2011 NCAA Tournament: Bracket Breakdown - East Bracket
It is no surprise that Ohio State received the top overall seed and was placed in the East Regional. I was a bit shocked that Kentucky received a four seed after winning the SEC Tournament. They could see an Elite Eight re-match from a year ago if they meet up with West Virginia in the second round. Georgia as a 10-seed was a bit of a surprise considering most experts felt they were firmly on the bubble. With the Buckeyes, Wildcats, North Carolina and Syracuse, there is plenty of firepower that should make this an entertaining regional.
Best First Round Game: #6 Xavier vs. #11 Marquette
The Golden Eagles were one of the last at-large bids to get into the tournament and face a Musketeer team that they beat a year ago in the Old Spice Classic. Playing in the rugged Big East, Marquette has proven they can hang with any opponent and this should be another tight tilt.
The Musketeers dominated a fairly average Atlantic-10 Conference but only picked up two quality non-conference wins against Butler and Georgia. Xavier is not a very deep team and Marquette loves to pressure the ball in the half-court so look for Marquette to try and wear down guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. If the Golden Eagles can force turnovers and keep the Musketeers' Kenny Frease and Jamal McLean off the glass, they could pull out the victory.
Early Exit: #2 North Carolina
The Heels are a young team and that might not bold well for a tourney run. North Carolina needed to overcome double-digit, second-half deficits to beat Miami and Clemson in the ACC Tournament before being out-played by Duke. I think they can get bounced by Washington in the third round (which is really the second round if you do not count the First Four) and if they do survive until the second weekend, will not get past Syracuse in the Sweet 16 - unless of course Harrison Barnes goes off like he did versus Clemson.
Sleeper: #7 Washington
The Huskies are in a similar position as last year when they were an underachieving 11-seed that upset Marquette and New Mexico to make a run into the Sweet 16. They won the Pac-10 Tournament without Venoy Overton who was suspended but will return for the Big Dance. Washington has the shooters, size and experience to once against do some damage as a lower seed.
Five Players to Watch: Isaiah Thomas, Washington
It was pure karma that Thomas hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer in the Pac-10 Title Game with Gus Johnson calling the game, right? Thomas is only 5-9, but plays with a warrior mentality and will not back down from anyone. He can fill it up and also distribute the rock.
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Everyone panicked when the preseason All-American did not live up to the hype early in the year. But Barnes has shown why he is a potential top pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and why Roy Williams defended his stud freshman after all the criticism. He can stroke it from deep and will need to play like he did against Clemson when he dropped 40 points if North Carolina is going to make a run.
Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
The North Carolina freshman is a throwback point guard who knows how to orchestrate the offense and set up his teammates. His insertion into the starting lineup has been a huge reason why the Heels have earned a No. 2 seed.
Travis Leslie, Georgia
Leslie gives new meaning to the phrase "high-flyer." Washington will try to get Georgia to play an up-tempo game and that should result in some explosive, highlight-reel dunks.
Cam Long, George Mason
Unless you are a college basketball nerd like I am, you have probably never seen Long play. The senior shooting guard is the Patriots' leading scorer and could be a sleeper heading into the 2011 NBA Draft.
Regional Final: # 1 Ohio State over # 3 Syracuse
The Buckeyes have some pretty good zone busters with sharpshooters Jon Diebler and William Buford being able to light it up from deep, as well as Aaron Craft and David Lighty who are more than capable outside shooters. The Buckeyes only go seven deep on their roster so keeping Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jared Sullinger out of foul trouble will be key. It will be a battle down low between him and Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Rick Jackson. Ohio State is also a very stout defensive team only allowing 70 or more points three times this season. I do not think Syracuse will have the scoring punch to oust the Buckeyes from the tourney.