Tuesday, March 13, 2012

East Coast Bias: East Region Preview

We're only a couple of days away from MADNESS, so I feel somewhat compelled to put my baseless predictions/things that will inevitably be wrong down on the Internet for posterity. I'm going to try to get through all four regions before Thursday, and today I'll start with the Syracuse-headlining East region.

Kings of the Hill
Syracuse, Ohio State, and Florida State come in with the top three seeds in this region, with only the Seminoles coming off of a conference tournament title. The Buckeyes of course fell in their rubber match with the Dawson-less Spartans, and Syracuse fell to Cincinnati in the Big East tournament last Friday. I think this is probably the strongest 1-3 group of any region.

Teams That Will Somewhat Inexplicably Make Me Look Stupid
This section provides two obvious candidates in Vanderbilt and FSU, both of which I have making it to the regional final, with the Seminoles getting to the Final Four. With Vanderbilt, the reasons for suspicion are obvious. In the last four years, they've lost to Murray State, Richmond, and Siena in their first-round matchups. Yes, this Vanderbilt squad is an upperclassmen-laden one that should be equipped to handle the pressures of the tournament more than most of the field, but the consistent string of early exits is worrisome. With that said, I think the 'Dores get through the Fightin' Tommy Amakers and Wisconsin in the second round before ousting the Orangemen in the Sweet 16.

Florida State, on the other hand, invokes the "be suspicious of teams that get hot and win their conference tournaments" rule. Plus, there is still some irrational residual suspicion emanating from football season when I try to consider what the 'Noles will or won't do. I think they get through the Bonnies and Longhorns before beating the Buckeyes, who I think will see their inconsistent shooting knock them at some point.

Double-Digit Seeds of Note
This region seems the least likely to produce a Cinderella story, but insofar as I have to pick one I think the 10-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers are the most equipped to make a run. On first glance, their sub-20 win record does not inspire confidence (19-13, 9-9), but upon closer inspection they have had a number of close calls against the powerhouses of the Big East. In a sense, they're kind of like Northwestern except they're actually in the field (sorry, Northwestern...one day). Senior forward Kevin Jones fills up the stat sheet in a big way (20 ppg, 11 rpg), and I'm fairly certain that bearded forward Denis Kilicli is an actual grizzly bear that somehow made it through the NCAA Clearinghouse. With Gonzaga having to travel across the country to take on the Mountaineers, a first round 7/10 mini-upset is certainly not unreasonable.

Goliath's Fatal Flaws
As mentioned, the Buckeyes' outside shooting will be their undoing at some point; it only takes one poor night to send a team home, and as great as Sullinger is offensively and Craft is on the defensive end, if Buford et al don't bring their best from three then a Sweet 16 exit is possible.

However, in probably the most mind-boggling statistic in recent memory, Syracuse sits at 341st out of 345 teams in defensive rebounding percentage; they are the anti-Michigan State, in that sense. I can't remember the last time such a poor rebounding team made a Final Four run (or even was a 1-seed, period).

Intriguing First Round Matchup
I'm not incredibly high on Texas but, to their credit, they are still in fact Texas and thus have talent. Their opening round opponent, Cincinnati, has been on fire of late. I was at MSG for Saturday's Big East title game, however, which was incredibly ugly, with the Bearcats scoring 14 points in the first half. Neither team seems particularly equipped to survive past the Round of 32, but I think this will likely provide the most exciting opening round game in this region. Although he hasn't been terribly efficient, Texas's J'Covan Brown has been scoring like a madman, and I think Texas gets a memorable performance here from him en route to a victory before eventually getting bounced by the Seminoles in the next round.

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