The East Region in the NCAA tournament may not have the overall No. 1 seed Florida Gators or the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals, but there is plenty of talent spread across the 16 seeds.
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The ACC regular-season and tournament champion Virginia checks in at the No. 1 seed, red-hot Iowa State is the No. 3 seed and Michigan State, which is a trendy national-champion selection, is the No. 4 seed.
With the strength of the East Region in mind, let’s dig into a few predictions.
No. 12 Harvard Upsets No. 5 Cincinnati
Picking No. 12 seeds to upset No. 5 seeds is a popular practice among college basketball fans every March.
Just last year, three of the four No. 12 seeds beat the No. 5 seeds, so there is recent precedent to be considered. Harvard will upset Cincinnati and keep the trend going in 2014.
One thing the Crimson won’t have to do is worry about coach Tommy Amaker taking the Boston College job, at least if Andy Katz’s (of ESPN) logic is to be followed:
Harvard ruined a number of brackets last season by upsetting No. 3 seed New Mexico in the round of 64 and plan on doing the same against Cincinnati.
The Crimson feature five double-digit scorers offensively and the 35th best pace-adjusted defense, according to Ken Pomeroy. Cincinnati struggles to score as it is, and Harvard will contain Sean Kilpatrick and the Bearcats for the entire game.
If the contest comes down to the final moments, Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders will have the ball in his hands. Look for him to score just enough points to outlast the offensively challenged Bearcats.
No. 3 Iowa State Makes the Elite Eight
There are few teams in the country playing with more momentum than Iowa State heading into the NCAA tournament.
The Cyclones won the Big 12 tournament, beating Kansas in the semifinals and Baylor in the finals. They have won 11 out of 14 games and have talent at every position on the court.
Melvin Ejim leads the scoring at 18.1 points per game, while DeAndre Kane adds 17 a night and Georges Niang scores 16.5 a contest. In terms of threesomes, it doesn’t get much better than what Iowa State brings to the table in the entire NCAA tournament field.
In fact, no team in the country averaged more assists per game than the Cyclones.
With so many talented players, any open look is almost assured to result in an assist. Look for Niang—who dominated in the Big 12 tournament—and company to make it all the way to the Elite Eight.
No. 4 Michigan State Goes to the Final Four
Michigan State is finally healthy again, and the rest of the country is officially on notice.
Coach Tom Izzo talked about how important the Big Ten championship was for his team, at least in terms of gaining experience with a full roster before the NCAA tournament, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
The biggest thing we needed was to play three games. We needed more and more games together. We're starting to feel the rhythm again. Other years, I never wanted to lose right away, but if your team is worn out or something and it's not going to change your seeding much, you look at it differently. This year was very important that we moved on.
Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson will lead the Spartans to the Final Four, beating Iowa State in the Elite Eight in the process.
Michigan State finished No. 11 in Pomeroy’s offensive rankings and No. 39 in his defensive metrics, so there shouldn’t be a problem on either end of the floor.
What’s more, now that the Spartans have escaped the physicality of the Big Ten, their talented offense should thrive even more in the tournament.
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