East Region preview: Ohio State’s tough road to the Final Four

Chris Chase
The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

The Dagger previews the East Region of the 2011 NCAA tournament.

Three who can carry their teams:

• Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State

• Harrison Barnes, G, North Carolina

• Brandon Knight, G, Kentucky

Most intriguing first-round matchup: No. 8 George Mason vs. No. 9 Villanova

Jim Larranaga's George Mason team is every bit as good as the '06 squad that made a memorable run to the Final Four. The Patriots have won 16 of their last 17 and earned the school's first at-large birth since that magical 2006 season. At the opposite end of the momentum spectrum, Villanova capped its season on a 5-10 run. Jay Wright's squad had started the year 16-1. So why is this an intriguing matchup? Everybody will be picking George Mason to win.

Best potential second-round game: No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Xavier

Jim Boeheim's famed 2-3 zone could get a test in Tu Holloway and Xavier. The Musketeers have lost only twice since New Year's and are no strangers to the tournament, having danced for the past six seasons and 10 of the past 11. Syracuse weathered a mid-season slump to earn a No. 3 seed. The Orange won five of six to close the year and narrowly lost to eventual champion Connecticut in the Big East tournament. {YSP:MORE}

Ripe for an upset: No. 5 West Virginia

The Mountaineers couldn't have created an easier first-round draw for themselves. WVU will play the winner of the UAB/Clemson "first four" play-in game. UAB was everyone's favorite whipping post on Selection Sunday, and Clemson's tournament resume is equally as unimpressive. No matter who wins Tuesday's game, West Virginia is guaranteed to get a fatigued opponent (the travel plans alone will be enough to tire out the winner) with shaky tournament credentials. It's a perfect recipe for overconfidence. Huggins' teams have been known to flame out early if they lose focus. This could be another one of those situations.

Bound for the Final Four: Ohio State

The committee didn't do the Buckeyes any favors by putting them in the most difficult quarter of the bracket, but Jared Sullinger and company should still get out of the East to advance to Houston. North Carolina is prone to too many cold spells on offense, Kentucky's defense is suspect and even Syracuse doesn't play zone well enough to defend Ohio State's perimeter attack.

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