NCAA Basketball: Deep in Bracketville's East Region

Andrew ZercieCorrespondent IMarch 17, 2009

Staying on the right half of the bracket, here’s a breakdown of the East Region, or as I’m calling it, the Pittsburgh Invitational. Why call it the Pittsburgh Invitational, you might wonder? Read on.

First-round upset on everyone’s radar: No. 11 VCU def. No. 6 UCLA
I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read that have declared Virginia Commonwealth point guard Eric Maynor superior to UCLA point Darren Collison, who’s only been to three Final Fours thus far in his collegiate career.
I know Collison gives up three inches to Maynor, and I know Maynor can fill the bucket like few points in the college game.
I get the sense that people have forgotten that the Bruins have three seniors (Collison, Josh Shipp, and Alfred Aboya) who have a ton of tournament experience.
I also believe that Jrue Holliday, if he were to enter the NBA draft after this season, would go in the top-20.
There’s a lot of talent on UCLA, so I’m not buying this upset.

First-round upset on nobody’s radar: No. 13 Portland State def. No. 4 Xavier

Portland State is being largely overlooked by the masses and the experts.

Its non-conference schedule included a road win at Gonzaga, and a one-point loss at Washington, both No. 4 seeds. The Vikings are certainly capable of taming a giant.

They are an undersized team, led by 5′6″ point Jeremiah Dominguez, and a squad that likes to shoot the three.

If they can connect, look out. If not, expect the much larger Musketeers to dominate the long rebounds and run Portland State off the floor.

I’m taking a bit of a risk and picking Portland State to pull a mini-Davidson.

See below.


Overrated concern: Duke lacks athleticism and toughness

The Dukies nearly got embarrassed by Belmont in the first round in the 2008 tournament, then were sent home by West Virginia in the second round.

In 2007, Duke lost to VCU in the first round.

Then this season, Duke was destroyed at Clemson, losing by 27 points during the regular season.

Because of those losses, people have developed a perception of the Blue Devils as a weak team that likes to shoot, but not rebound or defend. They do shoot well, but they have underrated athleticism, and Kyle Singler likes to mix it up inside enough to grab nearly eight rebounds a game.


Underrated concern: Pitt vs. the referees

Something that hasn’t been written often enough since the tournament field was set is the fact that the Big East teams will have to adjust to how referees from other conferences police the game.

It’s widely known that Big East referees tend to let more contact go, letting the players decide games more often than not.

No team is more in need of an adjustment than the Pitt Panthers. DeJuan Blair is a rebounding black hole—he’s a wide body with long arms, and he knows how to gain position in the paint against taller opponents.

However, his sheer strength could work against him in front of the wrong set of eyes.

Levance Fields, limited a bit with a back injury, has always played with a scrapper’s mentality, and he knows how to get away with reach-ins and some tough defense, but he may have to limit his bag of tricks a bit in the next few weeks.


Other notes

For all the talk about Blair and Fields, this tournament could be the Sam Young Show. He’s got a pro game, a pro body, and a lot to prove.

The inside-outside tandem of Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds for Villanova, coupled with their assignment to the Philadelphia “pod” in the East Region, almost assures the Wildcats of a Sweet 16 berth.

Ditto that for Duke, thanks to its placement in Greensboro, NC.

Also, the Boise pod has two geographical advantages for the lower seeds: Portland State and Wisconsin had much easier travel than higher seeded opponents Xavier and Florida State, respectively.


Round of 32 (losers in parentheses): Pitt (East. Tenn. St.), Oklahoma State (Tennessee), Wisconsin (Florida State), Portland State (Xavier), UCLA (VCU), Villanova (American), Minnesota (Texas), Duke (Binghamton).


Sweet Sixteen (losers in parentheses): Pitt (Oklahoma State), Portland State (Wisconsin), Villanova (UCLA), Duke (Minnesota).


Elite Eight (losers in parentheses): Pitt (Portland State), Villanova (Duke).


Fina Four: Pitt (Villanova).