Top seeds: 1) Villanova, 2) Virginia, 3) Oklahoma, 4) Louisville
How the East is won: What makes the East region so great is that its best teams are really more than the sum of their parts.
Villanova might have its best team in program history, even if the Wildcats can’t replicate the 1985 squad that brought a National Title back to suburban Philadelphia. Jay Wright’s top six scorers all average between 9.2 and 14.0 ppg, a spectacular balance that makes them incredibly difficult to guard, and he’s got them playing tough defense even late in blowout games — the mark of a team that is incredibly well-coached.
As good as the Wildcats are on the offensive end, No. 2 seed Virginia is equally as good defensively. The Cavaliers held an astounding 15 opponents to fewer than 50 points this year, including doing so against fellow NCAA Tournament teams Louisville, NC State and Harvard, who only managed 27 points in a loss back in December. Tony Bennett has a long, athletic team that plays hard and plays smart, a winning formula no matter what time of the season it is.
Very likely, the path to the Final Four will run through one of the above two teams, who both look like they’re on a mission to make it to Indianapolis. Both Louisville and Oklahoma have looked shaky over the last few weeks, and it’s not often in late March that teams suddenly flip a switch and become elite.
Upset Watch: There’s been a trend of late of No. 15-seeds beating No. 2-seeds, especially if that No. 2-seed happens to be Duke — which lost to Lehigh in 2012 and Mercer last year. Duke’s not in the East regional, but another ACC school has to be very careful, with Virginia drawing Ohio Valley Conference champs Belmont in the first round. The Bruins are one of the top shooting teams in the country, shooting 47.6 percent from the floor — good enough for 25th in the country. If they can get going, the Cavaliers could be in trouble.
Another team that has to be very careful early on is fifth-seeded Northern Iowa, which gets Mountain West champion Wyoming in the 5-12 matchup. Historically, the 12-5 upset happens about 40 percent of the time, and this could certainly be one of those matchups. UNI is no joke, going 30-3 out of the a very tough Missouri Valley Conference, but Wyoming took down two other NCAA Tournament teams in Boise State and San Diego State to win the MWC tournament this weekend.
Get to Know: Villanova junior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono isn’t the flashiest player in the bracket, but the Big East co-MVP just gets the job done. Arcidiacono seems to come up with big plays at the biggest of times, like his feed to Darrun Hilliard to beat Butler on the road or his forced turnover against Syracuse to help ‘Nova complete a wild comeback against the Orange.
The Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle of is a 6-foot-8 senior forward who averaged 15.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg, leading UNI to a spectacular 30-3 record and MWC tournament championship. The Iowa native is a versatile offensive player, with the ability to step out and knock down a 3-pointer (42.9 percent) when he’s open.
What a year it’s been for Albany senior guard Peter Hooley, who went through a lot over the last few months. The Australia native missed eight games in the middle of the season to be with his mother, who passed away from cancer in late January. He returned to lead the Great Danes to a miracle comeback in the America East championship game, canning the game-winning 3-pointer with less than five seconds to play in a 51-50 victory.
Virginia suffered a big blow in the middle of the season when 6-foot-6 junior wing Justin Anderson suffered a broken finger on his left hand in a Feb. 7 win over Louisville, though they would shake it off to win seven in a row without him. After two scoreless games in the ACC tournament, Anderson (12.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg) needs to get back somewhere to his usual self to help UVa to a deep tournament run.
One to see: If you’re going to watch any game from the first round, check out
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