Though college basketball experienced a bit of a down year, the East region is, by far, the toughest and possesses the most NBA talent. By CBSSports.com’s analysis, the team with the second-most NBA players is the No. 8 seed in this region: N.C. State.
The Wolfpack has been inconsistent in a season that began with ACC title hopes and may struggle to get past Temple. Either way, those teams have size and could give No. 1 seed in the region, Indiana, trouble. That’s where it begins for Indiana – no disrespect to the play-in game – who could potentially face Syracuse, Marquette, UNLV or ACC Champion Miami on the way to the Final Four.
The rest of the field is full of traps for the big boys, too. Bucknell is usually sneaky-good in the tournament. Davidson is, too. Illinois beat Gonzaga and Indiana this season. So did Butler.
There are 13 teams who could easily make it into the Sweet 16.
Playing the numbers still sees Indiana through it all. Nate Silver has Indiana as the second-favorite to win the tournament behind Louisville. Led by Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, they are the most battle-tested team in the region with two wins against Michigan State, a victory against Ohio State and a 10-point win against Georgetown padding their resume.
But they’ve split their last six games.
Miami, on the other hand, came into the tournament riding a wave of ACC success, winning, both, the regular season title and the ACC Tournament (hands up if you predicted the ’Canes to win an ACC title in basketball before football). Second-year coach Jim Larranaga took a team of veterans – somewhat of a rare sight in college basketball – and forged a defensive unit that carried them throughout the year.
Then there’s the two Big East teams capable of making a run. Syracuse tends to be hit-or-miss in the Big Dance, but their zone and James Southerland should carry them through. Marquette will have to build early leads and get Vander Blue his looks. They’re an early favorite to lose to Davidson in the first round.
Cal and UNLV square off in a potentially classic 12-5 matchup. Both teams have Elite 8 talent. UNLV’s Anthony Bennett might be the closest thing in college basketball to a top overall pick in the NBA draft. Bears guard Allen Crabbe just picked up the Pac-12 Player of the Year, but couldn’t save Cal as they gave up 20 overtime points in their Pac-12 tournament loss to Utah.
Though recent form doesn’t have a whole lot to do with tournament form, inconsistency has hit just about everyone. No one has grabbed the reins in college basketball yet.
Now is as good a time as any.