Vanderbilt got little benefit after surprising SEC title
A quick, first-blush look at the East Regional.
Most overseeded: No. 9 Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles did beat Memphis and won at Colorado State, but, truthfully, they haven’t really done much since Christmas. They also stumbled down the stretch. This is a gritty, tough-minded team, but a No. 11 or 12 seed would’ve made more sense.
No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 16 UNC Asheville
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Loyola (Md.)
No. 7 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 West Virginia
No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Southern Miss
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Montana
No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Harvard
No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 St. Bonaventure
No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Texas
Most underseeded: No. 12 Harvard. Presumably, a weak non-conference schedule hurt the Crimson. But Harvard did beat Florida State at a neutral site and were an impressive 15-3 away from home. No, we’re not saying the Crimson should’ve been a No. 8 or 9 seed, but a No. 10 would seem to be more in line with what they have accomplished.
Best round-of-64 matchup: Vanderbilt-Harvard has a ton of intrigue, and not just because it could be a College Bowl semifinal. Vandy underachieved, for the most part, in the regular season but put it all together in the SEC tourney, which it won by beating Kentucky. Vandy has a great mix of upperclassmen, sharpshooters and big men, so it’s a head-scratcher why this team wasn’t more consistent. Harvard has been a media darling all season, and with good reason. The Crimson beat Florida State early, and while it was shaky down the stretch, Harvard also is an experienced team with better-than-you’d-expect big men. A close second would be the Gonzaga-West Virginia matchup. WVU is a physical bunch, and the Zags aren’t. This would be a test to see which team could impose its tempo on the other team; Gonzaga would want a game in the 80s, while WVU would be fine with a game in the 60s. And while Gonzaga is the better-seeded team, WVU should have a huge home-court advantage in Pittsburgh, which is about an hour from Morgantown.
Best potential round-of-32 matchup: Cincinnati-Florida State would be a game more fitting for the football field. Both play aggressive, physical defense, and the battle in the paint would make folks cringe. Both played well down the stretch, too, with FSU winning the ACC tourney and Cincy losing in the Big East tourney final. In addition, if Wisconsin and Vanderbilt survive in the first round, a Badgers-Commodores matchup would be intriguing. Both rely on a ton of screens to get open shots. Wisconsin is a brawny bunch, which could make things interesting for a Vandy team that often seems to be a bit soft.
Best player: Ohio State C Jared Sullinger. He hasn’t been as dominant as some expected, but is that his fault? He sometimes defers too much to his teammates, but one thing should be clear: The more touches for Sullinger, the better it is for the Buckeyes. He’s a solid scorer, rebounder and defender, and he will absolutely torch foes who try to guard him with one man in the low post.
Five others to watch: Texas G J’Covan Brown (Texas’ only real offensive threat), Vanderbilt G John Jenkins (the best pure shooter in the nation), West Virginia F Kevin Jones (he is a double-double machine), Syracuse F Kris Joseph (if Syracuse weren’t so balanced, he could score 20 per game), Kansas State G Rodney McGruder (he can score and is a great rebounder for a guard).
Best player you’ve never heard of: St. Bonaventure F Andrew Nicholson. His full-fledged all-around game was on view in the Atlantic 10 tourney final, where he ate up Xavier’s big men. Nicholson, a Canadian, had 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks in the victory over the Musketeers, which earned the Bonnies their first NCAA bid since 2000. He averages 18.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks for the season, and shoots 57.6 percent from the field. He can hit the mid-range shot, but he does most of his damage in the paint.
[ Pat Forde: Breakdown of the entire NCAA tournament field ]
Five others to watch: Montana G Will Cherry (good penetrator and defender), UNC Asheville G Matt Dickey (has a really nice outside stroke), Loyola (Md.) F Erik Etherly (solid on both ends of the court), Southern Miss G Neil Watson (quick point guard makes Golden Eagles go), Harvard F Keith Wright (really good rebounder whose offense was down this season).
Numbers game: There are six conference champs in the region. There are nine Big Six conference teams, plus one from the Atlantic 10, one from Conference USA and one from the West Coast Conference.
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