The last time these two faced off, it was a classic December game in Assembly Hall. These two meeting in March with higher stakes could make for a really special game.
Player to Watch: Jamal Murray - #4 Kentucky
Even after the departure of the Harrison twins, Kentucky has one of the top backcourts in the nation. Tyler Ulis runs the point, and scores 17 per game while averaging over 7 dimes each night. Jamal Murray, one of the latest of coach Cal's freshman phenoms. Murray is averaging over 20 ppg for the most efficient offense in the country. While many of Kentucky's recent NBA prospects have been big guys like Boogie Cousins, Karl Anthony Townes, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Anthony Davis, don't miss Murray's work in the backcourt. He should be the first UK player taken in the 2016 draft, and is a projected lottery pick.
Top Four Seed in Danger of Losing Early: #2 Xavier
After falling to 9-9 with a loss to Northwestern in Greg Gard's interim season on the Wisconsin bench, the Badgers ripped off am 11-2 finish to the Big Ten regular season that included wins over Michigan State, Iowa, Maryland, and Indiana. Although they've lost their last two games, their loss to Nebrasketball was their only to an unranked team since mid-January. Bo's recent teams have played well in the tournament recently, and they have a few players back from last year's trip to the National Championship game. Xavier's not a bad team by any stretch, but they may be uncomfortable playing at Wisconsin's pace. Xavier is one of the fastest team's in the field with the Badgers one of the slowest. If Wisconsin can drag Xavier down to their level, they could beat them with experience.
Regional Final Prediction: #4 Kentucky over #3 West Virginia
Even after winning both the ACC regular season title and tournament championship, I still don't trust UNC. Kentucky can neutralize their size, and score with anyone in the country. On the bottom of the bracket, West Virginia gives trouble to everyone they face. They will give matchup problems to both the Irish and #2 Xavier should the bracket play out to seed. In the Regional Final, I like the Cats in a rematch from last season's Sweet Sixteen. While this is a different Kentucky team, they sliced and diced WVU's press, and blew out Bob Huggins's team. While this year's edition should be closer, I think the Cats take it and claim a spot in the Final Four.