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NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: East Region

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Virginia surged to a number one seed, but is trouble waiting for them in later rounds?

NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: East Region

While March Madness technically starts today, but the play-in games don't really count in my opinion. Things aren't official until we reach the Round of 64, the real start of the tournament. To prepare for all of the action, we're going to go through each of the four regions and get you set to pick your brackets and watch all of the excitement. Let's look at the East Region.

Additional Bracket Breakdowns: South - Midwest - West


The East may seem like an uncompetitive region compared to beastly name recognition sections like the South and Midwest. Just because some of these teams haven't been in this position before doesn't mean there aren't really good teams here. I think the distribution was slightly off, though, and there are fewer teams that can cause problems. Virginia is a legit number one seed, Villanova is a solid if not spectacular number two seed, Iowa State is deserving of its three seed and Michigan State is a very dangerous four. 

Cincinnati plays hellacious defense, North Carolina has taken huge strides over the second half of the season, UConn and Shabazz Napier have championship experience, and this year's Harvard team is one of the strongest the school has produced in quite some time. There are going to be plenty of 

Upset Watch

While I don't see many teams getting in the way of Michigan State, their first opponent might pose an immediate challenge. The Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens don't sound imposing, but they shouldn't be taken lightly. While they aren't terribly deep (only seven players average more than 10 minutes per game), they are an experienced group that boast three seniors and two juniors in their starting lineup. All five average double-figures in scoring. Three of them (Jarvis Threatt, Devon Saddler, and Davon Usher) average over 18 points a game. Delaware averages just under 80 points a game. Michigan State can score and defend better than Delaware, especially in the paint, but the Spartans can't take Delaware lightly.

Juiciest Potential Matchup

Virginia and Michigan State is a delectable matchup in the Sweet 16. Michigan State's metrics don't look as favorable here compared to Virginia, but that's only because of injuries they had to play through during the season. The Spartans are healthy now, senior laden, and have one of the top three coaches in all of college basketball at the helm.

Virginia won't care about any of that, though. The Cavaliers are for real. They play shut-down defense, allowing opponents just 0.91 points per possession and hold opponents to just 38.5% shooting from the field. I think that Michigan State poses the biggest threat to Virginia in this region, and when is a meeting between the two best teams not the juiciest matchup? 

Bold Prediction

Another upset to watch for is in the Round of 32. I like both UConn and Villanova to advance past the second round, but I think this is where the buck stops for the second-seeded Wildcats. Villanova worries me because of their dependence on the three-pointer. They score almost 35% of their points from behind the arc. As we just saw in the Big East Tournament during their loss to Seton Hall, if the threes aren't falling they are in trouble. UConn has a terrific perimeter defense plus a guy in Shabazz Napier that can do a little bit of everything. I like UConn in this matchup to advance to the Sweet 16.

12 Over 5?

Cincinnati and Harvard is a really intriguing matchup. Cincinnati is just as stingy on defense as Virginia, allowing just 0.92 PPP and holding opponents to under 40% shooting. Harvard, though, is a team that is disciplined and takes care of the ball. They aren't going to completely wilt when Cincinnati comes at them. Harvard has a solid one-two punch of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, plus five players that average double figures scoring. You can't just stop one guy when it comes to Harvard. If the Crimson can keep Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick in check, I think Harvard will pull the upset.

Potential "Bracket Buster"

Providence is one of those teams that is getting hot at just the right time. They basically needed to win the Big East Tournament to make the dance, and they did just that. I'm wary of teams like this (think Pittsburgh in 07'/'08), especially after the slog that is the Big East Tournament, but Providence has a terrific go-to guy in Bryce Cotton. The senior guard averages 21.4 points a game and can really light it up. The rest of the team can rally around a guy like that, and Providence could cause problems for a team like North Carolina in the second round.

Player To Watch: Melvin Ejim, Iowa State

Ejim is the reigning Big XII Player of the Year, and it was well-deserved. He led the Cyclones in scoring at 18.1 points a game with 8.5 rebounds to go along with it while shooting over 50% from the field. Ejim is a big, strong, athletic guard with size to score in the paint and range to light it up from the perimeter. Ejim leads a trio of talented scorers and shooters for the Cyclones, but he is the focal point of that offense. Expect Ejim to go off at least a couple times and have some huge games for Iowa State in the tournament.

Honorable Mention: Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State; Marcus Paige, G, North Carolina; Joe Harris, G, Virginia; Wesley Saunders, G/F, Harvard

The Pick: Michigan State

I went with Michigan State last year, and while it didn't necessarily work out for me, I still think like the logic in betting on the Spartans. Michigan State has great balance inside and out. Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson are terrific rebounders and post scorers. Keith Appling and Gary Harris are one of the best perimeter duos in the country. All of that, with Tom Izzo leading them, is sucking me right back into the Spartans this year. I like their path to Dallas better than the other teams in the region, which is why I think the Spartans head to the Final Four.

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