Sweet 16 preview: East Region’s top players, champ

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The details: The East region is the toughest region left in the bracket. And that isn’t strictly a result of the Ohio State Buckeyes residing as the East’s No. 1 seed, but that does play a part. (Click here for a Southwest Regional preview.)

OSU is the best team in the country. But Kentucky, the team the Buckeyes face in the Sweet 16, may be the most talented left in the region. There aren’t many schools that can boast the 1-2-3 of Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, and Doron Lamb.

That said, North Carolina is dangerous. The Tar Heels have found their groove. Kendall Marshall is a quarterback leading the break, and with the way that John Henson and Tyler Zeller run the floor, there may not be a team in the country that can neutralize the force that is Jared Sullinger like North Carolina.

Matchups

No. 2 UNC (28-7) vs. No. 11 Marquette (22-14)
Time: 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 Ohio State (34-2) vs. No. 4 Kentucky (27-8)
Time: 9:45 p.m. ET on CBS

Team to beat: Ohio State Buckeyes

Like I said, Ohio State is the best team in the country. When they are playing their best basketball, they simply are not going to lose. To anyone. They aren’t the most talented — there is an argument to be made that they aren’t even the most talented team in their Sweet 16 matchup — but they are the best team. Their pieces fit together perfectly. The seniors have no problem allowing Jared Sullinger to be the focal point of the offense, while Sullinger understands not only how to hold a seal in the post and score with his back to the basket, he is willing and able to pass out of a double team to give one of the Buckeye’s numerous shooters an open look. This is a talented, experienced group that understands their roles and plays them to perfection. That’s a tough combination to beat.

Team with nothing to lose: Marquette Golden Eagles

Marquette isn’t supposed to be here. They are an 11 seed. They have 14 losses on the season. They have a coach that never played basketball and worked his way up through the JuCo ranks to get to the Division I level. They have a roster full of under recruited players and JuCo transfers. They are, by far, the least talented team left in the region. This is a blue-collar team that plays as hard and scrappy as anyone in the country. This is a team playing with house money, and that is always dangerous.

Players to watch:

  • Terrence Jones, Kentucky: Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson have been carrying the Wildcats through the first two games of the tournament, but Jones is the most talented player on this roster. I’m not sure there is anyone on Ohio State capable of matching up with him.
  • Kendall Marshall, North Carolina: Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, and John Henson are the talent, the guys that put up the numbers in the first weekend. But Marshall is the quarterback. He’s the guy that makes the Tar Heels capable of running the floor. His 24 assists last weekend prove it.
  • David Lighty, Ohio State: Lighty is the glue guy. He’s the leader. He’s the player that keeps the Ohio State together. He does whatever is necessary for this team to win. He’s their best defender, capable of guarding point guards and post players. But he’s also a scorer when need be, as evidenced by the 25 points he had against George Mason.
  • Jimmy Butler, Marquette: Butler is the matchup nightmare that Buzz Williams has at his disposal this season. A 6-8 combo-forward, Butler can hit threes, he can get to the rim, and he can defend in the post, meaning that Williams can use him at the four. Butler also has a penchant for hitting big shots.

Coach under pressure: John Calipari

No one in the country has embraced the concept of coaching one and done players the way that John Calipari has. He’s an elite recruiter, bringing in all-american after all-american to spend their year lay over in Lexington before heading to the league. The problem? There is a large contingent that believes it is impossible to win games playing just freshmen. Can Calipari prove them wrong, or will he be eliminated in the Sweet 16 with three first round picks on the roster?

Outcome: Both Kentucky and North Carolina matchup well with Ohio State. The Wildcats have a matchup night mare in Terrence Jones and a big-bodied center that can, at the very least, get in Jared Sullinger’s way. North Carolina, should they both advance, doesn’t have the muscle to matchup with Sullinger in the paint, but with the ability of Tyler Zeller and John Henson to run the floor in transition, Sullinger’s strength inside can be used against him.

That said, no one is beating Ohio State if they come to play. And I fully expect Ohio State to come to play.