While the NCAA tournament might officially start tonight, we all know it really starts on Thursday. With only days remaining to make your picks and fill out your brackets, Dime will be helping you out by breaking down each of the four regions. First up is the East Region.
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7) UConn vs. 10) St. Joe’s
The Huskies are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since Cardiac Kemba carried them to a national title in 2011. This year they have a similar spark-plug type of guard in Shabazz Napier. Connecticut comes equipped with a top-30 ranking in both RPI and strength of schedule, and they’re battle tested despite what the NCAA Selection Committee may think of the American Athletic Conference.
Meanwhile, Saint Joseph’s is one of six teams from the Atlantic 10 to make the NCAA tournament. St. Joe’s is coming off a run in the A-10 Conference Tournament that saw them beat VCU in the title game. With Phil Martelli (and his grandson imitating from the stands) on the sidelines, the Hawks are always dangerous. Led by the senior combo of Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic, St. Joe’s will put up a fight.
8) Memphis vs. 9) George Washington
Josh Pastner‘s Tigers had one of their better seasons since Pastner took over for John Calipari. During the inaugural AAC year, Memphis finished 12-6 in conference, good for third overall. However, the bigger storyline was the multiple wins over ranked opponents (four). Memphis’ roster is a mixed of proven seniors (Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Michael Dixon Jr. and Geron Johnson) and up-and-coming freshmen (Austin Nichols, Nick King and Kuran Iverson).
For George Washington, they are also coming off a third place finish in their conference, the A-10. The Colonials didn’t face a murderers row of opponents, but they do have wins over Creighton and Virginia Commonwealth. If George Washington wants to make their stay in the field last they will have to rely on two players who played elsewhere before: Isaiah Armwood, a 6-9 forward, played two seasons at Villanova before transferring to GW, and Maurice Creek, a 6-5 guard, played two seasons at Indiana–as a freshman, Creek averages 16.4 PPG before an injury cut his season short.
4) Michigan St. vs. 13) Delaware
Tom Izzo and deep tournament run are as close to synonyms as you can get and the Spartans are the trendy pick to make it out of the region. After beginning the season 18-1, a flock of injuries brought Michigan State back down to Earth. With their performance in the Big 10 Tournament and the roster at its healthiest since January, Izzo is just the man to lead them back to the Final Four.
However, the Blue Hens aren’t just going to let MSU walk into the third round. Delaware boasts a roster that has three players who average over 18 PPG (Devon Saddler, Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt). If the Blue Hens can get their best out of their trio of scorers then one of the early favorites could be out of the tournament before the weekend.
10 Players to Watch:
Gary Harris (Michigan St.)
Harris likely would’ve been the Big Ten Player of the Year if the Spartans had won the regular season conference. Despite a drop in his three-point percentage, Harris still lead Michigan State in scoring at 17.1 PPG. Harris is the best NBA prospect in the region and has all the tools on both ends of the floor to bring back another title to East Lansing.
Adreian Payne (Michigan St.)
With two players on this list you can see why MSU is the favorite to get to Dallas. Payne is a big man who can shoot from deep (37 percent from three) and score in the paint as well. Payne’s inside-out game will be needed if the Spartans are to advance in the tournament.
Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati)
Sean Kilpatrick is Cincinnati’s offense. This is no slight to the rest of the Bearcats roster, however, if it wasn’t for Kilpatrick’s 20.7 PPG the number of wins from Mick Cronin‘s team would be greatly reduced. Kilpatrick’s has the ability to single-handedly carry the Bearcats to victory.
Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia)
Brogdon is fresh off of scoring a career-high 23 points in the ACC Championship game against Duke. He has been the best player for the Cavaliers all season and they will need him to continue to play at the level he showed Sunday afternoon. While Virginia’s calling card is their defense they will face a team where Brogdon’s scoring ability will be much more important.
JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova)
Pinkston is one of three Wildcats, along with James Bell and Darrun Hilliard II, to average over 14 PPG. However, Pinkston is most essential to ‘Nova’s success this year. The 6-7 junior forward is the team’s main interior presence. At 260 pounds, Pinkston has the strength and physicality to match with just about any other big man he faces off against. If Pinkston is able to remain a dominant force in the paint, the Wildcats’ season won’t be over for awhile.
DeAndre Kane (Iowa State)
Kane has been the most important and most impactful transfer this year. After a solid career at Marshall (he averaged 15.6 PPG, 4.5 APG and 5.2 RPG), he came to the Cyclones and upped every single one of his averages except for steals and blocks. With Kane leading the attack, Fred Hoiberg has a collection of talent that can bring Hilton Magic all the way to Dallas.
Georges Niang (Iowa State)
Niang followed up on his great freshman season by completing an even better sophomore campaign. The 6-7 forward has the skill to be effective from both the perimeter and the interior. While he’s not the jack-of-all-trades that Kane is or the scorer that Melvin Ejim is, Niang is a perfect blend of the two and when he’s on it makes the Cyclones an even more dangerous team.
Marcus Paige (North Carolina)
Though UNC as a team has been inconsistent for most of the season, the one bright spot for the Tar Heels has been the play of sophomore guard Marcus Paige. Paige is the team’s leader in points per game (17.4) and assists per game (4.3) and has shown the ability to completely take over games. On the season, Paige has five performances when he scored 25-plus points and in those games the Tar Heels are 4-1.
Shabazz Napier (Connecticut)
Napier, along with new head coach Kevin Ollie, have brought UConn back to the big stage. Oddly enough, Napier’s numbers are very similar to the ones Walker produced during his final year with the Huskies (Napier: 17.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 4.9 APG; Walker: 23.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.5 APG). Walker scored the ball more–on a less experienced team–compared to Napier but the remaining numbers all match up. If Napier’s scoring numbers can reach Kemba’s, the Huskies could make another title run.
Bryce Cotton (Providence)
At a listed height of 6-1, Cotton isn’t the biggest player by any stretch of the imagination. However, what Cotton lacks in size he makes up for in game. Cotton is a threat to score the ball the minute he steps into a gym. He was second only to Creighton’s Doug McDermott in scoring in the Big East at 21.4 PPG. He was the driving force behind Providence’s championship run in the Big East Tournament. If Cotton is able to keep his hot streak alive he could very well replicate the type of tournament runs that we’ve seen by Stephen Curry and Jimmer Fredette in recent years.
-Virginia received their first No. 1 seed since 1983. They finished that season with a lost in the Elite Eight to the eventual champions, the six seed North Carolina State Wolfpack.
-With all the hype over the one-and-done rule, players looking to spend four years at a school should look into going to Michigan State. Every player who has played four years under Izzo has made at least one Final Four appearance. This season, Keith Appling and Payne are the two seniors and this is their final chance to keep that tradition alive.
-Iowa State and George Washington have used a different form of recruiting to turn their teams around–transfers. Iowa State is led by DeAndre Kane, a transfer from Marshall. George Washington has had players like Creek (transfer from Indiana) and Armwood (transfer from Villanova) get them back into the NCAA tournament.
12) Harvard over 5) Cincinnati
The Crimson are back in the NCAAs as Ivy League champions for the third straight season. Behind the play of star guard Siyani Chambers (11.1 PPG, 4.5 APG), Harvard went 13-1 in the Ivy League. Tommy Amaker and Harvard would give any team they faced a hard time.
Cincinnati hasn’t been too hot lately; in their last six games they are 3-3. While they’re great defensively they have struggled to put points on the board. One bad shooting night from Kilpatrick and the Bearcats tournament could be a short lived one.
11) Providence over 6) UNC
This year’s UNC team has been one of the hardest to judge in the Tar Heels history. First came the suspensions of Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston–Hairston ultimately left the program after UNC didn’t seek his reinstatement. Next were the early season loses to Belmont and UAB. However, they also have wins over Michigan State, Louisville, Duke and Kentucky.
On the other hand the Friars were a team that sat on the bubble for the better part of the season. Thanks to an impressive run in the Big East Tournament, which culminated in a 65-58 win over Creighton and an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament, they’re here now. Also, a Bryce Cotton versus Marcus Paige matchup might be the most exciting game of the opening weekend.
7) UConn over 2) ‘Nova
As stated above it’s no guarantee the Huskies will even get past St. Joe’s in their second-round matchup. If they manage to get past the Hawks they will serve as a serious threat to Villanova. This would be a game that pits former Big East rivals against each other and with the lack of respect given to Connecticut’s new conference, I’m sure the Huskies will be more than ready to prove themselves and in a big way. Both teams have rosters that are loaded with talent and this could be a game that goes down to the wire regardless of the winner.
8) Memphis over 1) UVA
The Tigers have a great combination of young and old players and with Pastner having previous NCAA experience under his belt, this could be the signature win he’s been lacking since replacing Calipari. Memphis wants to get teams playing fast and uptempo. With their depth they want to get the opposing team running up and down the court and hope they can outlast and outscore them.
Virginia is the complete opposite, at most they are only seven deep and they want to use as much of the shot clock as they can on every possession. Whichever of these two teams are able to impose their will on the other will come out on top of this potential matchup. However, with the Cavaliers coming off playing three games in three days–two of which were tight contests–their lack of depth may come back to hurt them.
3) Iowa State to Final Four
So far the most popular pick to win the East region has been Michigan State. The Spartans are the four seed and it seems like people have worries about the top-seeded UVA team. With that said, another team to look out for is Big 12 Tournament champions Iowa State. The Cyclones have a complete team and one of the best coaches in the nation, Fred Hoiberg. If “The Mayor” plays his cards right he could become an even bigger legend in Ames. With stars like Kane, Niang and Ejim leading the way, the Cyclones have what it takes to cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden when all is said and done in the East region.
Who will get to the Final Four out of this region?
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