Posted by: mdegeorge | March 15, 2011

NCAA Tournament Diagnosis: East Region

The Madness is finally upon us. With the greatest three weeks in all of sports about to tip off, I’ll be going region by region with my picks and analysis on what is sure to be a (not) winning bracket.

Since I’m attacking the East first, let me start with an admission about the tourney at large: I hate my bracket. Like any bracket, I find myself backed into late-round corners by my early round selections. I also look at a region like the West and think none of the 16 teams is Final Four worthy. But it’s all about getting names on the right lines, personal feelings and intuitions aside.

So, here goes. This is clearly Ohio State’s bracket to lose. They get the benefit of a No. 2 seed (North Carolina) clearly exposed in the ACC Tournament with youngsters who appear to be wearing down, an inconsistent No. 3 (Syracuse) and a young No. 4 (Kentucky). I see the veteran Buckeyes having no trouble waltzing to Houston.

I also see North Carolina losing at some point prior to the Elite 8, just not sure where. They basically have two home games in Charlotte to tilt the competitive balance irrevocably in their favor.

The Big East sends three teams to this region, including a possible meeting of Syracuse and Marquette in the Round of 32. The Cuse are ripe for the picking, and I’m hardly sold on Marquette. Xavier’s Terrell (what is this “Tu” crap?) Holloway is a game-changer that can single-handedly win games in the Big Dance. Neither the Golden Eagles nor the Orange can contain or answer that kind of threat, and I have the Musketeers headed to Newark.

They’ll most likely play UNC, who could struggle in the second round. I know Pac-10 teams don’t travel well and Charlotte is a long trip, but I can’t pick Georgia on principle because I don’t think they should be in the tournament much less in the Round of 32. Washington would give the Tar Heels a good game at a neutral site (don’t kid yourself, Charlotte isn’t one). They have enough athletes to challenge them and Lorenzo Romar is a great coach to spur an upset, but it won’t happen in the Tar Heel State.

The top of the bracket is interesting despite being a competition for little more than a Round of 32 exit at the hands of Ohio State. George Mason is a chic pick to take down Villanova, but even a slumping Big East team that finally gets some much needed rest is better than a good Colonial Athletic Association team.

Clemson would be a solid pick over West Virginia, but the notion of having to play Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday is pretty daunting. It’s made worse by the travel from North Carolina (ACC Tourney) back to South Carolina (brief pit stop at home) to Cleveland (first round against UAB) and possibly Tampa for the West Virginia matchup. Kentucky would struggle against Princeton in any other area (reading, science, earnings potential, etc.), but they’re an athletic team has gotten hot late by winning eight of nine, which should see them safely into the Sweet 16.

Round of 64 winners: (Clemson and Texas-San Antonio in play-in games) Ohio State, Villanova, West Virginia, Kentucky, Xavier, Syracuse, Washington, North Carolina

Round of 32: Ohio State, Kentucky, Xavier, UNC

Sweet 16 winners: Ohio State over Kentucky, Xavier over UNC

Elite 8 result: Ohio State over Xavier in the battle for Thad Motta’s soul

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