by Chris Molicki
The talent of the top seeds in the East is unmatched. The sleepers in the East are deadly. Is Indiana the team of destiny? Or is Butler primed for another run? Let’s analyze the East region and figure it all out.
The Favorite: It’s Indiana right? Or is it Miami? It has to be the Hoosiers, who are arguably the most talented team in the country. Indiana runs a fast paced game with the best offense in the country and a top-20 defense. Victor Oladipo is a true POY candidate. His insane athleticism is how he excels at getting to the rim, and his in-your-face defense is a pain in opponents’ sides. Cody Zeller is a wizard in the post, but teams have found out how to counter him, as he generally doesn’t pass out of the paint. Christian Watford has been scrutinized this year, but how often do you find a big man like him who can consistently hit the three ball? Throw in the penetrating Yogi Ferrell, the ultimate glue guy Will Sheehey, and a great ball handler and three point shooter in Jordan Hulls, and this team has every weapon in its arsenal. However, the Hoosiers could be upset prone. It seems like whenever things are going well for Indiana, they have a hiccup. Whether it’s a team slowing down the pace, shutting down Zeller, or a rare off-night for Oladipo, the Hoosiers are far from invincible. If you trust their talent, they should be Final Four bound. If you don’t, look for other hidden gems in the region.
The Contenders: Miami could have been a #1 seed, but instead was placed in the Hoosiers’ region. The Hurricanes have size with Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble, scorers in Trey McKinney Jones and Durand Scott, and one of the best players in the nation in Shane Larkin. Scott’s been on a tear and has great leadership, while Kadji is as versatile as big men come. And don’t forget Reggie Johnson. The big man has struggled since coming back from injury, but he could be an x-factor. Had they won the Big East tournament, Syracuse would have been a trendy Final Four pick. Still, they’re a contender. If James Southerland keeps shooting the way he did at Madison Square Garden, they can beat anyone. Brandon Triche and C. J. Fair are extremely consistent, and although they have some trouble down low, Baye Keita is starting to come along. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, Butler will always be a contender with Brad Stevens at the helm. Senior Andrew Smith has been there before, and he can rally the Bulldogs for a deep run. Throw in the three-point shooting of Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham and this team is oozing with potential.
The Dark Horses: While Marquette doesn’t have much star power, Vander Blue has stepped up to be their top scorer. Davante Gardener is an unorthodox big man who can actually hit free throws and still bang down low. Having an experienced leader in Junior Cadougan and Jamil Wilson heating up at the right time makes this group of guys who play team ball one to look out for. And it doesn’t hurt that they have Buzz Williams, one of the best coaches in the nation. Call me crazy, but Illinois survived a tough Big Ten schedule and has some legitimate scorers in Brandon Paul and D. J. Richardson. John Groce brought little Ohio to the Sweet Sixteen last year, and has even more talent with the Fighting Illini. Remeber, this team beat Indiana, the #1 seed in the region. After the Hoosiers and maybe Miami, N. C. St. has more talent than anyone, they just haven’t been able to put it together. C. J. Leslie could easily win player of the region, Lorenzo Brown is a very crafty point guard, and Richard Howell is, simply put, a grown man in the post. And that’s just scratching the surface of the Wolfpack’s talents.
Upset Special: #14 Davidson over #3 Marquette. The Wildcats have been here before. They’re led by senior Jake Cohen, who can score in the post and shoot the three. De’Mon Brooks is his partner in crime on the wing, who like the Wildcats, scores in bunches. Davidson wasn’t too far off beating Final Four bound Louisville last year, and they dominated the Southern Conference this year. As mentioned, the Golden Eagles are low on talent, and Cohen could wind up being the best player on the floor. Expect the senior to lead the ‘Cats to the next round.
Other Things to Watch For: Even though Butler is a contender, they have an extremely difficult first round matchup in Bucknell. Mike Muscala is one of the best big men in the country, and they’ll have to neutralize him to win. If N. C. St. underachieves like they have all season, Khaliff Wyatt and Temple will gladly take the win. The high flying Owls are no strangers to winning tourney games under Fran Dunphy. Montana’s Will Cherry and three-point shooters could break the Syracuse zone if everything goes right. Anthony Bennett is an NBA talent, but so is Allen Crabbe, and Cal basically has a home game against UNLV.
The Pick: Miami. They play big in big games, and they really might be a better team than Indiana. They have the bigs to bombard Zeller, and that’s been the blueprint for beating the Hoosiers. The Hurricanes will be going down to Georgia.
by Chris Molicki