Monday, March 14, 2011
East Region breakdown
By Dana O'Neil
Ten first impressions
1. Welcome to murderers' row. Of the 16 coaches in the East Region, two have won national championships (Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams) and five others (Jay Wright, Thad Matta, Bob Huggins, Jim Larranaga and John Calipari) have coached in the Final Four.
2. Apparently the committee defined overall No. 1 seed as overall toughest. Ohio State's path to the Final Four is only littered with two of the most storied programs in the country, Kentucky and North Carolina, three from the powerhouse Big East (Villanova, Syracuse and West Virginia), one red-hot mid-major (George Mason) and one mid-major that isn't a mid-major in Xavier.
3. Villanova was going to be a hot upset pick no matter who it faced in the first round. With George Mason on the line opposite the Wildcats, that will be an inferno hot pick.
4. Pack whiplash protection for the North Carolina-Long Island game. Both teams like to go.
5. The committee/TV schedule did no favors to the UAB and Clemson winner. The two will square off on Tuesday night in Dayton in the late game. The winner will tip off at 12:15 on Thursday in Tampa.
6. Was very surprised that Kentucky only got a 4-seed, especially after beating Florida (the No. 2 seed) in the SEC championship. Think the Cats deserved at least a 3-seed.
7. If they make it to the regional, Syracuse is going to have a sweet home-court advantage. The always well-traveling Orange fans will certainly stuff Newark's Prudential Center. It's only four hours away.
8. Nice break for Xavier. The Musketeers get to open in Cleveland.
9. Along with the who's who among coaches, this is the who's who among freshmen. No fewer than 12 of ESPNU's top 50 players are in this bracket, including four of the top 10 -- Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones. That's not including Justin Martin and Enes Kanter (ineligible by NCAA) and Reggie Bullock (injured).
10. Apparently Georgia wasn't as bubble-icious as we thought. The Bulldogs earned a respectable 10-seed.
|Jim Boeheim is one of two coaches with a national championship ring in the East.|
Five players to watch
1. Harrison Barnes. Those who thought the freshman was all that at the beginning of the season weren't wrong; just premature in their predictions. Keying the Heels' late-season surge, Barnes has averaged 19.4 in his past 10 games, including 40 against Clemson in the ACC tournament.
2. Jon Diebler. The way Diebler has been shooting lately has made Ohio State especially hard to defend. He's 24-of-38 from behind the arc in his past five games, forcing teams out to the perimeter, which then of course exposes Jared Sullinger.
3. Brandon Knight. The electric point guard has been rock solid all season, rarely having a bad night despite playing 36 minutes a game. Knight, like the rest of his teammates, isn't going to be intimidated by the big stage.
4. Tu Holloway. Holloway could very easily become the Steph Curry of this tournament. His team is every bit as good as Davidson was, experienced and talented, and Holloway is every bit as transcendent as Curry. Don't take your eyes off of him when the Musketeers play.
5. Isaiah Thomas. The guard's buzzer-beater sealed the win against Arizona and the Pac-10 title for Washington. The dynamic and speedy junior is the Huskies' engine.
|Harrison Barnes has lived up to expectations the second half of the season.|
Three second-round games to watch
1. Xavier-Marquette. This could be more like a street fight than a basketball game and features two of the less heralded -- and more deserving -- players in the country in Holloway and Jimmy Butler. Both teams left their conference tourneys with sour tastes. The Musketeers' string of bad luck in Atlantic City continued with an upset loss to rival Dayton and Marquette was thumped by Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals.
2. George Mason-Villanova. Upset special? Could be. The Patriots were one of the hottest teams headed in to March, riding a 16-game win streak to the CAA tournament and the Wildcats one of the coldest, slogging a five-game losing skid to the NCAA tournament.
3. Washington-Georgia. Two of the best athletes in the game take the stage -- Thomas and Travis Leslie. The Huskies fizzled before finally getting hot in the Pac-10 tournament and have the sort of athleticism to be dangerous. The Bulldogs rode the bubble all the way to the last minute and have the chip on their shoulder to be dangerous.
Three future possibilities
1. Kentucky-North Carolina. If the Wildcats can stage the upset of Ohio State, you could have two of the game's blue bloods going head-to-head in the Elite Eight and some of the most electric freshmen in the country on the floor. North Carolina's Barnes (No. 1) and Kendall Marshall (No. 22) and Kentucky's Knight (No. 4), Jones (No. 9) and Doron Lamb (No. 29) were all among the most highly ranked and highly sought after players in this class.
2. Syracuse-North Carolina. The last time Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams squared off in the NCAA tournament it was pretty entertaining. A kid named Carmelo stole the show as the Orange beat Williams and Kansas. If this comes to fruition this time in the Sweet 16, how will Williams' young Tar Heels handle the length of Syracuse's zone?
3. Ohio State-Kentucky. Neither one has a terribly deep bench. Both have players who can shoot the 3. But as enlightening as his performance has been all season, can Josh Harrellson handle Sullinger if the two meet in the Sweet 16? Kentucky fans may start lamenting the NCAA's decision against Kanter all over again if this comes to fruition.
Long Island. North Carolina can ill afford to continue its ACC tournament trend and fall behind the Blackbirds early. LIU likes to score and score in bunches. The Blackbirds are ranked fourth in the nation in scoring and third in rebounding, which means they tend to get their misses. The Tar Heels are young enough that they could overlook the Northeast Conference champions and the Blackbirds are young enough to be brash enough to not be intimidated.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.