2012 NCAA Tournament: Bracket Breakdown - East Bracket
Unfortunately, the NCAA put two teams who I had eying as Final Four contenders possibly matching up in the Sweet 16 of this regional, Syracuse and Vanderbilt. Vandy comes in riding the momentum of beating Kentucky in the SEC Championship. Third-seed Florida State is another dangerous team having beat Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back days in claiming the ACC crown. Ohio State also has the talent to make a deep run. The Buckeyes scuffled late in the season, but finished strong. Other than those four programs, I am not sure any team has the capability of reaching New Orleans.
Best Opening-Round Game
#7 Gonzaga vs. #10 West Virginia
The Mountaineers will have a major home court advantage of sorts with this game being played in Pittsburgh. West Virginia has been so reliant on the duo of Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, who combine to average more than half of their team's points. Typical of any Bob Huggins-coached team, West Virginia will scrap, claw, and try to out-hustle you which could give them the advantage against the Zags. Gonzaga is much more balanced team than West Virginia, but as long as Kevin Pangos doesn't go off from distance, the Mountaineers should move on to the weekend.
Regardless of how good the Badgers are on the defensive end, it is simply too difficult to trust a team that has shot the ball as poorly as Wisconsin has for long stretches of time. In their loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals, the Badgers had two different stretches of going about 10 minutes without a field goal. If Bo Ryan's boys are able to get past Montana in the first round, they'll face a dangerous and powerful team in Vandy. (Let's hope we don't see a Wisconsin/Harvard third-round game. First to 50 wins?)
Since Vanderbilt is everybody's sleeper now, I'll go with Cincy. They have the ability to play uptempo but can also slow it down to a halfcourt game since Mick Cronin has successfully used a four-guard lineup that can shoot the ball from deep. With the physical Yancy Gates and crazy athletic Justin Jackson inside, the Bearcats have some size inside as well. If Sean Kilpatrick, Dion Dixon, and Cashmere Wright can light it up from deep on a regular basis, this team could make a surprise run.
Five Impact Players to Watch
Dion Waiters, #1 Syracuse
Dude is so league. I've said it before, Waiters has flashes of Dwyane Wade in his game with his ability to attack the basket and explosiveness at the rim. The Big East Sixth Man of the Year has been 'Cuse's most reliable scorer as of late and also sparks their transition game with his ability to jump passing lanes, get steals, and lead the break. A tourney run by the Orange could shoot his NBA Draft stock even higher and cause Waiters to leave school after the season.
Andrew Nicholson, #13 St. Bonaventure
Welcome to the big stage, Mr. Nicholson. By leading the Bonnies to the Atlantic 10 Tournament title and earning an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, Nicholson is no longer flying under the radar. The 6-8 power forward usually causes match-up issues but may struggle against a tall Florida State front line in the opening round. If so, St. Bonaventure's trip to the Big Dance will be a short one.
J'Covan Brown, #11 Texas
On such a young Longhorn team, Brown is without question the motor that leads the charge. He scored at least 30 points in four games and is more than capable of filling it up from the outside. Brown does have a tendency to force the issue a bit, but if he stays within himself and his teammates provide some assistance, Texas could cause problems for Cincinnati.
Rob Wilson, #4 Wisconsin
After a very disappointing three and a half years at Wisconsin in which he was riddled with injuries and unable to find a steady spot in Bo Ryan's rotation, Wilson has really come on strong as demonstrated by his 30-point breakout performance in the Badgers' Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinal game. Wilson can be a huge x-factor for UW and if he continues to play with confidence on the offensive end, provides them with a huge spark off the bench.
Will Cherry, #15 Montana
The Grizzlies' 6-2 point guard was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and could cause headaches for Jordan Taylor in Montana's opening round match-up. Cherry can get it done on both ends of the court though as he leads the team in scoring. He will also have to set the table for the talented shooters that surround him if the Griz have any hope of pulling off an upset.
#2 Ohio State over #5 Vanderbilt
You know what sucks... I was targeting Vandy as a Final Four sleeper team for a while but they had to go out and beat Kentucky in the SEC Championship Game so now everybody will be hopping on their bandwagon. With John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Brad Tinsley, the Commodores have the three-point shooters to knock off Syracuse. They just have to take care of the ball and not allow the Orange to get out in transition.
I think the Buckeyes' path to the Elite 8 is fairly easy. I think Florida State caught a break by getting Duke without Ryan Kelly and a John Henson-less North Carolina team in the ACC Tournament. Assuming Jared Sullinger can stay on the floor and not find himself in foul trouble; Ohio State will return to the Final Four.