The East Region of the 2014 March Madness Tournament is not the most packed region, but it is a very unpredictable one.
It’s a region where people say the favorite is a No. 4 seed, even though the No. 1 seed is the ACC Champion. It features a No. 2 seed that people say was seeded too high, considering they were bounced in the first round of the Big East tournament. It features a team that won 12 of its last 14 including a win over Duke. A third round matchup could be a battle of two Big 5 teams. There are a lot of things to look at in the East going into this tournament.
Players to Watch
Payne is a player that had B1G Player of the Year potential. He was a favorite for winning the honor before he went down with a foot injury causing him to miss seven games this season. He averaged 15.8 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game in the games he played this season.
The highlight of Payne’s season came early on when he scored 33 points in Texas against a strong Longhorns team. He scored 18 and grabbed nine rebounds in the B1G Championship against rival Michigan, who was looking to get a No. 1 seed with a win.
On a team that was plagued with injuries all year and is now healthy, Payne is a big reason many look at Michigan St. as a favorite in the East.
Kilpatrick has risen up as a top player in the country this season. He was arguably the best player in the competitive American Athletic Conference. He led the conference averaging over 20 points per game, he averages 42% from the field. and is money from the charity stripe shooting almost 85%.
Kilpatrick matches up against No. 12 seed Harvard in the first round, a very popular upset pick. Cincinnati’s only losses this year came against UConn, Louisville, SMU, New Mexico, and Xavier. All of those teams, with the exception of Xavier, are either ranked now or have been ranked at some point this season. All of those losses are tournament teams, except SMU who many said was the biggest snub of the tournament.
Kilpatrick is the reason for Cincinnati’s success this season. Most top teams in this tournament have been upset in one way or another, but a guard like Kilpatrick makes Cincinnati a very hard team to upset. They play some close games, but Kilpatrick is a player that can carry a team late in the game and take them on a deep run.
DeAndre Kane, G, Iowa St.
Kane is one of the most all around underrated players in the country. When people think of the Big 12, they think of players like Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart. Yes, many look at Melvin Ejim as the Cyclone’s best player, who averages a Big 12 high 18.1 points per game, but Kane is a more complete player.
DeAndre Kane is in the top 10 in the Big 12 in points (17 ppg), rebounds (6.7 rpg), assists (5.8 apg), and steals (1.27 spg). He’s the only player in the Big 12 in the top 10 in all of those categories.
Iowa St. could make a deep run in the tournament behind the play of Kane and Ejim. This team won a Big 12 title over and won very big games towards the end of their season. Kane is a senior that has seen his team bounced early in the tournament two years in a row. He has grown greatly as a player and he doesn’t make the Cyclones an easy team to look past.
Earlier I mentioned that Kilpatrick was arguably the best player in the AAC this season. Well he didn’t win AAC Player of the Year because the honor went to Napier. Napier was everything and more for the Huskies this season.
The point guard led the team in points, assists, and rebounds this year (at point guard). Napier averaged 17.4 points a game, almost five more points than DeAndre Daniels who was second on the team in points.
This makes one think of another Connecticut point guard that was the leader of the team back in 2011: Kemba Walker. I know that comparing Napier to Walker is a stretch, but Napier was on that 2011 National Championship team. He made two clutch free throws at the end of the championship game against Butler. It’s unlikely that Napier can carry his entire team to a National Championship, but UConn has been done before.
The sophomore guard has shown up huge in big games this season. Even in a loss to Duke that didn’t seem too close, Paige shot 64% from the field scoring 24 points against UNC’s most hated rival. He scored 32 on 9-12 shooting against Louisville who was the third ranked team in the country at the time.
He’s the team leader in points per game with 17.4 and assists per game with 4.3. His biggest attribute is his ability to score in the fourth quarter. He is a very strong reason for their success this season.
Paige was a huge part of North Carolina’s 12 game winning streak from January to March. He averaged over 17 points per game during the 12 game span. UNC lost its last two games to Duke and Pitt, but all it takes is a short six game win streak to win the title. If Paige gets enough support, this team could go deep in the bracket.
No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Harvard
I know I said earlier that Kilpatrick makes Cincinnati a tough team to upset, but a four loss Harvard team cannot be overlooked. The Crimson shocked No. 3 seed New Mexico last year in the second round, and they are very capable of doing it again.
Harvard is 13th in the nation in defensive points per game, as they are a very defensive minded team. No players really stand out except for Wesley Saunders who scores 14 points per game shooting just under 47%. Harvard was just six points shy of beating UConn, who beat Cincinnati late in the season. Saunders did not play in that game. Don’t be surprised to see Harvard pull off the popular 12 vs. 5 upset here.
No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 St. Joseph’s
This isn’t more about St. Joes being good, but more about UConn being beatable. Napier is far and away the best player that will play in this matchup, but after Napier UConn is very thin.
As mentioned before, Napier leads the team in rebounds as a point guard. UConn clearly struggles in the paint, and that is where Hawks forward Halil Kanacevic can hurt them. Kanacevic averages 10.7 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game, almost a double-double. He has been crucial for St. Joes down the stretch recording double-doubles in the semi-finals and the championship of the A-10 Tournament.
In the AAC Tournament Championship, Louisville shut down Napier and DeAndre Daniels had to step into a bigger role. Offensively Daniels played a decent game, but he could not stop Montrzel Harrell at all. Harrell had 11 boards and 22 points; he was the game’s leading scorer. If St. Joes and Langston Galloway can shut down Napier, UConn could be in for an early exit.
Potential Future Matchups
Michigan St. vs. Virginia
This possible matchup has me very excited. It pits Virginia’s shut down defense against Michigan State’s great ability to move the ball and score. Now that Payne and Branden Dawson are healthy, this Michigan St. team is very dangerous.
Virginia on the other hand is a No. 1 seed that many people are overlooking. The Cavaliers don’t score well, but they have a near unstoppable defense. Since conference play started, Virginia has only lost twice and both games they gave up at least 69 points. It seems like that is a trend for them. Duke and Maryland were the only two teams that scored more than 67 points, and they were the only two conference teams to beat them.
Virginia will have their hands full against a Michigan St. team that has four players in the top 20 of the B1G in assists. The three ball is another weapon MSU can use to knock off the top seed in the East, as they shoot about 40% from behind the arc.
I’m from Philly; I have to bring up a potential Holy War matchup. A first round win from both teams would set up a clash of Big 5 teams in the NCAA Tournament, and a rematch from early on in the season. The first matchup between these two teams was pretty lopsided. Villanova won that contest by 30. JayVaughn Pinkston had a season high 27 points in that one.
Could this time be different? Probably not, Villanova is as strong as a team as they were on December 7th, and St. Joes has lost five games since then and few were tough opponents. Nova has a strong 28-4 record this year with losses coming from only Syracuse, Creighton (x2), and Seton Hall. The loss to Seton Hall will likely be a wakeup call for Villanova, but they have yet to prove they can beat a top team.
Even if St. Joes does not get passed UConn, a matchup of two former Big East rivals between UConn and Villanova would be pretty exciting as well.
Delaware is a team that many people thought were going to pull a first round upset before they got the unlucky draw of Michigan St. in the first round.
Michigan St. under Tom Izzo has never had a four year senior not make the final four before they graduate. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are both four year seniors who haven’t seen a Final Four. Tom Izzo is a college basketball coach no one should doubt.
Providence won the Big East and beat another tournament favorite in Creighton to do so. North Carolina has shown to struggle against worse teams, giving Providence fans some hope in that one. Bryce Cotton has shown to be a player that can lead Providence to an upset.
Iowa St. is definitely not a team to count out. The Cyclones have won eight of 10 games to finish the season, including winning the Big 12 Championship. They’ve beaten Kansas, Oklahoma St., Baylor, and Texas of late. A Final Four run from the Big 12 Champions has been picked by many.
Virginia is so sound defensively, but many are still overlooking them and putting Michigan St. in the Final Four. Villanova is a two seed that many think should be seeded lower, and we have seen a couple 15 vs. 2 upsets recently. Their matchup against Milwaukee could be one to watch out for.
The ACC Champion, the Big East Champion, and the Big 12 Champion all in the same region, how can that not be fun to watch play out?