East Region predictions

We’ll move our focus along to the East Region, which went pretty much to form during the first two rounds. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a little seed variation here.

No. 4 Xavier vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh
Xavier probably was the most overlooked No. 4 seed coming into the tournament, but the Musketeers proved their chops pretty nicely during the opening weekend, running past Portland State in the first round while toughing out Wisconsin in the second.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has looked vulnerable, as No. 16 seed East Tennessee State pushed them late, as did No. 8 Oklahoma State. The Panthers have also never beaten a team seeded higher than fourth in program history. Will the Panthers break that string? I’m going to go with yes.
Pick: Pittsburgh

No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 2 Duke
For a while there, it looked like my pick of Villanova as a team to watch out was going to go poof in the wind, as the Wildcats were down 14 points in the second half to No. 14-seeded American. However, Villanova righted the ship to cruise past the Eagles and added a rout over UCLA in the second round for good measure.
Duke also looked pretty decent in its two wins over Binghamton and Texas, holding off a charge from a talented Longhorn team. This should be an interesting matchup, as both teams are talented on the perimeter with a wide array of options. However, I think the game could come down to how the big men – Dante Cunningham of Villanova and Kyle Singler of Duke – match up. I kind of like the Wildcats to pull a mild upset here.
Pick: Villanova

East Region breakdown

Today’s version of my bracket breakdown goes into the East and South. I wish I had more to introduce, but I don’t. Sue me.

Overall theme:
Physicality vs. free-flowing offense. This region brings some teams that like to throw down. No. 1 seed Pittsburgh, with bruising forward DeJuan Blair, will elbow you in the face and smack you down with some brass knuckles. No. 12 Wisconsin is fortunate to get to the 60-point mark but has a tendency to hold its opponents below that number. No. 6 UCLA has been to three straight Final Fours thanks to lockdown defense and No. 7 Texas likes to bang with Damion James, Gary Johnson and 295-pound Dexter Pittman.

On the other end of the spectrum, No. 2 Duke shoots threes all day and has junior Gerald Henderson slash to the bucket, No. 3 Villanova has a bevy of guards named Corey and talented junior point Scottie Reynolds while No. 5 Florida State has a dynamic scorer in senior Toney Douglas. None of those teams have much of a post presence, so it will be interesting to see how they match up with the bruisers, and vice versa.

Watch out for: Villanova
The Wildcats have perhaps the best setup of any team in the tournament during the first two rounds, as they get to play in their hometown of Philadelphia in an arena (The Wachovia Center) where they host games from time to time. How Nova got that prime setup is beyond me, but it allows them a nice passage into the Sweet 16.

From that point on, the Wildcats will likely have a No. 2-seeded Duke that they match up with athletically and might even be superior to inside thanks to Dante Cunningham. Then they’d have a good shot at Big East rival Pittsburgh. Jay Wright has coached teams with less talent and less diversity to the Sweet 16, so there’s no reason Villanova can’t make a run.

Stay away from: UCLA
The Bruins have had a ton of success in the tournament recently, making it to the Final Four three years in a row. But No. 6 UCLA hasn’t been able to turn it on for an extended period of time – either falling into shooting lapses or defensive lapses. It hasn’t found a replacement for Kevin Love in the post and freshman guard Jrue Holiday hasn’t been the scoring threat that the Bruins expected him to be.

Add that in with a tough No. 11 VCU team that knocked out Duke in the first round two years ago and a virtual road game with Villanova if it survives that and it’s foolish to be taking UCLA anywhere.

High risk, high reward: Florida State
The No. 5 Seminoles have two things that typically make for good tournament teams – lots of athleticism and a go-to scorer in Douglas. Douglas averages over 20 points per game and has the complete offensive package – allowing him to take over games and giving the Seminoles an ability to take out any team in the bracket – even No. 1 Pittsburgh – who they’d meet in the Sweet 16 more than likely.

With that being said, No. 12 Wisconsin is a terrible matchup for them in the first round. The Badgers are very adept at taking away a team’s best offensive option and forcing its opposition to play at a slow pace. If FSU is sucked into that, it could be bye, bye Noles.

Upset special: No. 12 Wisconsin over No. 5 Florida State, first round
Yes, its kind of a copout after the previous category, but it was either this or VCU over UCLA. Expounding on what I was saying about Florida State, if Wisconsin can take away Douglas, there’s no other Seminole that averages double-figure points. Wisconsin has good guard play in Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon and several bigs that can come at the Seminoles in waves. The last time Florida State played a slow-paced Big Ten team it was whipped 73-59 to Northwestern in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. I wouldn’t be shocked to see that happen again.

Lead-pipe lock: Some team is getting a monkey off its back
That team will likely be top-seeded Pittsburgh – which has fallen in the Sweet 16 four times since 2002 and has never beaten a team seeded No. 5 or higher in its history. The Panthers set up like Kansas did last year – a talented, well-rounded team with a good coach that has had issues getting over the hump. Don’t be surprised if Pitt wins it all.

Of course, Duke might have something to say about it. Say what you will about Coach K and his three titles, but barring a 2004 run to the Final Four, Duke has been fairly ordinary in the tournament in the 2000s, crapping out in the Sweet 16 six times and losing in the first and second round, respectively, the last two seasons. The Blue Devils did win the ACC tourney title though, perhaps serving as a sign of better things to come.