See the rest of our regional breakdowns here.
Final Four Favorite: No. 1 Syracuse: For the last couple of months of the season, the Orange have been the consensus second best team in the country. They have their issues — defensive rebounding, for one — but this is a group that is as talented and balanced as any team in the country. They legitimately have six starters on their roster, with CJ Fair and Dion Waiters coming off the bench, and selfless enough as a unit that they can deal with whoever is struggling riding the bench. That said, its their defense that is going to carry them as far as they’ll go.
And if they lose…?: No. 2 Ohio State: The issues that I have had with Ohio State all season long are still quite present. William Buford is not consistent enough as a secondary scoring option and Aaron Craft is not as effective when he is counted on to be more than a facilitator and a defender. That said, Jared Sullinger is still Jared Sullinger, and he’s good enough to lead the Buckeyes. If Deshaun Thomas and Buford are productive, watch out.
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Sweet 16 sleeper (9 or lower): No. 13 Montana: A lot of people would put Harvard in this spot, and I wouldn’t blame them. But the Grizzlies are intriguing to me. They have one of the best back courts in the region with Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar and they have enough size up to hang with some of the bigger schools. Cherry is also a terrific defender. Montana gets Wisconsin in the first round, so Jordan Taylor beware.
Final Four sleeper (5 or lower): No. 5 Vanderbilt: The Commodores are the most interesting team in this region of the bracket. From a talent perspective, they should be a top two or three seed. They have two first round picks on their perimeter in John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor and a big man in Festus Ezeli that will play in the NBA. The issue with Vanderbilt is that they have almost had a culture of losing. They’ve gotten dropped in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a few times recently and they’ve been notoriously incapable of winning big games. But they just beat Kentucky. Does that get them over the hump? Are they “fixed”?
Player to watch (top 8 seeds): Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin: Taylor hasn’t exactly had the season we all expected him to, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is one of the best point guards in the country. And he means everything for the Badgers. He’s the reason they can control tempo and he’s the guy who gets the ball put into his hands at the end of a shot clock.
Player to watch (bottom 8 seeds): Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure: Nicholson proved himself during the Atlantic 10 Tournament, averaged 23.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg and 5.3 bpg as he led the Bonnies to the conference’s automatic bid. He also probably played himself into the first round of the NBA Draft. The problem? His first game will be against Florida State and Bernard James.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Kevin Jones. He’s an all-american that led the Big East in scoring and rebounding. The kid can play.
Best potential matchup: No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Ohio State: I know it’s a bit of a cop out to pick the top two teams, but this is a matchup that really intrigues me. Jared Sullinger is the most dominant presence on the block in the country, but Syracuse is loaded up front. I’d love to see Aaron Craft try and defend Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine. Deshaun Thomas could be a perfect option at the high post against the Syracuse zone. I could go on and on.
So who is getting upset?:
– I think Montana knocking off Wisconsin is an obvious pick, and one that will be trendy this week.
– If they make to to the second round, I like Cincinnati over Florida State as well.
– Everyone is going to pick Vanderbilt over Harvard, and I like Harvard. They have good bigs and a very underrated point guard in Brandyn Curry. I just don’t see it this season. Sorry, Harvard.
– Keep an eye on Kansas State and Syracuse in the Round of 32. Syracuse is terrible on the defensive glass and Kansas State is as good as anyone in the country when it comes to getting second chance points.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.