NCAA Bracket 2014: Complete Guide to East Region

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2014

NCAA Bracket 2014: Complete Guide to East Region

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    Virginia earned the No. 1 seed in the East after winning both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles.
    Virginia earned the No. 1 seed in the East after winning both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Will the 2014 NCAA champion come out of the East?

    That hasn't happened since 2005, when North Carolina took a route through Charlotte and then Syracuse on its way to a victory over Illinois in St. Louis.

    This year's lineup of contenders from the East features an upstart No. 1 seed in Virginia, a rising power in No. 3 Iowa State and a past champion in No. 4 Michigan State that's looking to return to glory and end a long (for the Spartans) four-year Final Four drought.

    There's also second-seeded Villanova, the most "rested" of the top teams by virtue of its first-round conference tournament loss, not to mention a stacked field that includes AAC co-champ Cincinnati, Big East tourney winner Providence, Atlantic 10 tourney champ St. Joseph's and an always-dangerous North Carolina squad that has shown it can beat anyone.

    And don't forget all those lower-seeded teams, the ones we don't really pay much attention to...until they pull off a shocker.

    Check out our complete guide to the East Region, as well as our pick to represent the East at the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.

Round of 64 Schedule and TV Info

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Thursday

    (Games in Spokane, Wash.)

    No. 4 Michigan State (26-8) vs. No. 13 Delaware (25-9): 4:30 p.m. ET on TNT

    No. 5 Cincinnati (27-6) vs. No. 12 Harvard (26-4): 2 p.m. ET on TNT

     

    (Games in Buffalo, N.Y.)

    No. 2 Villanova (28-4) vs. No. 15 Milwaukee (21-13): 9:15 p.m. ET on TBS

    No. 7 Connecticut (26-8) vs. No. 10 St. Joseph's (24-9): 6:45 p.m. ET on TBS 

     

    Friday

    (Games in Raleigh, N.C.)

    No. 1 Virginia (28-6) vs. No. 16 Coastal Carolina (21-12): 9:15 p.m. ET on TBS

    No. 8 Memphis (23-9) vs. No. 9 George Washington (24-8): 6:45 p.m. ET on TBS  

    (Games in San Antonio, Texas)

    No. 3 Iowa State (26-7) vs. No. 14 North Carolina Central (28-5): 9:45 p.m. ET on TNT

    No. 6 North Carolina (23-9) vs. No. 11 Providence (23-11): 7:15 p.m. ET on TNT

Must-See Games in Round of 64

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Providence

    A matchup of two of the country's best and most prolific point guards in UNC's Marcus Paige and Providence's Bryan Cotton. Both lead their respective teams in scoring and neither leaves the court much. 

     

    No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Harvard

    Cincinnati used a tough-as-nails approach to bulldoze its way to the inaugural American Athletic Conference title, while Harvard is in the tournament as Ivy League champs for the third year in a row and pulled off an upset of New Mexico last season.

     

Top Storylines to Follow

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    A Big 5 Battle in Buffalo?

    St. Joseph's and Villanova are two of the five Philadelphia-area Division I schools that comprise the Big 5, a competition in basketball that since 1955 has helped determine the unofficial champion of Philly hoops. The teams all play each other each season, and two of them could meet again in the third round.

    Villanova went 4-0 in the series this year, beating St. Joe's by 30 points in early December. But the Hawks are the hotter team right now, having just won the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, while Villanova was ousted from the Big East tourney in the first round after winning the regular-season title.

    If St. Joe's can get past Connecticut and the Wildcats take care of Milwaukee, it would set up a Saturday meeting for a trip to the Sweet 16.

     

    Can Sparty Make a Run?

    Michigan State was ranked second in The Associated Press' preseason Top 25, and the Spartans stayed near the top by going 18-1. But then one injury after another happened, and all of a sudden, those ailments set into motion a major late-season swoon.

    MSU lost starters Keith Appling, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne for multiple games in January and February, and the turmoil contributed greatly to a 5-7 finish to the regular season that included home losses to Illinois and Penn State.

    But with the lineup fully intact and everyone looking healthy for the Big Ten tournament, MSU steamrolled through the field and is as dangerous as any team heading into the NCAA tourney.

     

    Is Virginia For Real?

    Virginia earned the last of the four No. 1 seeds, locking that up after winning the ACC tournament title on Sunday to go with its regular-season crown. The Cavaliers went 19-2 against their league, helping to make up for a less-than-impressive non-conference performance that included a 35-point loss at Tennessee on Dec. 30.

    The Cavaliers had only made the tournament once in the previous six seasons and haven't been a No. 1 seed since the Ralph Sampson days of the early 1980s. They've fended off all challengers in the conference, but will they be able to make it through a field of unfamiliar foes to reach their first Final Four since 1984?

Stars to Watch

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Bryce Cotton, Sr., Providence

    The 6'1" guard was impossible to get off the court this season, as he averaged 39.9 minutes per game this season. He played all 50 minutes in each of the Friars' four double-overtime games this season, and he was out there for every second of the Big East tourney win over Creighton on Saturday.

     

    Melvin Ejim, Sr., Iowa State

    The Big 12 Player of the Year led the Cyclones in scoring (18.1 points per game) and was second in rebounding (8.5), playing much bigger than his 6'6" frame. Part of a well-balanced ISU team that won the conference tournament title, Ejim is the most irreplaceable piece.

     

    Jeremy Ingram, Sr., North Carolina Central

    The 6'3" guard averaged more than 20 points per game this season in leading the Eagles to their first-ever NCAA tournament bid. He outdueled North Carolina State star T.J. Warren in an overtime win in late November, scoring 29 points by going 19-of-21 at the free-throw line.

     

    Sean Kilpatrick, Sr., Cincinnati

    The 6'4" guard is a huge reason Cincinnati tied for the American Athletic Conference's regular-season title and began the year 22-2. His 20.7 points per game is among the top 20 in the nation, and his floor presence has been essential to the Bearcats' success.

     

    Adreian Payne, Sr., Michigan State

    Payne's decision to return to school for his senior season looked like a bad one when a foot injury kept him out of seven games in the middle of the year. But since his return, the 6'10" forward has quickly returned to the form that has made him a key part of what the Spartans hope is their first trip to the Final Four since 2010.

Favorites Most Likely to Fall Early

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    John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    No. 5 Cincinnati

    The Bearcats face a tough opening game in the form of No. 12 Harvard. Besides the long history of No. 12 seeds beating No. 5 seeds in the NCAA tourney, Cincinnati also has to deal with the fact that this Crimson team features several players from the group that took down New Mexico last year.

    Cincinnati has struggled in low-scoring games, and Harvard allows only 60.5 points per contest.

     

    No. 6 North Carolina

    The Tar Heels looked like they had righted the ship in the second half of the season, running off 12 in a row before falling to Duke in the regular-season finale. Then came a horrible performance in the ACC quarterfinals against Pittsburgh, which conjured up memories of earlier in the year when UNC would beat good teams and lose to underdogs.

    Add in the fact that No. 11 Providence is riding high off its Big East tourney title, and that's a solid recipe for an upset.

     

    No. 7 Connecticut

    It's not so much that the Huskies are playing badly—they just ended up with a bad draw in the form of their opening game against No. 10 St. Joseph's. The Hawks played themselves off the bubble and firmly into the tournament with a stellar run through the Atlantic 10 tournament, shutting down VCU in the final.

    Five of UConn's last six games were against ranked opponents, so there's a small chance they could overlook the Hawks in anticipation of meeting Villanova in the third round.

Cinderella Story Waiting to Happen

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    Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

    Providence

    The Friars are in the tournament for the first time since 2004, and they might not have gotten in if not for winning the Big East tourney. 

    But this Providence team is looking more like the 1997 unit, which made a magical run to the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed before falling to eventual champ Arizona. That group, led by future NBA standout Austin Croshere and point guard God Shammgod, knocked off No. 7 Marquette and then second-seeded Duke along the way. 

Who Will Make the Sweet 16?

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    John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State, No. 4 Michigan State

    Despite the presence of some dangerous lower-seeded teams, the top teams are all playing well heading into the tournament. The lone exception might be Villanova, which was shocked by Seton Hall in the first round of the Big East tourney, but before that, the Wildcats were playing some of their best basketball.

    Iowa State faces the toughest route to the Sweet Sixteen but should match up well with either North Carolina or Providence, while Virginia's and Michigan State's draws don't look too tough.

The Elite Eight Matchup Will Be…

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 4 Michigan State

    The Cyclones and Spartans have two things going for them: momentum and senior leadership. Both are playing their best basketball, and the experienced players are stepping up at the right time.

And Your Final Four Team Is…

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 4 Michigan State

    The Spartans got the seeding that their record and resume deserved, but they played far better than what you'd expect from a No. 4 seed this past weekend.

    Tom Izzo hasn't been to the Final Four since 2010, and this would be his first senior class not to make it there. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne will help ensure that doesn't happen.

Prediction for Michigan State in the Final Four

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    Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

    Spartans Lose in National Semifinals

    The East champion faces the winner from the Midwest, which features top-seeded and unbeaten Wichita State as well as fellow 2013 Final Four entrants Louisville and Michigan. Whoever comes out of that region will be battle-tested, having faced far greater competition than what Michigan State had to get through.

     

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