As tough as it is not to see Maryland playing any type of postseason basketball, the NCAA tournament produces one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports. TerrapinStationMD will be rolling out previews for all four regions with extensive analysis and predictions. I’ll be previewing the East Region, which is one of the most interesting in the entire tournament. The East Region contains two ACC teams (Virginia & North Carolina) and one future Terps rival in Michigan State. There are more than a few teams that are capable of representing this region in the Final Four.
Virginia – The Cavaliers capped off a magical season with winning the ACC tournament over Duke on Sunday. They’re not a flashy team, but have an abundance of talent to get the job done. Virginia has a trio of extremely talented guards in Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 points-per-game), Joe Harris (11.7 ppg/36.6 percent from three), and London Perrantes (5.2 ppg/3.8 assists-per-game). The Cavaliers frontcourt has a nice little rotation with Akil Mitchell (7.1 rebounds-per-game) and Mike Tobey (6.5 ppg) usually drawing the start and former Terp commit Justin Anderson (8.1 ppg) and Anthony Gill (8.4 ppg). Coach Tony Bennett’s bunch has the depth to make a serious run at the Final Four.
Villanova – The Wildcats were in the discussion for a number-one seed before being knocked off by former Maryland commit Sterling Gibbs and Seton Hall in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Villanova can flat out score the basketball. Darrun Hilliard (14.3 ppg) is a very versatile guard that can do it all. In his junior year, Hilliard saw his numbers increase in nearly every category. The lefty can shoot from the outside and put it on the floor, making him so dangerous. Couple Hilliard with a pass-first point guard in Ryan Arcidiacono and a post threat in JayVaughn Pinkston and you have the reasons that Villanova only lost four games this year. Creighton isn’t in the East region, so the Wildcats have a good shot to go far.
Michigan State: Is there ever a year where Tom Izzo doesn’t have a team capable of reaching the Final Four? It’s certainly a rarity. Despite struggling at various points throughout the season, the Spartans have put it together at the right time. Gary Harris (17.1 ppg) and Keith Appling (12.3) form an excellent backcourt that can compete with anyone in the nation. That’s even before you mention one of the hardest workers in collegiate hoops in forward Adreian Payne. Payne (15.8 ppg & 7.4 rpg) can score and rebound the basketball extremely well. The Ohio native can also protect the rim as he averages nearly a block a game. It may not even make sense, but Sparty is the dark horse in this region.
(5) Cincinnati vs. (12) Harvard – Cincinnati was among a slew of talented teams in a tight AAC race this season. Guard Sean Kilpatrick (20.7 ppg) was one of the most exciting scorers in the country, but will need to bring his A game in the opening round. However, Harvard is used to being an underdog, especially in recent years. The Crimson won the Ivy League last year and knocked off New Mexico as a 14 seed. Harvard had only one loss during league play and have the ability to hang with the Bearcats. The Crimson are a popular upset pick in the classic 5-12 matchup and could very well advance.
(1) Virginia vs. (9) George Washington – Despite being the number-one seed in the region, the Cavaliers should be on upset alert regardless of their opponent in the third round. In the eight-nine matchup, Memphis faces local feel-good story George Washington. I believe the Colonials will come out on the winning side of things. If this matchup does come to fruition, it could be a dandy. As everybody knows, Virginia has the guard play to go very far in the tournament. However, George Washington is a similar type of team and they are extremely athletic. Former high-major talents Isaiah Armwood (Villanova) and Maurice Creek (Indiana) supply the firepower that could upset the Cavaliers.
St. Joseph’s – It’s been exactly ten years since the Hawks, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, went on an improbable run that ended in the Elite Eight. This year’s team may not be as historically good, but they’re not a team to overlook. It all starts at the top with senior guard Langston Galloway (17.5 ppg). Galloway is a fearless leader that isn’t afraid to take the big shot. Mix that with freshman phenom DeAndre Bembry (12.0 ppg) and big man Halil Kanacevic (8.8 rpg) and you have a recipe for an upset. Obviously, the Hawks have a tough task with seven-seeded Connecticut. UConn’s frontcourt isn’t stellar and Kanacevic could have a dominating performance.
Players to Watch:
Marcus Paige (North Carolina) – Paige was one of the most impressive players in the ACC all year and arguably had a case for Player of the Year in the conference. The Tar Heels star guard finished 5th in both points-per-game and assists-per-game (17.4 ppg & 4.3 apg). Paige can penetrate to the basket while still being able to knock down a shot from beyond the arc. Paige is going to be priority number-one for Providence in their opening round game.
DeAndre Kane (Iowa State) – Kane can do it all. There’s no other way to put it. The Marshall transfer possesses significant size at 6’4 and is a great shooter. Kane is a triple threat as he consistently can score, rebound, and pass the basketball (17.0 ppg/6.7 rpg/5.8 apg). Upset-minded North Carolina Central is going to have their hands full with Iowa State’s star guard.
Jeremy Ingram (North Carolina Central) – Ingram is a remarkable athlete on a team that is flying completely under the radar. Some may question Ingram averaging 20.6 ppg and say that Ingram just played in a small conference. That’s not the case. In games against Cincinnati and N.C. State (two NCAA tournament teams), he scored 27 and 29 points respectively. Ingram excels at getting to the basket and will go step-for-step with Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane.
I’m going with Michigan State here. The Spartans are finally healthy and have a veteran squad that has been tournament tested before. Guys like Harris and Payne are future NBA talent and have the potential to dominate the East Region. One of the things that sticks out the most about the Spartans is how much they share the basketball. They are sixth in the nation in assist with 17.1 per contest. Guard Keith Appling leads the way with 4.6 assists-per-game and is one of several players that can burn you. Izzo’s bunch is just too talented to bow out early and are possibly being overlooked as a national title contender.