Our college basketball consultant reviews what has happened thus far in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament, and shares his prediction on teams that will reach the Regional Final. The article concludes with his selection on who will get to “The Final Four”.
The Madness in East Region
The East Region has seen the top two seeds eliminated in their third round games. The #1 seed Villanova Wildcats fell 71-68 at the hands of #8 seed North Carolina State (22-13) on Saturday as an 8.5 point favorite. Then on Sunday, #7 seed Michigan State (25-11) knocked off #2 seed Virginia 60-54 in a game that wasn’t nearly competitive as the final score may indicate.
Defense Wins Championships
I don’t know if the Michigan State Spartans will end up winning the national championship. I do know that Tom Izzo always finds a way to have his team peaking at the most critical part of the season. There’s been a common denominator in those occurrences, and that’s been the Spartans play on the defensive end of the floor. If their first two tournament performances in wins over Virginia and Georgia are any indication, then the Spartans are once again drinking Izzo’s Kool-Aid. Michigan State held those two opponents to a combined 31.6% shooting from the field. If you read my article on the East Region prior to the start of the tournament, Michigan State was one my two potential dark horses. They’ve done nothing so far that would change my mind in the regard.
Lon Kruger makes History
Lon Kruger made NCAA Tournament history by becoming the first to lead four different schools (Florida, Illinois, UNLV, and Oklahoma) to the “Sweet 16”. His #3 seed Oklahoma Sooners eventually wore down the Dayton Flyers on Sunday in a 72-66 win. It must be noted, that was a Dayton team that was playing their sixth game in ten days, and even by AAU standards would be considered a strenuous schedule. The Sooners opened the tournament on Friday with a workmanlike 69-60 win over #14 seed Albany.
The Dangerous Dog
The North Carolina State Wolfpack pulled off the shocker of the tournament thus far by knocking off Villanova on Saturday. With that win, they’ve now gone 5-1 in their last six games, and the only loss in that sequence came at the hands of Duke, who by the way is the #1 seed in the South. Similar to Michigan State, they’ve been terrific defensively in their two tournament wins holding Villanova and Ole Miss to a combined 35.5% shooting from the field. The Wolfpack have also really taken care of the basketball in those two wins, evidenced by committing only 16-turnovers combined.
Cardinals are a Mild Surprise
The Louisville Cardinals are the highest remaining seed (#4) in the East Region. I find that to be somewhat of a surprise due to their offensive shortcomings, and the turmoil they’ve had to endure this season. Rick Pitino captured his 52nd career NCAA Tournament victory on Sunday in a dominating 66-53 defeat of #5 seed Northern Iowa. Despite being the most likely team on paper to be in “The Final Four”, I’d be very surprised if indeed that occurs.
For all intents and purposes, you can make a case for any of these four teams to reach “The Final Four”. I like a North Carolina State and Michigan State Regional Final, and see the Spartans advancing with a win over the Wolfpack with my NCAA Tournament picks.