The East Region is perhaps the strongest of the four regions, which is counterintuitive considering this region is built around the committee’s proposed No. 1 overall seed, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
It doesn’t shake out that way with the talent and prestige of North Carolina, Kentucky and Syracuse. Quite honestly, those three teams don’t even pose the biggest problems in this bracket.
Here is my breakdown of the tournament's strongest bracket.
Ohio State over UTSA/Alabama State
Ohio State is the No. 1-seeded team in the entire tournament. UTSA/Alabama State are seeded bargain basement. With this being the first 68-team field, it could be argued they are the lowest-seeded team in the history of the tournament. All lamenting aside, a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed, and it’s not going to happen here.
George Mason over Villanova
I’ve always been a fan of Villanova and its sharply dressed man of a coach, Jay Wright. Besides matching suits and colors, he sure knows his way around stockpiling top-flight guards. Somehow, though, the Wildcats fell off the wagon towards the end of the year and find themselves in slight disarray.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, they drew this year's George Mason...George Mason. Just like John Patrick Mason (The Rock), the Patriots are not to be taken lightly or be relegated as a soldier of the past. They are emotional and already know how to break out of Alcatraz.
West Virginia over UAB/Clemson
I don’t hold much stock in West Virginia, but UAB or Clemson, whoever wins the play-in game, doesn’t belong in the tournament. It will be apparent against the talent of Huggy Bear.
Kentucky over Princeton
John Calipari may be a cheater, crook and slickster-looking, calamari-guzzling used car salesman, but he sure stocks up on athletes. This purebred, but not pure of heart, athleticism will be too much for Princeton to handle. I think DeMarcus Cousins said it best last year when Kentucky was playing Cornell: “This is a basketball game, not a spelling bee.”
Xavier over Marquette
I love the guard play of Xavier. They have a trio of gunners on the perimeter, but the caveat this year is they are complemented by some glass-cleaning big men. The frontcourt of seven-foot junior Kenny Frease and senior Jamel McLean, who is the real “thor” in an opponent’s side, will cause Marquette fits.
The real name you should know is Xavier’s do-it-all guard Tu Holloway. He will light you up quick.
Marquette has a great deal of size and athleticism in the backcourt, as per usual, but their lack of doggedness on the front lines is going to get them killed.
Syracuse over Indiana State
1979-era Larry Bird wouldn’t be enough to help Indiana State win this one.
Washington over Georgia
As a kid my idol was Isiah Thomas, the fiercely competitive point guard with unattainable handles, silky-smooth finger rolls and unlimited range. Twenty-plus years later, my view of Isiah Thomas has been corrupted, but the legacy of the name as a basketball player remains very authentic.
Isaiah Thomas (different spelling), likewise, plays a very unpredictable style of basketball, very much parallel to Isiah Thomas’ personal life. You will love him. You will hate him. But with all the smiles and cries you share, one thing is for certain: No matter how you spell the name, it translates to wins on the court. Well, as a player—perhaps not as a person.
North Carolina over Long Island
Long shot Island.
Ohio State over George Mason
Perhaps they are not this year's George Mason. Tough draw to take out the top team in the bracket. I think they’ll give the Buckeyes a game, but Ohio State’s versatility will prove to be too much. This George Mason team isn’t as tough on the inside as the one that made the Final Four run.
Star Buckeye freshman Jared Sullinger could have a field day, especially considering the only guy Mason has that can defend him (Mike Morrison) suffers from sever Adam Morrison syndrome, and I’m not talking about diabetes—that would be mean. Although it’s quite ironic that he has the same last name. He may foul out before halftime.
Kentucky over West Virginia
West Virginia plays very stingy defense. Unfortunately, Kentucky’s platoon of muscle-shredding run-and-gunners won’t allow the Mountaineers to get their feet set. If WVU can keep this to a half-court game, it will have a look at it, but don’t blink if you’re a Mountaineer—it will be brief.
Xavier over Syracuse
If you follow my tournament projection history, you’re probably surprised that it took this long to get to my first upset. Trust me, folks, there will be more.
I have a weird view of Jim Boeheim. I think he’s a good coach, and I trust him. But I also don’t trust him. This is exactly Michael Scott’s review of Andy Bernard, by the by.
There is no arguing Boeheim’s résumé, but his teams really seem to play undisciplined basketball. Their star guard Scoop Jardine seems to have a 10-second shot clock in his head. He literally brings the ball up the court and jacks up ridiculous threes as if there are only single digits left on the clock. Mike D’Antoni thinks he’s a gunner.
‘Cuse will not be successful until it fully implements its project with the proper “place name”—that’s right, they have Fab Melo. Use him wisely.
With that said, Xavier also takes ill-advised shots. This game will play much like a basketball video game with trigger-happy treys flowing awkwardly from all over the court.
Syracuse openly encourages teams to take threes by playing an insanely intense on the interior, 2-3 zone, with enough length and athleticism to make coming into the paint seem like a bank robbery. Danny Ocean (Ocean’s Eleven) would think you’re mind to go in there. Xavier is fine with that, as it plays every game as if the paint is hot lava.
Washington over North Carolina
Whoooa?! Look out! Hit the bracket buster alert. This seems crazy, as North Carolina came into the season with a young squad that would need to develop as the season went along. That is exactly what the Tar Heels did, winning their last 10 games against teams not named Duke, as freshman sensations Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall took the keys and didn’t look back until they won the ACC.
This Carolina team is uber talented, but not deep, and they don’t shoot the ball exceptionally well, which could be a problem if they get behind early.
Coming into the season I thought Washington was one of the best teams in the nation, but it underperformed throughout the year. Many of those games were extremely close, and you just cannot discount the amount of talent on this team and how it’s constructed.
Isaiah Thomas is fantastic at dribble penetration with a plethora of sharpshooting guards around him, as you’d expect from Washington’s history (Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy). This pack of dogs is for real, and I fully expect them to hit their stride in this tournament.
Ohio State over Kentucky
Kentucky has the talent to make this upset, but there just isn’t enough depth. Ohio State coach Thad Matta has been on the cusp of greatness for a while now, and he’s going to have to win games like this to get to the next level.
The deceptive athleticism of their backcourt greatly helps his case this year. William Buford (6'5" Jr.) and David Lighty (6'5" Sr.) can play down to fast, small guards or rise up and defend Calipari-style guards like Tyreke Evans with bigger power forward builds.
The Buckeyes really have an immense amount of versatility and numerous options offensively and defensively. If anyone were to ever stick around a few years at Kentucky, they might know what it’s like. But they don’t, and they don’t.
Washington over Xavier
Get your popcorn ready! This is a delightful matchup of guard play and the frontcourts that love them. Even though Washington is the lower seed, it is the team with more elite talent at every position. The line is razor-thin, but in this instance, that’s all the Huskies are going to need. They will shoot a little better, run a little faster and hit the glass just a little bit harder.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the game comes down to ticking seconds and Isaiah Thomas or Tu Holloway creating on the dribble drive. Either way, this game will have the star power you’d expect for a marquee NCAA tournament game, even though it’s an upset-facing-upset game.
Road to the Final Four
Ohio State over Washington
Ohio State will be able to overpower Washington. Too much muscle to combat the finesse of the Huskies. North Carolina has size (second-round game), but it doesn't have the sheer girth that Ohio State brings to the table.
The Buckeyes are wide on the inside, and when defenses collapse, they have 6'6" wings like Jon Diebler (51 percent from beyond the arc) who never miss. Really, I don’t think the guy ever misses a shot. Statistics claim he does, but I just can’t seem to remember any of these instances.
The point is the efficiency of the Buckeyes on both will eventually put an end to the Huskies' march in the East Region
Thad Matta is going to the Final Four, which he has done before, but this time it’s a title or bust black-tie-only affair.
The entire 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket breakdown can be found on my blog appropriately titled Ryan C. Zerfas. Report here for more top-notch bracket analysis: http://ryanczerfas.blogspot.com/2011/03/2011-ncaa-bracket-projections.html