SOUTHEAST REGION

If you’re expecting a lower seed to find its way into the Final Four, this could be the region where it happens. The Southeast Region is probably the most competitive this year, boasting many higher seeds that have been put on upset alert — not to mention, a lot of lower seeds that are playing their hottest basketball when it matters most.

Expect Michigan State to make a run on this end. The Spartans have had a rough season but finished with a big win against Purdue to propel themselves into the tournament. Remember, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has been there before and so has half his squad.

If the Spartans make it out of the second round, they’ll most likely meet Florida. The Gators are one of the few first and second seeds that could fall out early. Florida doesn’t have much tournament experience and has been inconsistent down the final stretch of the season.

No. 1 seed Pittsburgh is obviously the favorite. But even they have suffered some big losses this year. The Panthers were stunned at home by Notre Dame and were also exploited by St. John’s, the No. 6 seed in their region. Expect Pittsburgh, a team known for not having stars, to have a rough time making it out of the bunch.

The team most likely to be upset on this end has to be Wisconsin. The fourth-seeded Badgers finished third in the Big Ten, but Bo Ryan’s squad was upset by Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament and typically isn’t a good tournament team.

SOUTHWEST REGION

The top half of this bracket is pretty cut and dry. Even President Barack Obama picked Kansas to win it all, and the Jayhawks should be able to tear through their first three games. But Purdue or Notre Dame could pose a problem in the regional semifinals.

The possible matchup between the Fighting Irish and the Boilermakers could prove to be one of the most exciting of the tournament. Purdue’s post/guard combo of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, who combine for 39 points and 13 rebounds a game, may meet its match in Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis, who combine for 34 points and 10 rebounds a game.

The most likely upset is No. 12 Richmond over No. 5 Vanderbilt. The Spiders just finished their regular season with a record-setting 27 wins, including wins over then-No. 8 Purdue and Saint Joseph’s. Richmond is on a seven-game win streak, led by seniors Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. Last weekend, the Spiders won their first-ever Atlantic-10 title and are looking to make a mark in their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Florida State — with nine upperclassmen — could also make some noise. It held Ohio State to its lowest point total of the year and handed Duke one of its four losses this season when senior guard Derwin Kitchen caught fire, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

EAST REGION

This may be one of the most dangerous regions for those who pick upsets just because they think they must. There aren’t any big sleepers here, and seeing Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky in the regional semifinal could be about as predictable as guessing when your birthday’s coming next year.

Syracuse could upset the Tar Heels in that round just because of the Orange’s size and Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense. And Syracuse won’t come into this tournament lightly. Twice under Boeheim, the Orange have been upset in the first round. It loss in 1991 when the team was a No. 2 seed and again in 2005 when it was a No. 4 seed.

Another likely upset is No. 11 seed Marquette over No. 6 seed Xavier. The Golden Eagles are one of the 11 teams out of the Big East to reach the tournament and Xavier recently was upset by Dayton in its conference tournament. Marquette would not be a bad choice if you’re in need of an early-round upset.

And though no one expects it, it is very possible that Princeton busts some brackets. The Tigers are coming off of a big win at the buzzer against Harvard to split the Ivy League championship with the Crimson. If any No. 13 seed is going to do it, it’s Princeton over No. 4 seed Kentucky.

WEST REGION

The recent revelation that Duke star freshman point guard Kyrie Irving may return to the court makes this region a little bit more interesting. Nobody knows if Irving will play — nor how many minutes he’ll get or how effective he’ll be, even if he does — but don’t bet against the Blue Devils after they blew out North Carolina in the ACC Tournament.

There aren’t any compelling Cinderella picks in the West, but look out for a potential upset in the No. 13-No. 4 matchup. Texas is very talented, but Oakland has proven it can play with anybody — and big man Keith Benson might be the best player on the floor when the Longhorns and Golden Grizzlies square off.

Elsewhere, if No. 7 seed Temple can get past a tricky first-round matchup with a hungry Talor Battle and his Penn State squad, the Owls are capable of upsetting No. 2 seed San Diego State in the second round. The Aztecs are led by the unappreciated Kawhi Leonard — who was overshadowed in the Mountain West by Jimmer Fredette, but lack experience playing deep in the tournament.

Along with Leonard, the standouts in the West are Arizona forward Derrick Williams and Connecticut guard Kemba Walker. Either player is capable of a MVP-type run, but look for Walker to carry his team farthest due to how vital guard play is in the Big Dance. And look for a great duel between Walker and Duke counterpart Nolan Smith in the Elite Eight.

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