2014 March Madness Bracket Picks: East Region
by Robert Ferringo - 3/18/2014
The East Regional of the NCAA Tournament could be considered the No Respect Region.
Top-seed Virginia was given the No. 1 slot by default, and not many analysts in the country think that the Cavaliers have a realistic shot at winning a national title. The same can be said about Villanova, a team that was seemingly dismissed after their last-second upset loss in the Big East Tournament, despite the fact that only three teams in the nation have beaten the Wildcats this year.
Iowa State (Big 12 champions), Michigan State (Big Ten champions) and Cincinnati (American Athletic regular season co-champions) are three more teams with the potential to not only make a Final Four but to win a National Championship. Yet most of the NCAA Tournament discussion early in the week has been focused anywhere but this region.
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Here are Doc's Sports March Madness bracket picks for the East (New York City) Region:
No. 1 Seed: Virginia Cavaliers (28-6 Straight-Up, 18-10 Against The Spread)
The Wahoos won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, and they are the first Atlantic team not named "Duke" or "North Carolina" to earn a top seed in over a decade. The best word to describe Virginia is "efficient". They are just so efficient on both ends of the floor. It starts defensively, where they are No. 1 in points allowed in the nation (55.3). They are also the top defensive rebounding team in the country, and they simply don't show weakness on that end of the court. Virginia, which was snubbed by the selection committee last year, has gone 16-1 in their last 17 games, and they are as hot as anyone in the nation. Forward Joe Harris can do it all, and point guard Malcolm Brogdon is one of the most underrated players in the country. This team is deep in the post, led by Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey, and they have athletes coming off the bench.
Virginia March Madness Picks: I really like this Virginia team and have been high on them all year. But I think it is optimistic to think they'll come out of this bracket. It's more likely that they will be the first No. 1 seed to fall.
No. 2 Seed: Villanova Wildcats (28-4 Straight-Up, 21-9 Against The Spread)
The Wildcats were stunned in the opening round of the Big East tournament. But that doesn't change the fact that this has been one of the best teams in the country all season. Their only other losses came at the hands of Top 10 staples Syracuse and Creighton. Beyond that the Wildcats absolutely wrecked shop in the Big East. They are in the Top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and they proved their worth on a neutral court by beating Kansas and Iowa to win the Battle 4 Atlantis back in November. There is no real star on this team, which is both a strength and a weakness. Instead, guards James Bell (14.5) and Darrun Hilliard (14.3) and post JayVaughn Pinkston (14.2) all share the load.
Villanova March Madness Picks: A potential Round of 32 matchup with Connecticut would be brutal. But if the Wildcats can survive the opening weekend they have an excellent chance of coming out of this bracket. I just don't think they will.
No. 3 Seed: Iowa State (26-7 SU, 16-15 ATS)
The Cyclones are fresh off a Big 12 tournament championship, and they are one of the most exciting teams in the country to watch. Offensively this team works a four-out, one-in attack that can be impossible to stop once they get rolling. Melvin Ejim (18.1 PPG), DeAndre Kane (17.0 PPG) and Georges Niang (16.5 PPG) form one of the most explosive and versatile triumvirates in college basketball. There is nothing they can't do. Iowa State surrounds them with capable shooters and a point guard, Monte Morris, with a sick six-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. Iowa State does have some weaknesses, though. First, they have been erratic away from home the past few seasons. Second, Niang is the only player taller than 6-6, and they only have two guys (Niang and Ejim) taller than 6-4. This team can get beaten up on the interior, and their defensive focus wanes at times. That weakness can be exploited by several of the other post-oriented teams in this region.
Iowa State March Madness Picks: I have been driving the Iowa State bandwagon all season long. However, I am always wary of teams that try to win in March by simply outscoring opponents. I think the Cyclones are going to break a lot of hearts in the next two weeks.
No. 4 Seed: Michigan State Spartans (25-8 SU, 19-11 ATS)
I have been betting against or avoiding the Spartans for most of the year. I simply didn't buy into the hype that this was one of the best teams in the country, and I never thought that they would finally get healthy. Well, the team that showed up in Indianapolis to win the Big Ten tournament certainly looked like one of the top teams in the nation, and Tom Izzo could be set up for another March run. The Spartans get things done on both ends of the floor and win with toughness and talent. Gary Harris stepped up while other key starters were out this year and averaged 17.2 points per game. Point guard Keith Appling (12.5 PPG) is the team's most important player, and forward Brandon Dawson (10.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG) is their most indispensable. Center Adreian Payne, who is more of a stretch-four, may be the squad's most versatile guy. Also, the injuries to Appling's wrist and Dawson's hand gave some bench players much-needed minutes and confidence. This is a dangerous team right now and one of the few top seeds that haven't peaked yet.
Michigan State March Madness Picks: Time is running out for this team to prove that all of the hype and all of the praise they have received since last September is warranted. If they play like they did in the Big Ten tournament, I think they'll do exactly that.
No. 5 Seed: Cincinnati Bearcats (27-6 SU, 13-14 ATS)
Mick Cronin's Bearcats have won 26 or more games in three of the past four seasons now and have developed a reputation built on toughness and execution. This year's version is no exception. Cincinnati earned a tie with Louisville for the AAC regular-season title, and the Bearcats have flown under the radar for most of the year. Guard Sean Kilpatrick is one of the best players in the country, capable of taking over a game on either end of the court, and the senior is the clear go-to guy for this squad. Forward Justin Jackson has developed into a leader and capable running mate, directing traffic on offense and defense and setting the tone with his intensity. A cadre of physical, hard-nosed athletes surrounds and supports that duo. Nothing Cincinnati does is flashy. They win low-scoring defensive games, and they try to beat people up. But they know their identity and they stick to their style of play. That's good enough to get to the tournament, but I'm not sure it's enough to win anything.
Cincinnati March Madness Picks: This Bearcats team probably deserved better. But they have the worst possible draw. Harvard is no joke. Then Cincinnati would have to take down Michigan State and Virginia - two teams that wouldn't be intimidated at all by the Bearcats' style of play - just to reach the Elite Eight. Predicting any more than just one win for these guys is optimistic.
No. 6 Seed: North Carolina Tar Heels (23-9 SU, 16-16 ATS)
Was there a more up-and-down team in the country than the Tar Heels this year? This group lost to Belmont (at home), UAB and Wake Forest. But they also beat Louisville, Kentucky and Duke. You try to figure them out. Point guard Marcus Paige is one of the best in the country. The rest of the roster is made up of pure athletes and raw talent. This team can't shoot a lick from deep. But they relentlessly attack the rim in transition and on the offensive glass. Carolina reeled off 12 straight wins, including an unbeaten February, to go from 11-7 bubble team to 23-7 juggernaut. But they lost their final regular season game at Duke and bowed out of the ACC tournament after just one game. They have a very high ceiling and a 40-minute floor.
North Carolina March Madness Picks: Even if Roy Williams can coax two high-level games out of the Tar Heels to make it through the opening weekend, I don't think UNC would go any further than that. They are simply too inconsistent.
Best first-round matchup: No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Harvard
Harvard sprung an upset on New Mexico last year as a No. 14 seed. They could absolutely do the same thing this year in the vaunted 5-12 matchup. The Crimson have four of five starters back from last year's team, and they added stud seniors Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. Cincinnati's physical, methodical style won't bother Harvard at all. And the Bearcats can get too reliant on Kilpatrick and Jackson for offense. This game will likely be a low-scoring affair. And if it comes down to the final minute then Harvard's superior guard play, free throw shooting advantage, overall experience edge could provide the difference.
Best potential second-round matchup: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Cincinnati
If the Bearcats do survive Harvard they could run smack into the angry Spartans. These are two traditional powers, and there would be several All-American-caliber players on the floor. Harris vs. Kilpatrick and Payne vs. Jackson would be two brilliant mini-matchups within the game. Both teams play hawking defense and dominate the glass. This one would be a 40-minute arm wrestling match
Upset Alert (first round): No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Providence
I think that Michigan State and Cincinnati should both be on Upset Alert for their Round of 64 matchups as well. But I don't think that this North Carolina-Providence game is getting much attention even though it is a matchup closer to what you'd expect from an 8-9 game. North Carolina has shown an ability to step up and play with the top teams in the country. But they can also lose to just about anyone. Providence is hot. They are also fearless, and they have one of the most underrated guards in the nation in Bryce Cotton. The Friars are capable of running and gunning with the Heels, and they are brimming with confidence. They could definitely knock off the favorites.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 7 Connecticut
This would be a savage matchup of two former Big East rivals. And Villanova can't feel that comfortable going up against one of the best players in the country (Shabazz Napier) just to get out of the opening weekend. Connecticut has actually won four of the last five meetings between these power programs, and the Huskies would love nothing more than to knock off one of the top seeds in the entire tournament.
Dark Horse team: No. 7 Connecticut
I think that all of the teams from the American Athletic Conference were grossly underseeded. Just because the bottom of that league was pathetic doesn't change the fact that the teams at the top are some of the best in the country. Napier is a first-team All-American and probably would've been National Player of the Year if not for Doug McDermott. He leads one of the best backcourts in the country, and this is a team playing with a chip on its shoulder after being forced (sanctions) to miss last year's NCAA Tournament. This team has wins over Florida and Harvard this year, and they are 15-1 in their last 16 games against teams not named "Louisville" or "SMU". They could give Villanova all they can handle in the second round and bust this bracket wide open.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 3 Iowa State
There are a lot of things to like about Iowa State - their confidence, coaching and NBA-caliber talent is top of the list. But this is the type of team that is easy to fall in love with when the brackets come out even though there are some red flags. I already touched on the fact that these guys are shaky off their home court. They are just 5-6 in their last 11 games outside of Ames, and they barely beat BYU and Northern Iowa - not exactly juggernauts - on the road and neutral courts, respectively, this year. Also, it is tough to trust any team that is as reliant on the 3-point shot as Iowa State is. They are capable of playing at an amazingly high level. But the defensive-minded opponents in their bracket should be able to smother this team on the perimeter and pound them inside.
2014 East Region March Madness Bracket Picks: I feel like from top to bottom this is by far the toughest bracket. I know that the top four seeds in the South and Midwest may be a hair stronger. But the East Region is the TOUGHEST. Virginia, Cincinnati, Michigan State and Villanova are all mentally and physically strong teams. Memphis, Connecticut and North Carolina are no pushovers, and some of the double-digit seeds - Harvard, Delaware and Providence - are outstanding. This is by far the best region.
As such, this is the region I think we're going to see some surprises. I think that all of the AAC teams were disrespected. And I think that either Connecticut or Memphis will knock off one of the top two seeds in the region. I think North Carolina and Iowa State are going to get upset somewhere along the way, and at the end of the second weekend I have Michigan State playing Connecticut to go to the Final Four.
Robert Ferringo keeps proving himself to be one of the best college basketball handicappers in the nation. Robert has posted 12 of 17 winning college hoops weeks and 17 of 20 winning college hoops months. He has banked over $10,100 in profit with his side plays this year and $17,100 in profit since Nov. 11, 2012. Robert is a profit machine and you can take advantage of our free, no-strings-attached $60 credit to use toward a purchase of Robert's college basketball selections. CLICK HERE for $60 absolutely free!
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