March Madness Bracket Predictions: East Region
by Robert Ferringo - 3/15/2011
To be the best you have to beat the best. And if Ohio State wants to win its first National Championship in more than 50 years they will have to escape a loaded region to even have a shot at cutting down the nets at the Final Four in Houston.
The East (Newark) Region of the NCAA Tournament features four of the top 10 most heavily favored teams to win the national title. Top seeded Ohio State presently has the third-best odds to win the title (+465) while Kentucky (+1615), North Carolina (+2050) and Syracuse (+2550) are all among the Top 10 teams deemed most likely to win it all.
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Here are Doc’s Sports March Madness bracket predictions for the East (Newark) Region:
No. 1 Seed: Ohio State (32-2 straight-up, 16-15 ATS)
The Buckeyes enter the NCAA Tournament as the class of college basketball. They are the No. 1 overall seed and top team in the land. The core of this team is the same as the one that made it to the Sweet 16 last year, with freshmen Jared Sullinger and Jordan Craft replacing Evan Turner. Sullinger gets all the love, but the real strength of this team is that it has the best group of wings (Diebler, Lighty, Buford) in the nation. Only two teams – Wisconsin and Purdue – have managed to beat the Buckeyes this season. That said, Ohio State does have some weaknesses. First, nothing about their schedule impresses me. Second, their points allowed defense is one of the Top 15 in the country but they are mediocre in metrics like field goal defense and three-point defense. Craft has been exploited on defense at times. Also, this team has a bear of a path to a national title. They could have to beat Kentucky and North Carolina (or West Virginia and Syracuse) just to make it to the Final Four.
Ohio State March Madness Bracket Prediction: I don’t think this team is going to win the NCAA Championship. A Final Four run wouldn’t stun me, but I don’t think that the chalk will do well in this tournament. I know they won’t be the last name I write in my bracket.
No. 2 Seed: North Carolina (26-7 SU, 15-14-1 ATS)
Only one team in the country has beaten the Tar Heels in the last two months, and that would be the Duke Blue Devils. Going back to their win over Kentucky on Dec. 4 they have lost just four games, and when you watch this team you can see that they have some of the top talent in the country. No team runs and guns like the Heels and their twin towers of Tyler Zeller and John Henson can simply overwhelm people. Toss in super freshmen Harrison Barnes, who is getting more and more confident since hitting that game-winner in Florida State, and Kendall Marshall. There is just a lot of size and a lot of raw talent here. But there are also some red flags. First, one of this team’s losses was a 20-point defeat at Georgia Tech. I know UNC is a different team now. But that is still a huge red flag. This team doesn’t really defend and lost just about all of their nonconference games against other BCS teams. This team is temperamental. And remember: before winning his national title Roy Williams had a reputation for being a big March underachiever.
North Carolina March Madness Prediction: I see a lot of broken hearts for Heels fans. I don’t think that this team makes it past the Sweet 16.
No. 3 Seed: Syracuse (26-7 SU, 14-17 ATS)
Speaking of temperamental, the Orange are right in line with the Tar Heels in that they have the talent to run the table and win a title. Or they can flame out and lose in the opening weekend. They are one of the top teams in the country both offensively and defensively and their unique version of the 2-3 zone can neutralize a lot of offenses. But the main issue is that their best players have a propensity to disappear (Brandon Triche, Kris Joseph), get forgotten about (Rick Jackson), or play erratically (Scoop Jardine). If the club stays focused they could make a run and I think they matchup well with top seeds Ohio State and North Carolina.
Syracuse March Madness Prediction: The key to Syracuse’s tournament is their second game. They will either lose that game or I think they will run the table and make it to the Final Four.
No. 4 Seed: Kentucky (25-8 SU, 13-14-1 ATS)
Long on talent and confidence, but short on depth and experience, the Wildcats are the typical X-Factor in the East region. This club can score, rebound in the post, and their man-to-man is excellent. And if you want to beat this team you better be physical down low or else Terrence Jones will simply overwhelm you. But, again, this team only goes six-deep and they have played a lot of intense games over the last two weeks. They are playing great. But they also have a slew of games that they lost late due to their inexperience and they didn’t play that well away from home. But they have top-level athletes that seem to thrive in the biggest games. This will be a dangerous team, one way or another.
Kentucky March Madness Prediction: Last year’s team was better than this one and couldn’t make it to the Final Four. I see a similar fate. We’ll see how tough this team is in the second round against West Virginia. And if they do make it out of the opening weekend this team is going to be a tough out.
No. 5 Seed: West Virginia (20-11 SU, 12-16 ATS)
Wow. That was my first thought when I saw West Virginia’s seed. They finished No. 7 in the Big East and didn’t win a game in the conference tournament. They have looked disjointed and can be brutal to watch on offense. There may not be a harder defending team in the tournament, however, and they have a bevy of quality wins. But they are also just 5-5 in their last 10 games and they have gotten blown out in four of their last five games outside of Morgantown. They also get the added bonus of facing one of the play-in winners. If Bob Huggins can keep from strangling Casey Mitchell and if they can get absolutely any outside shooting help then they can muck up a bracket or two.
West Virginia March Madness Prediction: The Mountaineers were probably overseeded. But they also face a brutal road if they were to make a return trip to the Final Four. I think knocking out Kentucky (again) would be their ceiling.
No. 6 Seed: Xavier (24-7 SU, 14-15-1 ATS)
Quick: of the six top seeds in this region who is the one school that has made three straight Sweet 16’s? That would be Xavier. The Atlantic 10’s top team has been a staple of the NCAA Tournament over the last decade and could be ready for another killer run. This team has only lost twice since Jan. 7 (16-2) and they are loaded with experience. They also have one of the best point guards in the country in Tu Holloway. Depth is a huge issue, as is outside shooting, and they were unimpressive in their nonconference schedule. But, again, experience, guard play and a proven system are all working in their favor.
Xavier March Madness Prediction: I think if the Musketeers beat a feisty Marquette team then they could give Syracuse a ton of problems. But, as always, I think their ceiling is as a bracket buster only.
Best first-round match up: No. 7 Washington vs. No. 10 Georgia
I actually think that the Xavier-Marquette matchup is the best in the first round, but this Washington-Georgia matchup is the most intriguing. I have long believed that Georgia has the talent and system to really do some damage in this tournament. But they are one of the softest, mentally weakest teams in the country. Washington has the athleticism, toughness and the requisite experience. The Huskies want to play fast. The Bulldogs want to play slow. There are some very good players and some great athletes on the court and I think that they winner has enough to at least test UNC.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 5 West Virginia
This game would actually be a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight game, which the Mountaineers won, 73-66. However, only one Wildcat in this year’s rotation (DeAndre Liggins) played in that game so it kind of limits the revenge factor. These are two of the more physical, athletic teams around and it would be a matchup of WVU’s experience against Kentucky’s youth.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 LIU-Brooklyn
Saying Marquette over Xavier is a little too easy so I’m going to dig a little deeper. Look, I know this one is crazy and that the odds suggest Carolina will win this one by about 40 points. However, the Tar Heels are just a touch vulnerable here. They are in a letdown spot after a “momentous” game against Duke. And prior to that they fell behind by 19 points to middling Miami and by 14 points to feeble Clemson. As I mentioned, UNC lost by 20 to a disgusting Georgia Tech team and they had close games against Charleston (by 5) and Long Beach State (by 5). LIU is deep and athletic and they have a variety of scorers. They have also lost just one time in the last three months. I don’t think LIU has the goods but they could put a little scare in here.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Xavier/No. 11 Marquette
Marquette has already beaten the Orange once this year and Xavier is a team with as much tournament experience as any team in the field. Both teams have the athleticism to matchup with the Orange and I think that either team would be willing to run and gun with Syracuse. And having to play Xavier in Ohio could be problematic. The Orange will be favored, but that isn’t their best role and whichever club survives the first round matchup between the Musketeers and Golden Eagles will be playing at a high level. Be wary if you are an Orange backer.
Dark Horse team: No. 3 Syracuse
The Orange have top-end talent, experience as one of the top teams in the country, and this year could be redemption for last year’s run that was sidetracked by an injury. Syracuse had one bad stretch back in January, losing six of eight games. Other than that they are 24-1. As I have said, if they can make it out of the opening weekend and get to Newark they should have the advantage of strong support from the SU faithful. This team would also embrace the role of underdog against UNC and OSU and I think they could get hot and make a Final Four rush.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 1 Ohio State
Look, I know that the Buckeyes are everyone’s favorite team. But I’m not as sold on them as The General Public. Yes, they were the No. 1 team in the nation this regular season. But let’s think about this: the two best teams in the Big Ten are Purdue and Wisconsin. Ohio State split with them. Besides that the only marquee win the Buckeyes have to hang their hat on is beating Florida back on Nov. 16. Take a look at their Big Ten tournament path: Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State. Not exactly a murderer’s row. Again, I’m not saying they aren’t a great team. But they remind me more and more of Kansas last year – and that team didn’t make it to the second weekend. Caveat Emptor.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and he has gained around +190 Units in the last 12-plus months in college basketball. He’s posted four of five winning Marches over the last five years and you can purchase his college basketball picks here.
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