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A Deeper Look at the East Region: The Path to Houston Ain't No Walk in the Park


Well, UNC fans, I’ll say this : If your team makes it to the Final Four this year you will have earned every damned bit of it.

The Heels managed to earn a 2 seed in what is arguably the toughest region, despite not playing impressively down the stretch (yes, i realize they won 9 of their last 10, but that includes two 2 point victories over non-tournament teams {BC and Miami}, one buzzer beater over 10 seed and Chris Singleton-less FSU, and  an overtime victory and a two point win over the vaunted Clemson Tigers). The East features some real heavy hitters at the top (OSU, UK, Syracuse) and some scary dark-horse candidates as well (Washington,Xavier, and George Mason). So, the Tar Heels will have to up their level of play if they expect to advance.

In the first round, UNC faces an up-tempo attack from the LIU Blackbirds, who essentially have 5 players averaging double digits in scoring, have won 13 in a row and 21 of 22, and average more than 82 points per game. That said, that style of play will present no issues for the Heels who can’t run enough (though it should be noted that Kendall Marshall looked noticeably weary in both the Clemson and Duke games this weekend) and will have a tremendous size advantage to boot. Things get very interesting from there. If the seeds hold the Heels would face a streaking, athletic, and high-scoring Washington squad that boasts the 3rd highest scoring offense in the country as well as one of the better guards around the person of Isaiah Thomas. Looming in the Sweet 16 is a potential matchup with, in this writer’s humble opinion, the very last team Carolina wants to see in the whole Tournament: Syracuse. The Orange play the toughest Zone D around and have allowed 60 points or fewer 18 times this season. The team the Heels struggled with most consistently this year (even more than Duke, IMO), was the Miami Hurricanes who, not coincidentally, play Zone. UNC was down 18 in both games, and was able to come back largely because of Miami’s complete inability to play with a lead. a problem that plauged them all year. That won’t happen to Syracuse. The Orange have the size to wrestle with Carolina’s bigs ( 6-9 All Big East performer Rick Jackson), and an answer for Barnes in 6-7 Kris Joseph (14.2 ppg) and strong backcourt play. If the Heels manage to get to the Elite 8 they would likely face OSU or Kentucky. The Heels beat the Cats once already this year, but that was essentially a home game for Carolina, and UK has turned out to be one of the better three point shooting teams in the country; not something Carolina wants to see either. If it’s OSU they face, we’ll get see the two best freshmen in the country ( without injured toes) square off, but we’ll see “experienced talent” against  “talent” (to use Roy’s words following the ACC championship) again. And we all know how that worked out.

Best First Round Matchup: This is a toughy. Xavier v Marquette (The Musketeers Mr. Everything Tu Holloway against the uber-balanced Eagles), George Mason v Villanova (the slumping , but Big East -tested Wildcats against one of the all time great Cinderellas and well-coached Patriots), and West Virginia v Clemson (probably the two toughest defensive teams in the bracket) all have great potential.

Dark Horse: I don’t think George Mason has a shot against OSU, so I will call this one for either the Huskies or the Musketeers. Xavier has a Nolan Smith like talent in Junior Tu Holloway (20 ppg, 5 reb,5.5 assists) and have a history of overachieving in the tourney. They are like Michigan State lite, always seeming to make it to at least the Sweet 16 ( as opposed to the Final 4) , regardless of seed. Washington has played below their potential (which is considerable) for much of the year, but seem to be coming together at the right time.

The All-Atlas Squad (guys who can carry their teams): Tu Holloway (Xavier), Harrison barnes (UNC), Jared Sullinger (OSU) Jamarr Sanders (UAB) Trey Tompkins (UGA) Terrence Jones (UK) Isaiah Thomas (UW).

Upset Special: Princeton plays their style better than anyone ( I mean, it is THEIR style) and Kentucky lacks experience, so there’s danger there. Georgia has some serious talent and could certainly present a threat to UW. I’m going to go with Clemson over WVU ( which may look like a silly prediction after tomorrow). The Mountaineers have a tough time scoring, so whoever they play, the game will likely be close and I liked what I saw from Clemson at the end of the year.

Best Potential Second Round Game: UNC v UW. Both teams like to push the ball and score when they can. UW has some serious atheletes and Carolina has at least 3 NBA players in their starting 5. Kendall Marshall vs. Thomas and Ammaning v Barnes would be great head to heads. This game could be 90-86.

Best Mascot: The Texas San-Antonio Roadrunners (meep meep!)

The All- Digger Phelps Team (names most likely to be mispronounced): Jim Larranaga (coach of GM), Sei Paye (UTSA), Jamal Olasewere (LIU) Mouphtaou Yarou (Villanova) Deniz Kilicli (UWV)

God Shammgodd Award (best name) : It’s a runaway for Vander Blue (Marquette), with a nod to Vertrail Vaughns (GMU).

Home Cookin’ Award (best geographical placement): Xavier plays the first two rounds in Ohio. Not bad for a six seed.

Coach Most Likely to Sell You a Used Car: John Calipari

Coach Most Likely to Fail to Sell You a Used Car and then Show up at Church in a Track Suit : Bob Huggins

The CincyWakePittBigTenteam award for perennial underperformer to avoid picking for a deep run goes to: OSU. this is a reach, but, it’s all I’ve got. They might have to play Kentucky then UNC/Syracuse just to reach the Final 4.