Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
The time is here. The NCAA Selection Committee has given us their opinion on the 68 best teams in the country and the bracket is in your hands. As you contemplate your upset picks and which teams to trust, you’ll probably flip flop a couple of times. To help, we’re going to break down each region for you one by one in our 2016 Bracket Breakdown series.
There’s one certainty when you look at this year’s bracket’s Eastern region – whichever team makes it out of this talent-rich corner of the bracket will be more than deserving of a spot in the Final Four.
You’ve got the preseason favorite UNC Tar Heels, who are playing their best ball of the season, the high-scoring Xavier Musketeers, a dynamic West Virginia Mountaineers and, of course, the SEC champion Kentucky Wildcats, who are a four seed.
Throw in a few higher seeded teams like Indiana (No. 5), Notre Dame (No. 6), USC (No. 8) and Providence (No. 9) to name a few, and you have March Madness incarnate in the East region. Let’s break it down a little further.
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Favorite: University Of North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels struggled throughout stretches this season and seldom looked like a team worthy of being ranked No. 1 in the nation heading into the year. However, that has quickly turned around and the Tar Heels are playing fantastic ball at the right time.
Many don’t trust the Tar Heels after watching them lose to Northern Iowa and have an awfully tough time with an awful Boston College team.
However, the Tar Heels have showed that they’ve matured and can step up and win the big one, as evidenced by their run through the ACC Tournament.
Plus, having a healthy Marcus Paige back has transformed this team’s identity. Paige demonstrated against Virginia in the ACC Tournament finals that he can guard anybody in the country, including the stellar Malcolm Brogdon, who was named the ACC’s Player of the Year this past week.
Throw in Player of the Year candidate Brice Johnson, Roy Williams’ NCAA Tournament prowess and key contributors like Joel Berry and you’ve got a team primed to win it all this year.
Upset Alert: Everyone, But Particularly, West Virginia/Kentucky
Many agree that this year with Kentucky has been one of the finest of John Calipari’s illustrious coaching career. For his efforts, Calipari was rewarded with a No. 4 seed – in spite of the fact that they won the SEC Tournament over Texas A&M, a No. 3 seed, a fact that coach Cal didn’t hesitate to point out as well.
John Calipari: "A&M got a 3 seed. Did we not play a basketball game today?"— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonAspen) March 13, 2016
Now, if all of the favorites in the East region were to win, here’s what Kentucky’s schedule to the Final Four would look like.
Round of 64 – Vs. No. 13 Stony Brook: A team playing in their first ever NCAA Tournament with plenty of talent, especially for a No. 13 seed.
Round of 32 – Vs. No. 5 Indiana: Ranked No. 14 at year’s end, 2-2 against RPI top 25 and 6-3 against top 50.
Sweet 16 – Vs. No. 1 UNC: See above.
Elite 8 – Vs. No. 2 Xavier: You know you got jobbed when an Elite 8 matchup with a 27-5 No. 2 seed is a break compared to previous games.
Point being, Kentucky is up against it and an upset at the hands of No. 5 Indiana is not remotely out of the question.
In the case of West Virginia, their Round of 32 matchup is potentially the dangerous Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who took down Duke in wild fashion in the ACC Tournament. They didn’t have nearly enough to compete with UNC in the semifinals, but the Fighting Irish will give West Virginia a real hard time in their second round matchup.
Surprise Sweet 16 Team: Notre Dame/Providence
As mentioned, Notre Dame definitely has the stuff to pull the upset over West Virginia, assuming of course both don’t botch their respective first round matchups. But the really interesting team to me is Providence.
While Providence enter the tournament as a No. 9 seed, they have one of the most talented players in college basketball on their roster in Kris Dunn. While Dunn has underachieved in his senior season, he’s still an incredible talent that can take over a game and lead a team on an improbable tournament run.
If Providence bests USC in round one and UNC shows up to their second round matchup looking like the team they were earlier this season, they could be in for a rude awakening and an early exit from a tournament many see them winning.
Dark Horse Regional Champ: Xavier
Look, I don’t care what their No. 2 seeding says, nobody really thinks that Xavier can get out of this region alive. Most look at Xavier as more of a No. 4 or even a No. 5 seed in this tournament and that’s especially the case if you were to ask most college basketball fans to reseed the region themselves.
However, Xavier has a relatively easy road to the Elite 8, especially by the East region standard. Look for the Musketeers to possibly make some noise in the region as a disrespected No. 2 seed.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for any of his other three teams.
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