- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Syracuse did not get an easy path to New Orleans. Ohio State might actually be the best team in the East Region. Florida State and Vanderbilt have heated up at the right time. If Wisconsin can avoid major scoring droughts, it can advance, too. Harvard and Cincy are sleepers.
Here's a more complete preview of the East Region:
Ten First Impressions
1. Vanderbilt proved its worth with a run to the SEC tournament title through a victory over Kentucky on Sunday. If it can beat the Wildcats, this veteran-heavy squad can get through Syracuse and Ohio State, too. Don't be surprised if the Commodores reach New Orleans.
2. This is a hot region. Vandy finished strong with the SEC tournament title. Florida State beat UNC to take the ACC tournament crown. Montana has won 14 straight. Ohio State has won four of five. Connecticut used late momentum to make a run to the national title last season. It could affect this region, too.
3. If you want to see some coaches who've overcome adversity, check out this region. Jim Boeheim has led the Orange through the Bernie Fine situation. Mick Cronin did not allow the brawl with Xavier to define Cincy's season. Larry Eustachy left Iowa State after a scandal a few years ago, but he's taken Southern Miss to its first NCAA tournament since 1991.
4. If the Buckeyes stay poised, they could go far. So I could see Thad Matta's squad winning the region. And I could also see this young team cracking against a tough team like Cincy or Florida State.
5. Does Syracuse need a star to get through this region? That's the question that's plagued this Syracuse team all season and yet the Orange have managed to win with balance. But the team might need Dion Waiters or Kris Joseph to carry them consistently to reach New Orleans.
6. Every team is motivated in the field. But if Harvard, a 12-seed, advances to the Sweet 16, the Crimson will compete at TD Garden in Boston, just a few miles from campus. Tough task with Vandy and Wisconsin possibly blocking its path.
7. Frank Martin's squad presents a tough second-game situation for the Orange. Syracuse can't keep teams off the offensive glass and it's not that tough inside. Kansas State is the Big 12's top rebounding team. This game could end Syracuse's NCAA tournament experience.
8. Wisconsin will have its hands full against a Montana team that has won 14 in a row. The Badgers' offense stalled during a Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to Michigan State. They won't last long if that trend continues.
9. Texas is the most perplexing team in this field. The Longhorns have two wins over Iowa State, a victory over Kansas State and a nonconference win against Temple. J'Covan Brown can score 25 on any given night. But they're also the most one-dimensional team in the field. Brown has taken 28 percent of their shots. The Longhorns could lose to Cincy or Brown could go nuts and they could end up in the Sweet 16.
10. Speaking of Brown, this region features a multitude of players who could single-handedly bust up brackets. Kevin Jones, John Jenkins, Will Cherry, Kevin Pangos and Brown could all go Steph Curry on the field and ruin brackets around the world.
Five Players To Watch
1. Kevin Jones: The West Virginia standout puts up video game numbers. He's averaging 20.1 points and 11.1 rpg. And he's also carrying the chip of missing out on the Big East's player of the year award, which was given to Marquette's Jae Crowder. Jones could be a force in the East Region.
2. John Jenkins: The SEC tournament MVP scored 17 in Vanderbilt's 71-64 victory over Kentucky on Sunday on its way to the championship. Jenkins is averaging 20.0 ppg and he's shooting 45 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. He can lead the Commodores deep into the NCAA tournament.
3. Jordan Taylor: He struggled early, but Taylor ultimately found a rhythm in Big Ten play. Last season, he shared Wisconsin's scoring responsibilities with Jon Leuer. With Leuer in the NBA, Taylor has had to adjust offensively. But he's back to his old ways just in time for the Big Dance. He has scored 19, 12, 16, 22 and 19 points, respectively, in Wisconsin's past five games.
4. J'Covan Brown: As mentioned previously, Brown is a scorer. That's just what some guys do at this level. It's what they're built to do. Brown is in that category. He takes a lot of shots for Texas (20.1 ppg), but when he's on, the Longhorns benefit. And if he's hot, he can be unstoppable.
5. Jared Sullinger: Beast Mode. He's entered it. After an odd two-game stretch in which Sullinger scored 17 points combined, he has been vicious in recent outings. He scored 72 points total in three Big Ten tournament matchups. He's recorded double-doubles in three of his past five games.
Three Second-Round Games To Watch
1. Gonzaga-West Virginia: This is an intriguing game. Gonzaga is ranked 42nd and West Virginia is ranked 35th in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. The battle of the Kevins (Jones and Pangos) features two of the most potent scorers in the country. I think both Bob Huggins and Mark Few are two of the more underrated coaches in the nation, too. I like this matchup.
2. St. Bonaventure-Florida State: Andrew Nicholson (18.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg) looked like a pro during the A-10 tournament as he led St. Bonaventure to the championship and the league's auto bid. The Bonnies are a talented offensive team (38th in Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings). And Florida State is one of the top defensive squads in America (14th in Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings). Something has to give.
3. Wisconsin-Montana: Upset alert. The Grizzlies are on a hot streak and Will Cherry (16.0 ppg) is a stud. I was impressed with the way this team finished the season in the Big Sky. Weber State is solid and the Grizzlies beat their conference rivals by 19 to win the Big Sky tournament. Wisconsin's defense anchors Bo Ryan's system. But the Badgers' offense has been problematic in recent weeks. They could get caught here.
Possible Future Matchups
1. Syracuse-Vanderbilt: The Commodores (39 percent from beyond the arc) could exploit Syracuse's zone. Vanderbilt also has veteran talent that won't succumb to the pressure of the moment if it meets the Orange in the Sweet 16. At the same time, no team in America can match Syracuse's depth. And Jim Boeheim has one of the most versatile teams in the entire field.
2. Ohio State-Cincinnati: There would be a lot of beef inside in this Sweet 16 matchup with Yancy Gates (6-9, 260 pounds) and Sullinger (17.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg) inside. I like the Sean Kilpatrick-Dion Dixon combo against Aaron Craft and William Buford, too. They're both gritty and edgy. There will be a lot of trash-talking and scrappy basketball if this meeting happens.
3. Florida State-Wisconsin: This is not the TV-friendly matchup that the execs operating the tournament want in the Elite Eight. But both the Badgers and Seminoles could end up here with their defensive capabilities. It wouldn't be a sexy matchup. First one to 45 might get the victory. But for folks who appreciate defense, this matchup would be a dream. For everyone else, it might be hard to watch.
Montana: The Grizzlies haven't lost since Jan. 14. The Grizzlies had the Big Sky's top scoring defense and margin of victory. Like the Badgers, they're built on defense. And with that, the Grizzlies could shake up the region. They have five players averaging 9.2 ppg or more.
Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN.