The Dagger previews the East Region of the 2012 NCAA tournament. Read our previews of the South, Midwest and West.
Three who can carry their teams:
* Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State
* John Jenkins, G, Vanderbilt
* Kevin Jones, F, West Virginia
Most intriguing opening round matchup: No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Harvard
This could be an intense meeting between two schools known better for their academic achievements than those of the athletic variety. Vanderbilt is riding high after coming from behind late to topple No. 1 Kentucky in the SEC title game, while Harvard hasn't been in the tournament since 1946 — otherwise known as a year after World War II ended. But there's so much to watch here, as you get a heavyweight battle in the paint between Harvard's Keith Wright and Vandy's Festus Ezeli and a potentially epic firefight between Commodore gunner John Jenkins and the Crimson's wealth of outside shooters. This game could go in any of about five different directions, and that's the great thing about it.
Best potential round of 32 game: No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 8 Kansas State
Syracuse struggled twice this season against Cincinnati, including a lopsided loss in Friday's Big East tournament semifinals. Cincy is farther down in the East bracket, but Kansas State could see Syracuse on Saturday, and that could pose the first major threat to the Orange's Final Four hopes. Why? The Bearcats and Wildcats are very similar in several ways, and if K-State's shooters get hot — which they do quite a bit — they could puncture holes in that Syracuse zone from the 3-point arc all day. They're tough on defense and have big men who are hard to handle on both ends of the floor. It might not turn into a pretty sight if these two meet, but it adds some intrigue in that Syracuse could turn into the first No. 1 seed to go down.
Ripe for an upset: No. 4 Wisconsin
The Badgers have been far from consistent for the better part of the year, and every season seem to have their struggles in their NCAA tournament opener. That's not a good trend for them to follow heading into this matchup, as the Grizzlies have won 20 of their last 21 games and have the right mix of guys to be able to push the tempo some on Wisconsin. Star junior guard Will Cherry could match Badger point man Jordan Taylor blow for blow if he gets hot, while forward Derek Selvig, at 7-foot, is one of a trio of Grizzlies who can step out, spread a defense and burn you with his jumper. They also have an elite level perimeter shooter in 6-foot-5 sophomore Kareem Jamar. This isn't just some mid-major team that rode one hot player into the tournament. In 2010, Montana came dangerously close to upsetting New Mexico in the opening round as a 14-seed, and this might be an even better matchup for them. If Wisconsin does its hot-and-cold act again here, things won't end well.
Bound for the Final Four: No. 2 Ohio State
Is Ohio State far-and-away the best choice for the Final Four in this region? No way. But this is the region filled with enigmas — Teams that could win four games and move on to New Orleans or get tipped in the opening round. With that said, No. 2 Ohio State gets the slight nod over No. 1 Syracuse, with more of those tough-to-figure-out teams in the Buckeyes' half of the bracket. They're more likely to hit a run of good luck than anyone. But, they do have the region's best player in sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, and a reliable floor general in Aaron Craft. If William Buford's outside shot is on like it was at times down the stretch run of the regular season, Ohio State is definitely your best bet.
Possible Dark Horse: No. 3 Florida State
Why not? The Seminoles made it to the Sweet Sixteen as a 10-seed a year ago, and are fresh off of a weekend in which they beat both Duke and North Carolina in a 24-hour window. They have excellent outside shooters, length on the interior and excellent athleticism. Plus, they're loaded with seniors. Can Florida State go cold without a moment's notice? Sure, with the best of them. But of the team's not named Syracuse or Ohio State, they have the most potential to make a run here.
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