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Every year, it seems like there is a region where all hell can break loose, and this year, I think that the East is the biggest through to cost you any chance of cashing in your office pool. Both top seeds — Villanova and Virginia — got potentially tough draws in the Round of 32. Louisville is arguably overseeded as No. 4. No. 5 Northern Iowa got a tough draw in the opening round, having to face Wyoming and Larry Nance Jr. And Providence has a guy that can carry his team through the bracket.
And you know what that means?
This will now end up being the only bracket to go all chalk. You’ve been warned. I think.
MORE: Read through all of our bracket analysis here
Three story lines to watch
- 1. Just how good is Villanova?: That’s been the debate the last week. They stormed through the Big East, but is the Big East over-inflated by a couple of good non-conference wins? They’re a crafty, veteran group that quite simply does not have any exploitable flaws, but they also don’t have that ‘Fear Factor’, an element that will keep opposing coaches up at night trying to find a game-plan to stop. The great thing about the NCAA Tournament: Villanova will get their chance to prove the doubters wrong.
- 2. Is Justin Anderson healthy?: With Justin Anderson playing the way that he was playing in February, Virginia is national title good. I truly believe that. But watching Anderson play in the ACC tournament, it’s painfully obvious that he is not back to 100 percent. He can’t grip the ball right with his left hand, which ruins the touch on his shot. He was averaging 13.9 points and shooting 48.5 percent from three when he fractured a finger. Without that offense, the Cavs go through extended offensive droughts.
- 3. Which Louisville team shows up this week?: So the Cardinals got a four seed despite the fact that they’re playing without Chris Jones? The committee must have really thought highly of that win over Virginia — and deservedly so. In my opinion, the Cardinals are the great unknown in this region. Rick Pitino is a Hall of Famer for a reason, and Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier is the East’s best 1-2 punch. But beyond that, you never really know what you’re going to get with this team.
The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
It’s a shame that Anderson got hurt when he did, but I just have a difficult time seeing Virginia get past both Michigan State and Oklahoma without Anderson at full strength, and until I see him playing at full strength, I think it’s safer to err on the side of caution. I still love this Oklahoma team. They run, they’re streaky but they can get hot from three, they have five threats to score in their starting lineup and Buddy Hield is a star. As far as Villanova is concerned, I think they’re too good to truly be tested by N.C. State, LSU or Louisville. Northern Iowa could give them some trouble, but I think they matchup well with Seth Tuttle.
MORE: Did the committee pick the right No. 1 seeds? | What about the bubble teams?
Final Four sleeper: No. 6 Providence
If there is anyone in this region that can completely take over a game, it’s Kris Dunn. He’s the tournament’s biggest threat to go all Shabazz Napier on us. More on him in a bit, but for the record, those 15.8 points, 7.6 assists, 5.8 boards and 2.8 steals he averaged weren’t an accident.
Upsets that CAN happen
- No. 12 Wyoming over No. 5 Northern Iowa: The Pokes have a presence up front in Larry Nance Jr. to matchup with UNI’s Seth Tuttle, which will be the best 1-on-1 matchup of the opening round. Wyoming might actually be underseeded due to a couple of ugly losses they suffered when Nance was battling mono.
- No. 3 Oklahoma over No. 2 Virginia: There are two things I like about this matchup for Oklahoma. They’re excellent defensively, and Virginia can go through some scoring droughts. All five of their starters can score, which is what you need to be able to do against Virginia. No. 7 Michigan State is a threat to pick off Virginia as well.
Upsets that WON’T happen
- No. 13 UC Irvine over No. 4 Louisville: I can’t see this happening. I know that it’s cool to look down on Louisville these days — they might actually be overseeded at a No. 4 — but I can’t see Terry Rozier or Montrezl Harrell letting this group lose in the opening round, regardless of how tall Mamadou N’Diaye is (7-foot-6, by the way).
Feeling like gambling?
- No. 8 N.C. State or No. 9 LSU over No. 1 Villanova: N.C. State and LSU have proven they can beat some of the best teams in the country. LSU won at West Virginia and at Arkansas. N.C. State beat Duke, Louisville and North Carolina. They also proved they could lose to literally anyone (Boston College? Missouri?), so I have no idea which version of those two teams will show up. I do know this: I will not be shocked if either one gets to the Sweet 16.
MORE: All-Americans | Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year
The studs you know about
- Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: The Big 12 Player of the Year was known as a defensive stopper early in his career. Now? He’s a big-time scorer and a sharp-shooter for one of the region’s most dangerous teams.
- Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier, Louisville: There may not be a smoother scorer in anyone’s back court than Rozier, while Harrell, who has awoken from a slumber the last two weeks, is raw power at the power forward spot.
- Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova: He doesn’t get the attention of some of the other players on Villanova’s roster, but Arch is the engine that makes that team run. There’s a reason he was Big East co-Player of the Year.
- Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Justin Anderson is the guy that was on all the all-american teams before he broke his finger, but anyone that saw Virginia’s loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament knows what Brogdon can do. He can take over a game as well as anyone in this bracket.
The studs the nation will find out about
- Kris Dunn, Providence: It’s criminal how underrated Dunn is nationally. He’s a big, athletic point guard that can dominate a game as well as anyone. A sensational passer, Dunn’s come along way as a shooter this season.
- Derrick Marks, Boise State: Marks put the Broncos on his back, carrying them to a MWC regular season title and an at-large birth after losing their second-best player to injury.
- Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: Nance is a stud. He’s a 6-foot-11 forward with the athleticism of his father, but he’s more skilled than you would think from a guy with his physical tools at a school like Wyoming.
- Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: Some folks have called him a poor-man’s Frank Kaminsky. The comparison is fair, but Tuttle isn’t all that poor.
Best opening round matchups
- No. 8 N.C. State vs. No. 9 LSU: I have absolutely no idea what to make of this game, but I will say this: Both of these teams have the talent of a Sweet 16 team.
- No. 5 Northern Iowa vs. No. 12 Wyoming: Tuttle vs. Nance will be fun. The game may not reach the 50’s, but these are two extremely well-coached teams.
- No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 15 Belmont: Virginia’s defense begs teams to try to shoot jumpers over the top of the defense. Belmont is loaded with shooters. Just saying …
Matchups to root for
- No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 2 Virginia: It’s a cheap pick, I know, but it would be a thrilling matchup to watch. Villanova runs the kind of offense that gives a Pack-Line defense like Virginia’s trouble, but things will be different if Anderson is healthy by the 29th.
- No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 7 Michigan State: The Spartans knocked Virginia out of the NCAA tournament last season when Virginia was a No. 1 seed. Sparty has the weapons — a myriad of three-point shooters and a coach that wants to speed the game — to pull off the upset.
CBT Prediction: Virginia cannot get past Oklahoma, opening the door for Villanova to get to their first Final Four since 2009.