East Region Preview
Many pundits have labeled the East the best overall and toughest region, and I think I am inclined to agree. Starting at the top, you have the second best team in the nation from start to finish this season, the 32-2 Syracuse Orangemen whose only two losses came in the Big East semifinals to Cincinnati in a well-played game and a road loss at Notre Dame when center Fab Melo was suspended. So right off the bat, you are bringing some serious talent in the #1 seed and a definite threat to win the entire tournament. Especially when you get the Orange away from conference foes who are more accustomed and prepared to face their unique zone defense.
In the #2 spot you have one of the more intriguing and talented teams in the field; the balanced and tournament-built Ohio State Buckeyes. They have a legit NBA player in the post in Jared Sullinger, athletic wings that can score and defend in Anthony Buford and a March-style traditional smart floor general in Aaron Craft. In fact, Vegas has Ohio State as the slight favorite to win the region at 8:5 while Syracuse is slightly less at 9:4.
The next batch of top seeds is where this region gets really interesting. Florida State is the three seed, fresh off their ACC Championship title where they beat Duke and North Carolina on a neutral floor on back-to-back days. They may not have the names people recognize, but after last weekend, it is hard to say Michael Snaer and company don’t have enough talent to win a national championship. Then you have one of the most dangerous #5 seeds in the tourney in Vanderbilt. All they did this weekend was become the only team to beat Kentucky in a non-home game all season. With John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor, they have the shooting and scoring to give teams fits, and with Goudelock and Festus Ezili, they have interior defensive and rebounding presence as well.
From there, you also have Wisconsin, a potentially dangerous #4, and one of the more intriguing longshots in a red-hot Cincinnati team that is peaking at the right time. It all adds up to a fiercely difficult and talented region.
So who comes out of the East?? Let’s breakdown some of the more intriguing matchups, and then I’ll give you my picks, as well as a few good value picks to make a surprise Final Four run.
In the top half of the bracket, obviously Syracuse advances in Round One, and gets the winner of the #8/#9 game. In that matchup, I like Kansas State beating a slumping Southern Miss team that lost four of its last eight games, all to unranked opponents. I like Vanderbilt to beat an overmatched Harvard team and think Wisconsin gets one heck of a game from Montana. In fact, I like that #13 over #4 as my biggest upset in the East Region. From there, I like both Syracuse and Vandy to cruise to the Sweet 16.
In the bottom half of the bracket, Ohio State and Florida State both win their openers, though don’t be surprised to see a red-hot St. Bonaventure put a little scare into the Noles. I think the Bonnies cover in that one, but FSU wins. In the #7/#10 game, Gonzaga got a really tough draw. I think they are better than West Virginia, but with the game being played in Pittsburgh, a mere 55 minutes from Morgantown, the home crowd edge will be a little too much to overcome. Give me the Mountaineers in that one before being summarily dismissed by Ohio State in Round Two. In the #6/#11 matchup, a game many are picking as an upset, I just don’t see it happening. I like Cincinnati to both win and cover against Texas, and then to upset Florida State in the second round, setting up a nice in-state rivalry game with Ohio State in the Sweet 16.
In the round of 16, give me Vandy knocking off the ‘Cuse in an “upset.” Perhaps no team in the field is better suited to matchup against the zone of Syracuse than the Commodores. I like John Jenkins to shoot the lights out and get Vandy to the Elite Eight for (I believe) the first time in school history. In the other matchup, I think Ohio State is just a little too efficient offensively and too smart with the basketball for the Bearcats to handle. Give me the Buckeyes to advance.
In a great regional final, I like Ohio State to move on to the Final Four beating a game but slightly out-manned Vanderbilt squad.
My Final Four Pick: Ohio State Buckeyes
Good Value Bets to win the East:
Florida State at 11:1 is a heckuva bargain, considering the tear they are on. I know I am picking them to get upset in Round Two and struggle with Montana, but any #3 seed who went 4-1 against Duke and Carolina is a pretty nice bargain when $20 can net you $220.
For a long-shot flyer, how about Vanderbilt at 10:1 and even West Virginia at 30:1. I know WVU gets Ohio State in Round Two, my Final Four pick, but if they can ride the home crowd to an upset, the bracket opens up nicely for them, and you’ll have an opportunity to hedge nicely off the 30:1 lay.