Cleat Geeks

Tourney Talk: East Region

Another year of March Madness is finally upon us, so prepare yourself for three weekends full of buzzer beaters, bracket busters, and the occasional Cinderella story. In advance of each round, I’ll be breaking down the best games of each region, continuing with the east.Basketball3

Games to Watch:

6 Notre Dame vs 11 Michigan

Notre Dame has proven through its short tenure in the ACC that it can play with the big boys, defeating UNC and Duke a record five straight times. Don’t be fooled by a whiping at the hands of the Tar Heels just last week, as the Irish had just beaten the Blue Devils the night before in a tiring overtime match-up and had to face a rested, talented Carolina squad.  Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson won’t go down easy come tournament time, and they proved that last year, coming a shot away from knocking off big bad Kentucky en route to the Final Four.  On the other hand, Michigan had to fight and claw its way through the Big Ten Tournament – defeating Indiana a day after a buzzer-beating thriller – in order to compete in a First Four match-up.  They looked solid tonight and have been hot as of late, which should make for a threatening match-up against the Irish. Don’t count the Wolverines out yet.

3 West Virginia vs 14 Stephen F. Austin

As well as the Mountaineers have played through their tough Big 12 schedule all year long and with such great defense, too, they face one of the most challenging of the double digit seeds in the Lumberjacks. You probably remember Stephen F. Austin with clarity, as this is their third consecutive tournament appearance, with a big upset of #5 VCU in 2014.  They’ve dominated the Southland conference, going 59-1 over the same tenure. They have the ability to force turnovers, and mix up their defenses through press, half-court traps, zones, and man-to-man, so they have weaponry to defeat all sorts of offenses.  They play small ball, led by 6’4″ conference player of the year Thomas Walkup.  This matchup should scare the Mountaineers.

8 USC vs 9 Providence

basketball2USC’s up-tempo offense will help the Trojans put up huge numbers in this small ball match-up, as they average over eighty points every contest.  Former Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield loves to push the ball up the floor, letting 6’1″ Jordan McLaughlin lead the way down the court with 13.4 PPG.  However, the Trojans haven’t fared well against the conferences better teams, making them a tough pick in this one.  Plus, Providence is lead by future lottery pick Kris Dunn, who puts up 16.4 points per game and 2.4 steals, good for third in the country.  A backcourt of Dunn and Ben Bentil gives the Friars the advantage in the fast-paced small ball matchup.

Games to Hope For:

4 Kentucky vs 5 Indiana

Kentucky is one of the most underrated teams in the tournament, especially after winning the SEC tournament after a mid-season turnaround. Every Tom Crean vs John Calipari matchup has lived up to its hype (see: 2012 Sweet Sixteen), and this one will, too.  The Hoosiers Yogi Pharrell will match up against Tyler Ulis, and two of the nation’s top guards will have their team’s fate on their shoulders if both teams get past their first round foes. Expect an exciting match-up and huge numbers from Ulis and Pharrell, each proving why his team shouldn’t have been looked past during seeding.

1 North Carolina vs 4 Kentucky

basketball7As much as you might hate Calipari, it’s hard to argue against the fact that his Wildcats produce some awesome entertainment, especially during March. These are two of the most talented squads in the country, which will make this game NBA-esque, full of future pros and as offensively volatile as it gets. The most intriguing match-up of the game comes in the backcourt, as one of the nation’s top defenders in Marcus Paige would D-up a top scorer in Tyler Ulis.  If Paige can shut Ulis down, the Heels are clear favorites.  If he doesn’t, this game still wreaks of awesome basketball.

My Pick: Even though they were faced with the toughest road of any team, the Tar Heels have prepared themselves all year for a Final Four run, dominating the nation’s toughest conference in both regular season play and the tournament.  Injuries and bad defense are the only things that could keep the Heels away from Houston.

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