Road to the Final Four: Analyzing the East Bracket's First Round
This is the second of four regions previewed. The Southern region has already been broken down.
(1) Pittsburgh vs. (16) East Tennessee State
Why the Panthers will win: The Panthers have an incredible amount of athleticism and talent compared to the Buccaneers. Pittsburgh has three of the smartest, veteran players in seniors Sam Young, Levance Fields and sophomore DeJuan Blair. Pittsburgh is the second most efficient offensive teams in the nation and also one of the best rebounding teams in the land.
Why the Buccaneers will win: Really there isn't a way to justify an East Tennessee State win. This is essentially the same group of players that allowed 125 points to Syracuse last year. Just imagine what Pitt will do to this team.
Who will win: Surprisingly, Ken Pomeroy only projects an 18-point win 86-68. Me thinks this one actually will be close to 30 points, if not more, depending on how long Pitt's big three play.
(8) Oklahoma State vs. (9) Tennessee
Why the Cowboys will win: Oklahoma State is going to get up and down and the floor and they are going to score. Start out a little bit cold against the Cowpokes and they can and will bury you. Oklahoma State's attack revolves around two very talented perimeter players.
Senior Bryon Eaton has been around long enough to play with JamesOn Curry and will brings great experience and a high basketball IQ. He's going to get to the hoop fairly often, especially out in transition—the area of the game Oklahoma State excels the most in. Eaton averages over seven free-throw attempts per game.
His wingman will be the extremely talented and future star James Anderson. The sophomore, if he sticks around by his senior year, will be one of the premier players in the Big XII.
Anderson is a deadly three-pointer shooter who's capable of going off for a handful of threes. If Eaton and Anderson can get going, Oklahoma State will even be able to knock of Pittsburgh in the second round.
Tennessee still haven't found a reliable point guard to distribute to the Volunteers' two best players, Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith.
Why the Volunteers will win: Tennessee can also score at will and get up-and-down the court almost as well as Oklahoma State. The Vols have a tremendous wing player in junior Tyler Smith who averages about 17 points per game.
While the Volunteers have been terribly inconsistent throughout the season, they still have shown the star power that made pundits think they were the team to beat in the SEC in the preseason. UT has knocked off Siena, Georgetown when the Hoyas were still relevant, and Marquette in the non-conference.
The Volunteers will do a variety of different things defensively as their depth allows them to flexible with the amount of pressure they want to put on Oklahoma State. Bruce Pearl's club can try to confuse the Cowpokes with different looks on the defensive end of the floor. Bruce Pearl has ten different Volunteers he can throw out on the floor to create the mis-matches he needs.
Tennessee as a whole is a very long team that will give an undersized Oklahoma State squad fits around the basket. OSU doesn't have a single player in its normal rotation that stands 6'6'' or taller. Tennessee has a bunch. Oklahoma State still rebounds the ball on the defensive end of the floor, but is usually one shot and done on offense.
Bruce Pearl needs to extend ball pressure as far as he can on the court to prevent Oklahoma State from getting good looks at the basket.
Who will win: Tennessee. Picking Oklahoma State seems to be trendy as the Cowpokes have been playing better than the Volunteers. But Tennessee's depth compared to OSU's lack there of will be a major advantage for Bruce Pearl. Assuming he pressures the ball for all 94, Oklahoma State should wear down eventually.
The Vols will also have the luxury with all its depth to figure out whether they should attack the Cowboys with a more guard oriented lineup or put an extra big man or wing player on the floor to have more length on the perimeter, the crucial area that Tennessee must defend.
(5) Florida State vs. (12) Wisconsin
Why the Seminoles will win: Florida State is down right nasty on the defensive end of the floor. Wisconsin is used to seeing that kind of defense in the Big Ten, but remember the Badgers were only 10-9 in the league. Florida State is a strong defensive field-goal percentage team, but also turns teams over frequently, something many of the great defensive Big Ten teams don't do.
Toney Douglas has emerged as one of the best players in an ACC loaded in talent. While he's a one-man show offensively, FSU will run eight to ten players deep depending on the game. The Seminoles have a tremendous amount of size and athleticism that few Big Ten teams have.
The Seminoles have really only lost one game they weren't expected to and that was early in the season against Northwestern. They have an impressive win over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament and swept the season series against Clemson.
Plus, FSU gets a team that really doesn't even deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin isn't NCAA quality and the Badgers didn't beat anyone that is as good as Florida State during the season.
Why the Badgers will win: Wisconsin has the offensive fire power and depth to beat Florida State's strong defense. Despite playing in a defensive minded Big Ten, the Badgers were the 24th most efficient offense in the country. Wisconsin rarely turns the ball over and should handle Florida State's in your face defense pretty well.
Wisconsin has five solid scorers which won't allow Florida State pick one or two opposing players to key in on. If the Seminoles do, they could get burned because Wisconsin has the offensive depth to score.
While the Badgers aren't a strong defensive team, they are still good enough to keep the Seminoles off the board. What Wisconsin does do well is clean the defensive glass. If Florida State struggles from the field, the Seminoles will not get second chances.
Plus, Wisconsin has the extra motivation to prove that this is a bubble team that did deserve to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.
Who will win: Florida State. This 5-12 matchup is probably the second safest after Purdue-Northern Iowa. FSU is more athletic and has played better ball consistently all year. Wisconsin only has two important seniors, so the Badgers will use this tournament as learning experience for next year.
(4) Xavier vs. (13) Portland State
Why the Musketeers will win: Xavier is clearly the better team of the two and has a roster full of players that each have a distinct roll. Those players all bring different talents to the table which makes the Musketeers' lineup very flexible.
Xavier can really flex its muscles with a big lineup that will pound the glass. XU ranks in the top 35 in both offensive and defensive rebounding. Against an undersized Portland State squad, Xavier will really be able dominate PSU. Portland State will take an absorbent amount of three-pointers, so if they aren't falling, Xavier won't give them second opportunities.
Because of Xavier's size, the Musketeers get to the line frequently and run teams into severe foul trouble. Xavier also is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. The Musketeers can score inside the arc, but also from outside.
Why the Vikings will win: Portland State took Washington to the wire earlier this year, but did knock off fellow mid-major and four seed Gonzaga. Seeing the four next to Xavier's name won't intimidate the Vikings because they know they can beat a team of this quality.
PSU may have a small lineup, but the Vikings have a group of guards that Xavier will have trouble matching up with. Portland State will slow things down and work for a good shot. The Vikings are one of the best and most frequent shooting teams from three-point range. Only 13 squads shoot threes more frequently than Portland State.
Xavier has been faltering of late as the Musketeers have lost five of their last 10 games, all against an Atlantic-10, which is having a slightly down year. PSU has been the complete opposite winning its last six games of the season.
Who will win: Xavier. This is an intriguing upset to pick and is a realistic possibility. When Portland State goes off from three like the Vikings did against Gonzaga, they can knock off anyone. But Xavier's overall size and depth should be too much for Portland State to overcome.
(6) UCLA vs. (11) Virginia Commonwealth
Why the Bruins should win: UCLA hasn't put a lot of eye-popping scoring totals on the board because the Bruins don't play at a fast pace. When you break down how many points per possession they score per possession, UCLA ranks third in the country.
The Bruins average tempo makes them even harder to beat because when they get a lead, opposing teams have fewer opportunities to comeback in the game.
UCLA's great offense is led by one of the absolute best floor generals in the game. Darren Collison has been a bit overlooked this year being out west in a subpar year in the Pac-10. He's never going to miss a free-throw and is a sure bet to get several easy baskets a game around the rim.
UCLA is good defensively, not great, but the Ben Howland is well on his way to developing the next great lockdown defensive guard in the country. Jrue Holiday ranks in the top 5 as a 6'3'' guard in both steal and block percentage.
The defensive instincts he must have to put up those kind of numbers has to be out of this world. Plus seeing him jump helps explain his great block percentage numbers.
Why the Rams can win: UCLA is going to be flying across the country to Philadelphia to play VCU in front of a crowd that should have a bunch of Rams fans in attendance. The Rams have played enough quality teams this year to know what to expect against the Bruins.
Virginia Commonwealth will need to find a third contributor to knock off UCLA. Eric Maynor can get hot and carry this team, but the chances aren't good that he'll be dominant especially if Jrue Holiday ends up guarding him.
Larry Sanders is a tremendous shot blocking forward. VCU is lucky from the standpoint UCLA isn't very tall on the frontline show Sanders 6'9'' frame will stand up against the Bruins.
Who will win: UCLA. This has also been a trendy upset pick since UCLA isn't nearly as good as the recent Final Four teams the Bruins have fielded. But this VCU team also isn't as good as the team that beat Duke. There is enough talent for the Rams to win this game, but the odds are with UCLA's great offense, VCU won't be able to stop them.
(3) Villanova vs. (14) American
Why the Wildcats will win: Villanova is very good offensively and defensively. They aren't great on both ends of the floor, but they are one of a few teams in the country that can win a game on both ends of the floor.
'Nova provides teams with matchup problems because 'Nova will usually put three guards on the floor and two power forwards. Dante Cunningham technically plays the five, but he's built like a four and can play out on the perimeter. The 'Cats are still a good rebounding team on both ends of the court despite their deficiencies in size.
Rick Pitino talked very highly of this team at the Big East Tournament from the standpoint that Villanova has eight players that play at a high-major level. That was Pitino's way of saying 'Nova has eight bodies that can play 30 minutes on any given night if Jay Wright needs them.
Why the Eagles will win: Be the nation's most patriotic team with the name American Eagles is probably the best thing AU has going for them. American won't be caught up in the glitz and glamour of the tournament. The Eagles kept last year's two seed, Tennessee within striking distance for awhile.
Garrison Carr will never meet a shot he doesn't like and has the ability to drop 30 plus points any given night. If 'Nova loses track of the senior, then AU could find itself hanging around much longer than it should be.
American shoots at a pretty high percentage, but also allows teams to shoot just 44.9 percent from the field which ranks 27th in the country.
Who will win: Villanova. The Wildcats are simply too good of a team. They will be able to push American out of its comfort zone and run the ball up-and-down the court. American likes to slow things down, but Villanova's speed will certainly turn this game into a more up-tempo affair.
Greensboro, North Carolina
(7) Texas vs. (10) Minnesota
Why the Longhorns will win: The easiest explanation for why Rick Barnes' club will be victors is Minnesota can't score and lacks size. The Golden Gophers won't put points on the board in a hurry so if A.J. Abrams can get hot early, Texas can put Minnesota in a hole Tubby Smith's squad likely can't overcome.
Texas also provides Minnesota with some major matchup problems. Dexter Pittman is emerging as a great center who will be more physical than the entire Minnesota frontline. On top of Pittman, Texas also has a talented shooter in 6'10'' Connor Atchley and winger 6'7'' Damion James who can take the ball outside and inside to score.
Why the Golden Gophers will win: Minnesota comes out of the brutal Big-10 conference that doesn't allow anybody to score. Sometimes those teams reach the NCAA Tournament and all of a sudden the flood gates open and they start scoring.
Minnesota will drop back into a zone at times which could also give Texas fits. The Longhorns don't have another player that knock down a three-pointer after AJ Abrams. Minnesota can pack things, but aggressively pursue Abrams on the perimeter and let the rest of the Longhorns bombs away.
Minnesota ranks first in the country in block percentage and 11th in steal percentage. That's a trademark of a Tubby Smith team. 'Sota will provide a lot of weak side defense that can cause teams trouble if they aren't ready for it.
Who will win: Texas. The Longhorns are probably slightly over-seeded, but this is really just a bad matchup for Minnesota. The Gophers are really going to have to pack the zone in because Texas will have multiple players that can score in the paint area. Zone defenses also allow a lot of offensive rebounds, something Texas excels at.
(2) Duke vs. (15) Binghamton
Why the Blue Devils will win: Where to begin? Duke has more depth, athleticism, much better offense and defense. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has this team playing to or above its preseason potential as the Blue Devils have become a superior team on both ends of the floor.
Why the Bearcats will win: D.J. Rivera is an absolute stud in the America East. He can really go off and win Binghamton games. If he doesn't have a career game, BU doesn't stand a chance.
Binghamton lacks size (don't have a regular above 6'6'') and that will doom the 'Cats. They are a scrappy bunch, but Duke's size will allow them to frequently get offensive rebounds and easy baskets.
Who will win: Duke. This may end up being the closest 2-15 game of this year's tournament, but close will be 25 or 30 points. This year's Duke team isn't going to make mental mistakes and check out of games. This year's America East representative won't make noise like Vermont in the past. That Catamount team that knocked off Syracuse will be the best team this league produces for awhile.
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