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Bracket Analysis: East Region

Darrun Hilliard & Ryan Arcidiacono
The Villanova Wildcats rode a 32-2 overall record and 16-2 record in the Big East to a No. 1 seed, though many are doubting them because of their play inside an oft-criticized conference. Despite some defensive limitations, Villanova has a number of weapons that can put up some serious points. Junior Ryan Arcidiacono leads the offense, the steady veteran is not a superb shooter but is a great ball handler and a hard worker. Sharpshooting guard Darrun Hilliard is a serious playmaker as well, while the play of forward JayVaughn Pinkston and Josh Hart will give anytime 'Nova plays serious problems. The Wildcats will hope to begin their tourney run against Patriot League champ Lafayette, who hopes to become the first No. 16 to take down a 1. After that, a meeting with NC State/LSU could certainly give Villanova some problems if the 'Cats can't hit their threes. Still, Villanova appears to be someone of a dark horse, something amazing considering they are a top seed. Many expect 'Nova to be an early out, but they have a ton of offensive playmakers and Jay Wright has had some postseason success (a Final Four run with Scottie Reynolds in 2009). The East Region is not extremely tough and if Villanova gets hot they could make a pretty surprising run to the Final Four.

College basketball this year has been all about slowing down the pace and using every possession wisely. Teams are scoring at the lowest rate in years because of this, and no team slows things down as much as Northern Iowa. The Panthers went 30-3 on the season and went 16-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference with victories against Wichita State, Iowa and fellow dark horse tournament squad, Stephen F. Austin. While the Panthers score at an extremely low rate, they rarely, rarely turn the ball over and play even better defense, allowing just 54.3 points per game, good enough for fourth in the entire nation. UNI has one of the nation's most underrated studs, forward Seth Tuttle, who does it all. The senior averages 15.3 points per game, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, while shooting nearly 62 percent from the field. Another experienced veteran, Wes Washpun is a playmaking guard who will help the Panthers' offense run smoothly. While Mountain West champion Wyoming is certain to give any team some issues, if UNI plays strong defense and contains Larry Nance Jr. they should be in good position. The winner of Georgetown/Eastern Washington shouldn't give the Panthers overwhelming problems, and Northern Iowa could set themselves up for a huge Sweet 16 meeting with Villanova. With their controlling, smart offense that is similar in many ways to Wisconsin and their hard-nosed defense full of experience, UNI certainly looks like a scary dark horse in this year's tournament. They could legitimately be an Elite Eight team with how weak the East Region is, and possibly have an even higher ceiling than that.

The losses of veterans like Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling ushered in a new era in Michigan State basketball, one that was full of struggles early. Though, the Spartans appear to have put it all together, making an impressive run to the Big Ten Tournament Championship game and although they suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to Wisconsin, it showed MSU is ready to do some damage in the tournament after a tough Elite Eight loss to UConn last season. Forward Branden Dawson is one of the Big Ten's best rebounders and a serious matchup problem for many, while guard Denzel Valentine has evolved into a dangerous scorer who can hurt you from deep or take you off the dribble. Travis Trice has always been a great shooter but he has evolved into a great distributor and the Spartans have good size and depth in their frontcourt. While Georgia gave Kentucky serious problems and could do much the same for the Spartans, Michigan State is incredibly dangerous. Depending on the health of wing Justin Anderson, who has missed significant time for Virginia, the Spartans could pull off an upset over the Cavaliers  and possibly be prepared for a major run, considering how wide open the region is.

The dismissal of star point guard Chris Jones midyear threatened to derail Louisville's season. The Cardinals were already struggling and getting rid of the playmaker looked like it could doom them. But, the Cardinals finished the year playing pretty good basketball and won a huge game late in the year, defeating Virginia. They enter the NCAA Tournament with the same seed as last year and incredibly dangerous. Forward Montrezl Harrell still remains among one of the most dominating players in college basketball. The 6'7" junior isn't necessarily very tall but he is strong and sturdy and can push you over if you get in his way. Dangerous scorer Terry Rozier is poised for a big tournament after a great regular season. The guard averages just over 17 points per game and has stepped up big time since the dismissal of Jones. While he will still have turnover problems Rozier still has the ability to take games over and carry Louisville if he does need to. Guards Wayne Blackshear and Quentin Snider, who took over point guard duties from Jones, are also going to make a major impact. While the Cardinals come into the tournament somewhat overlooked they could make a serious run. While they do not have that much size, the Cards push the ball extremely well and have two of the better players in the region in Harrell and Rozier. The UC Irvine Anteaters will be eager to pull off the major upset but Louisville could be a scary team in the region. If they can get past the Anteaters and can put up points in a possible third round meeting with Northern Iowa, they could make a move all the way to the Final Four.

East Picks
Second Round

1 Villanova over
16 Lafayette

8 NC State over

4 Louisville over
13 UC Irvine

5 Northern Iowa over
12 Wyoming

6 Providence over
11 Boise St./Dayton

3 Oklahoma over
14 Albany

7 Michigan State over
10 Georgia

2 Virginia over
15 Belmont

Third Round

1 Villanova over
8 NC State

5 Northern Iowa over
4 Louisville

6 Providence over
3 Oklahoma

7 Michigan State over
2 Virginia

Sweet 16

5 Northern Iowa over
1 Villanova

7 Michigan State over
6 Providence

7 Michigan State over 5 Northern Iowa

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