Wednesday, March 19, 2008

East Region Preview


The East Region might be the most difficult of any region to advance through. There is talent up and down the region, including the ACC and SEC champions, North Carolina and Tennessee. Both teams were in the mix for a No. 1 seed heading into the past weekend. Throw in a couple of hot Big East teams in Notre Dame and Louisville, as well as Washington State and this region is tough. When Butler is a No. 7 seed and Indiana a No. 8 seed, you know you have a stacked bracket. All in all, there are ten teams who won either their regular-season or tournament championship.

Favorite: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are playing some of the best basketball in the country, after struggling somewhat during the middle part of conference play. With Ty Lawson back and healthy, the Tar Heels have one of the best backcourts around in Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Tyler Hansbrough is arguably the best player in the country and a definite All-America. This team has it all. Is their defense good enough to win a championship? That remains to be seen.

Contenders: Tennessee, Louisville. The Volunteers are a very difficult team to prepare for due to the way they pressure the ball and force turnovers. When they are getting transition baskets and knocking down three-pointers, they are nearly impossible to beat. Chris Lofton is a tremendous shooter, while Tyler Smith is a great all-around player. JaJuan Smith can make plays at both ends. Louisville is one of the best teams in the country right now, despite its struggles earlier. The Cardinals have a very deep frontcourt, with playmakers Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, and passing center David Padgett. Edgar Sosa is the key; he needs to take care of the ball and play within the system. Louisville is able to play at multiple tempos and they have a tourney-tested coach in Rick Pitino.

Sleepers: Butler, Indiana. The Bulldogs likely expected a higher seed heading into Selection Sunday, and rightfully so. At the No. 7 spot, though, they will still be tough. Mike Green is one of the best point guards in the country, while A.J. Graves is very good. Matt Howard gives them an inside presence, and Pete Campbell can really shoot the three. It will be interesting to see if Butler can slow down Tennessee. Indiana is much better than an eight-seed, but its finish wasn’t impressive. However, when you have the inside-outside combo of Eric Gordon and D.J. White, you can beat anyone in the country. The Hoosiers need to be hitting their three-pointers and play very solid defense. UNC can’t sleep on them, but I’m still not sure if they’ve bought into Dan Dakich’s system yet.

Non-BCS Teams to Watch: South Alabama, George Mason. I’ve been on the South Alabama bandwagon for awhile now, and the match-up it was set-up with did nothing to take me off that. The Jaguars have a tremendous perimeter group, led by Demetric Bennett, and play very good defense. They have the offensive firepower to beat Butler in the first-round, and I think it will happen. George Mason is back on everyone’s mind after its first appearance since the Final Four run two years ago. Can they pull off another upset? Led by Will Thomas down low, it’s possible. The Patriots have plenty of experience and a lot of options, both inside and out. Folarin Campbell can do everything on the perimeter for GMU.

Upset Pick: Saint Joseph’s over Oklahoma. This is going to be a battle of outstanding frontcourts, as Oklahoma is led by Blake Griffin and Longar Longar, while St. Joe’s counters with inside-outside threat Pat Calathes and post presence Ahmad Nivins. The Sooners can normally overpower teams with their inside options, but the Hawks can match them in that category. Phil Martelli has been here before; don’t be surprised if the Hawks pull it out.

Top Five Players (only one per team):

1. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
2. Eric Gordon, Indiana
3. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
4. Mike Green, Butler
5. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
5a. Tyler Smith, Tennessee

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