by Paul West
After one of the more exciting NCAA basketball seasons in recent memory, Selection Sunday is finally here! Millions of bracketologists are studying, stressing and sweating over their March Madness picks. Here’s a region by region breakdown of the 2014 March Madness bracket.
Bracketology 2014: East Region
1 Virginia vs. 16 Coastal Carolina (Raleigh, NC)
The Virginia Cavaliers come into the tournament on a roll. They won both the ACC regular season title and the ACC Tournament, capping their run with a 72-63 win over Duke on Selection Sunday. The Cavaliers are 8th in RPI and 24th in strength of schedule, and unlike previous seasons, they can score points when they need to. Senior captain Joe Harris is a legitimate scorer, but he’s also a rebounder and passer; his 11.6 points per game is a deceptive statistic, as he’s focused more this season on facilitating teammates like Malcolm Brogdon. Freshman point guard London Perrantes manages the flow with patience and effectiveness beyond his years. Coastal Carolina are a tough rebounding team that only gives up 68.4 points per game, but they should be overmatched here. Pick: Virginia
8 Memphis vs. 9 George Washington (Raleigh)
The Memphis Tigers are an erratic team that can be shot-happy and impulsive. They average 13.5 turnovers per game, and they shoot a problematic 65 percent from the line as a team. George Washington has similar problems–they also shoot 65 percent from the line, and their 13.1 turnovers per game is just a shade better than that of the Tigers. Memphis is more explosive, whereas GW is more big and rangy, but their numbers are fairly similar in a number of categories. This one should be very interesting, and is basically a coin-toss. Pick: George Washington
5 Cincinnati vs. 12 Harvard (Spokane, WA)
The Harvard Crimson won the Ivy League title by winning their regular season. They’re balanced and experienced, and coach Tommy Amaker knows how to get his teams prepared. The Cincinnati Bearcats are an up & down, aggressive team that matches the temperament of its feisty coach, Mick Cronin. They struggle to score as a team, but they can be carried on offense by senior Sean Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is an elite-level scorer who’s 6’4″ and 220 pounds, and a total headache for defenses. The Bearcats should be able to manage this one, but the Crimson score 73.6 points per game and are not to be taken lightly. If Cincy struggles with bad possessions and foul trouble, Harvard can make this a classic 12-5 upset. Pick: Harvard
4 Michigan State vs. 13 Delaware (Spokane)
The Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens score 79.5 points per game. They have two players who average over nineteen points per game, and another who averages over eighteen points. They’d be considered a tough draw by most of the higher seeds in the tournament. Unfortunately, the Michigan State Spartans are not your average 4 seed. After starting the season with one of the most highly touted starting five in the country, the Spartans battled injuries the whole way but still finished 26-8 and second in the Big Ten. Entering Championship Week healthy for the first time in months, they ran the table in the Big Ten Tournament, finishing on Selection Sunday with a 69-55 pounding of the Michigan Wolverines. The Spartans still have to regain their flow, having not played together a lot this year. But if they stay healthy and get in rhythm, they could be a threat to go a long way. The Hens drew a tough cookie this time. Pick: Michigan State
6 North Carolina vs. 11 Providence (San Antonio, TX)
The Providence Friars began Championship Week as a team on the bubble. They ended it as winners of the Big East Tournament, beating the Creighton Blue Jays 65-58. The North Carolina Tar Heels are one of the season’s more puzzling jekyll-hyde teams, highly talented but hard to rely on. The Friars are tougher than a lot of people realized before this week, but they also played over their heads this week. The week off might bring them down to earth, and if that happens, the Heels’ superior athleticism could run them out of the building. Sophomore guard Marcus Paige is his team’s driving force, and has displayed a knack for taking games over when needed. This might not be easy, but the Heels should escape. Pick: North Carolina
3 Iowa State vs. 14 North Carolina Central (San Antonio)
The N.C. Central Eagles are a solid team, having put up decent numbers all season while going 15-1 in conference and winning the MEAC Tournament this week. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the Iowa State Cyclones are one of the hottest–and most balanced–teams in the country. The Cyclones score 82.9 points per game, and are first in the country in assists with 18.5. DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim are two of the best all around players in the country, and their tone-setter is 6’7″ sophomore Georges Niang, third on the team with 16.5 points per game. The Cyclones’ interior passing is excellent, they’re tough in close games, and they’re battle-tested by way of the super tough Big 12. They enter the tournament having won the Big 12 Tournament with consecutive wins over Kansas and Baylor. They can play with anyone, and NC Central isn’t likely to stop their run. Pick: Iowa State
7 Connecticut vs. 10 St. Joseph’s (Buffalo, NY)
The Connecticut Huskies were knocked out of the Big East Tournament in a blowout, losing 71-61 to Louisville in a game that was never very close. They’ll be looking to redeem themselves to begin the tournament, but they have a tough matchup in their first game. The St. Joseph’s Hawks removed themselves from the bubble by upsetting VCU to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and are peaking at the right time. Nothing about them jumps off the page or the screen, but they’re energetic and dangerous. The Huskies don’t leap off the screen either, but they have a game-changing guard in 6’1″ senior Shabazz Napier. Napier has experience playing in big games, and was part of the 2011 team that won the Big East Tournament and the National Championship. he can penetrate, facilitate and hit the big shot. He’ll probably be the difference in an otherwise fairly even matchup, and the Huskies will also be playing closer to home. Pick: UConn
2 Villanova vs. 15 Milwaukee (Buffalo)
The Milwaukee Panthers won the Horizon League Tournament by beating Wright State in an upset. The Villanova Wildcats finished the season 28-4, and right up until Selection Sunday they were heavily discussed as a possible 1 seed. This seems like a layup on paper, until you consider that the cats rely heavily on guard play and penetration and the Buffalo have high-energy big men who can clog the lanes. Villanova’s 1-3 against teams in the top 25, and they’ve only played two ranked teams since the start of December–and been blown out both times. Their perimeter shooting could make or break them, as they attempt a whopping 25 threes per game. Along with their big men, the Buffalo have a senior guard named Jordan Aaron who’s completely fearless and capable of scoring in bunches and drawing fouls. The odds favor Villanova, but keep an eye on this one early in case the cats’ shooters have a bad day. Pick: Villanova
Not saying it’s likely, but if Milwaukee gives Villanova the business, don’t be surprised. The more likely bracket buster is Harvard‘s scoring and discipline over an unpredictable Bearcat crew.
Don’t sleep on…
Iowa State are the kind of team that can handle any style of play, and can take down anyone in the field.
You might not have heard of…
Milwaukee’s Jordan Aaron. Aaron is a 5’10” senior point guard from Bronx, NY. Listed at 160 pounds, he’s a pocketful of dynamite who plays like he’s made of rubber. If he heats up he can change a game on his own.