June 22, 2024

NCAA Tournament Breakdown: East Region

Staff writer Dalton King breaks down arguably the toughest region in the NCAA Tournament, the East Region.

John Calipari. 11/05/2014. Photo courtesy of Keith Allison, https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/. No changes made.

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The NCAA Tournament bracket has been released and it’s time to make your picks. TNJN breaks down each region of the NCAA Tournament field. Let’s begin by taking a look at the East.

The Favorite 

The clear favorite to win this region is North Carolina, the ACC regular season and conference tournament champion. According to many experts, North Carolina is the most talented team in college basketball. Senior point guard Marcus Paige and senior forward Brice Johnson highlight the experienced squad. Johnson leads the team in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage. As a program, this is North Carolina’s 15th No. 1 seed, the most all time, and head coach Roy Williams’ sixth with the Tar Heels. The East Region provides a potentially difficult matchup in the Sweet 16. Depending on how the games play out, North Carolina could either draw the Kentucky Wildcats or Indiana Hoosiers. College basketball fans everywhere are salivating at the potential matchup between the Tar Heels and either one of those storied programs, but Kentucky in particular due to the battle in the back court. North Carolina’s dynamic offense has propelled this team to success, but its recent surge on defense will hold off strong performances from talented teams and allow it to advance through the East.

The Sleeper 

Coming off an SEC Tournament championship game victory, Kentucky is one of the hottest teams in basketball. Many believe a No. 4 seed is too low for Kentucky, but Coach Cal and the Cats are ready to turn heads this postseason. Kentucky has arguably the best one-two backcourt punch in the country. Point guard Tyler Ulis won the SEC Player of the Year award, while shooting guard Jamal Murray earned a first team All-SEC selection. The potential matchup against the Tar Heels in the Sweet 16 is the largest obstacle in the Wildcats’ path toward the Final Four, but make sure not to look over their potential meeting with No. 5 seed Indiana in the round of 32. Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Kentucky’s Ulis will square off in a battle between two of college basketball’s best point guards. If the Wildcats can get past this game, look for them to give North Carolina a run for its money and potentially make it all the way through the East Region for their third-straight Final Four appearance.

The Pretender

The Xavier Musketeers had an excellent 26-4 regular season, finishing just behind Villanova in the Big East. But the way their season ended, with Seton Hall knocking them off in the Big East semifinals, is an example of the fact that this team just doesn’t have what it takes to be a real contender. Despite their best season under head coach Chris Mack yet, the Musketeers failed to escape the shadow of Villanova, their Big East-counterpart. Xavier only lost five games all year, but they had some alarming losses. They lost by 31 points to Villanova early in the year, nine points to Georgetown, and 14 to Creighton. Everything else goes out the window in the NCAA Tournament, but a potential meeting with the very disruptive West Virginia Mountaineers (No. 3 seed)  in the Sweet 16 could be the end of the road for Mack and the Musketeers.

The “Cinderella”

The shoe just won’t fit. I know every great NCAA Tournament has a Cinderella team that makes a magical run to the Sweet 16 or beyond, but it’s not happening in this part of the bracket. The East Region is arguably the most loaded bracket. Just like Cinderella’s evil step sisters, the East will not allow her to show up for the ball.

Upset Alert

No. 12 seed Chattanooga over No. 5 Indiana

It’s not if you pick a 12 vs. 5 upset, it’s how many you pick.

In this region, a No. 12 seed might just take down a No. 5 seed.

The Mocs from Chattanooga have forced turnovers on over 20 percent of its opponent’s possessions. The turnover-prone Hoosiers turned the ball over on nearly 20 percent of their possessions. This game will likely be a messy scrap to the finish. Indiana will more than likely prove to be too talented for the Mocs, but don’t count out the 29-5 mid-major.

Players to Watch

Providence PG Kris Dunn: Dunn is easily one of the best point guards in the country on both sides of the court. Providence’s season has not been as successful as some had hoped, but if they can get past USC in the first round, look for Dunn and the Friars to at least threaten North Carolina in the round of 32.

North Carolina F Brice Johnson: Johnson established himself as one of the most dominant players in the country this season. Look for North Carolina to rely on Johnson to power them through the gauntlet that is the East Region.

Kentucky PG Tyler Ulis: Ulis is the best point guard in the country (Sorry, Kris Dunn). The 5-foot-9 star is coming off a 30-point performance against a very good Texas A&M team. If the Cats make a run in the East Region, it will likely be powered by the play of Ulis. He transforms a talented Kentucky roster into a contender every time he is on the court.

What I Think Will Happen

In the first round, I think North Carolina, Providence, Indiana, Kentucky, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Xavier will advance. It’s just not a good region for Cinderella. After that, I like the Tar Heels to advance over Providence and Kentucky to edge out Indiana. I also think the Mountaineers will get it done against Notre Dame and Xavier will knock out Wisconsin. In the Sweet 16, North Carolina will get by Kentucky and West Virginia will end Xavier’s tournament run. In the Elite Eight, I’m sticking with the favorite. North Carolina will be too much for West Virginia. The Tar Heels are poised and ready for the Final Four.

Featured image by Keith Allison

Edited by David Bradford and Nathan Odom

Dalton, a firm believer that sporting events are best spent on Twitter, is an Assistant Sports Editor for TNJN and a sophomore studying Journalism at the University of Tennessee. Two of his favorite pastimes include beating his roommates at 2k and remaining in awe of the amount of stories fellow editor David Bradford writes. Twitter: @dk_writes