Yesterday, Zurg previewed the South Region, and today he will be looking at the East Region.
Led by top seed Virginia, the East Region will play its Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games at the Mecca of Basketball, Madison Square Garden, in New York, NY.
Without further ado, let’s jump in:
(1) Virginia vs. (16) Coastal Carolina
Coastal Carolina won the Big South Tournament on its home floor (despite not being the conference’s top seed…). The Chanticleers’ strength is their defense, as they have a defensive effective Field Goal Percentage ranked 78th nationally and 33.6% of their points given up come from beyond the 3P line (13th highest nationally).
Virginia does just about everything, but their strength is also defense. The Cavaliers have the 3rd best defensive efficiency, give up the 8th fewest offensive rebounds, and hold offenses to the 8th worst effective Field Goal Percentage in the NCAA.
This game could be close for a while if it takes on a slow, bruising style – but expect Virginia to pull away and move on to the Round of 32.
(8) Memphis vs. (9) George Washington
These are two very similar teams from a statistical standpoint.
Both have efficiencies offensively and defensively in the top 100 nationally. Both teams struggle from the 3P line. Both teams turn the ball over at an above-average rate.
The major differences are that Memphis does not shoot well from 3 (201st in the country), while George Washington shoots 36.9% (or 71st in the country). On the other side of the ball, however, Memphis defends the 3P line much better than GW, so this may balance out.
I think this game is going to be close, but I am taking George Washington for their defense, ability to hit the 3, and their superior FT%.
(5) Cincinnati vs. (12) Harvard
Cincinnati’s defense turns every game it plays into a chess match – and Mick Cronin has been a master player this season. But the team is still offensively challenged. Sean Kilpatrick is averaging almost 10 points per game more (20.7 PPG) than the team’s second leading scorer, Justin Jackson (11.1 PPG).
These teams are very close statistically in most of Dean Oliver’s four factors (effective Field Goal Percentage, Turnover Percentage, Offensive Rebound Percentage, & Free Throw Rate) – but Harvard takes advantage offensively in terms of effective Field Goal Percentage (no surprise) and Free Throw Rate (Harvard is 35th nationally; Cincy is 212th).
Defensively, Harvard allows fewer offensive rebounds than Cincinnati based on percentages – but Cincinnati has one of the best OR% in the country. Second chance baskets could keep Cincinnati on top and ultimately win the game, but I am going to take the upset pick and go with Harvard.
(4) Michigan State vs. (13) Delaware
I am not drinking the Michigan State Kool-Aid that seems to be the beverage of choice at ESPN this week. Yes, the Spartans are back to full strength and ran through the Big Ten Tournament – but this is not the best team in the country even if it had been healthy all season.
In 18 games with a full roster, Tom Izzo’s team went 15-3 with all 3 losses coming against teams in the top 70 at KenPom.
This is a beatable team, and while they could certainly make a run, I think it is crazy that 13.1% of brackets at ESPN.com have picked them to win it all.
Could Delaware be the team to shock the world? The Blue Hens have played two tournament teams this season (Villanova and Ohio State) – and lost by 4 and 12, respectively. This is a team with senior leaders like Davon Usher, Devon Saddler, and Carl Baptiste and a strong ball handler in Jarvis Threatt.
I do not think Delaware is strong enough defensively to deal with the Spartans, so I am picking Michigan State to advance. But don’t feel inclined to follow the worldwide leader and pick Michigan State to win it all. Tom Izzo’s team relies more on the 3-ball than it has in at least 11 years (KenPom data goes back to 2003) – and it isn’t close. Michigan State relies on the 3-pointer at the 55th highest rate in the country this season, and the next highest rate was in 2011 when it ranked 142nd in terms of highest percentage of total points came from beyond the arc.
(6) North Carolina vs. (11) Providence
The Champions of the Big East Tournament take on Roy Williams and UNC in this Round of 64 matchup.
UNC has the edge in all four factors on the offensive end – with the closest category being Turnover Percentage.
Defensively, UNC has the advantage in effective Field Goal Percentage and Forced Turnover Percentage, but Providence is a better defensive rebounding team and fouls less frequently.
The foul line could play a major role in a close game here, as UNC shoots 62.5% as a team (344th nationally) and Providence shoots 78.1% (2nd nationally).
Neither team shoots the ball very well – and UNC relies on 2Ps more than just about anyone in the country, as 61.7% of their points come from inside the arc (3rd most nationally). Providence is better at guarding 3Ps than 2Ps because of their team length.
UNC has some bench depth, while Providence is the second thinnest team in the NCAA Tournament (just ahead of Saint Joseph’s) with the bench playing only 14.1% of available minutes.
Bryce Cotton and the Friars proved to be a tough out in the Big East Tournament, and this will not be easy for the Tar Heels, but I think North Carolina finds a way to win this one and advance.
(3) Iowa State vs. (14) NC Central
If there is going to be a shocker in this bracket, look no further than this game between the Big 12 and MEAC Champions.
NC Central is a strong offensive rebounding team despite having only one player over 6’7” logging significant minutes. Iowa State, however, is not especially big, either, with its tallest player being 6’7” Georges Niang.
NC Central also takes and makes Free Throws at a much higher rate (18th best nationally) than Iowa State (262nd) – but Iowa State’s defense does not foul often – so this is an advantage that NC Central will have to work to expose. If NC Central can get Iowa State in foul trouble, the Cyclones have one of the weakest benches in the NCAA (330th in Bench Minutes).
NC Central forces a large amount of turnovers and forces opponents to take ill-advised shots, as well, but Iowa State has the nation’s 9th lowest turnover percentage and 26th best effective Field Goal Percentage.
On the other side, Iowa State could benefit from attacking NC Central and getting to the free throw line. NC Central has the 275th rated defensive Free Throw Rate, but Iowa State does not shoot particularly well from the line (69.4%; 193rd in the country).
I think this game is going to be close – and I am going to take a stab at naming one of the most shocking results of the Round of 64 by picking NC Central to advance.
(7) Connecticut vs. (10) Saint Joseph’s
This could be one of the more entertaining first round games in the Round of 64.
Senior Shabazz Napier leads UConn, averaging 17.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels also play major roles – and senior Niels Giffey serves as a deep ball threat.
For St. Joe’s, Langston Galloway is the go-to player. Freshman DeAndre Bembry has had a tremendous first season on the Main Line, while Halil Kanacevic has provided scoring and rebounding.
In this matchup, St. Joe’s holds the advantages offensively in effective Field Goal Percentage and Free Throw Rate and defensively in rebounding percentage and Free Throw Rate. UConn turns the ball over less on offense, and then forces more turnovers on defense. They also are slightly better on the offensive glass.
UConn shoots 76.1% as a team from the line – but they do not shoot many FTs. St. Joe’s, however, shoots a high amount of FTs compared to its FGA but shoots only 64.1% as a team. Both teams shoot well from distance, but St. Joe’s is significantly better inside the arc.
I am taking Saint Joseph’s to pull this one out and advance to the Round of 32 for a potential Holy War Round 2 with Villanova.
(2) Villanova vs. (15) Milwaukee
I expect Villanova to impress the rest of the field in this game. Many “experts” have overlooked the Big East regular season champion following its quarterfinal loss to Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden last week – but I expect the Cats to get back to MSG next week in the Sweet Sixteen.
Villanova’s biggest weakness is its perimeter defense – and Milwaukee does not shoot the long ball well (33%; 227th nationally). Milwaukee has two players, Jordan Aaron and Austin Arians, who take and make a large amount of 3s, but Jay Wright and his staff will have those players identified and closely guarded on Thursday night.
Villanova has seen the newspapers in Philadelphia focusing on Saint Joseph’s – and they’ve seen the media salivating on the tournament’s 4-seeds and overlooking the East Region’s No. 2 team.
I’m taking Villanova in a landslide here. Watch out for the Wildcats.
Who are you picking? Do you agree/disagree?
Send us your comments below or tweet us at @BEandBeyond!