NCAA Tournament: Breaking down the East Region
Most basketball experts thought Indiana would earn the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region and perhaps get to play its regional semifinal and championship games in nearby Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. However, the Hoosiers were tripped up by their nemesis, Wisconsin, in the Big Ten semifinals, and that was enough to send them to the East Region.
There are no shortage of challengers for Indiana in the East. Second-seeded Miami won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles, and it might have deserved a No. 1 seed over Gonzaga. Below those two, Syracuse started to look like its old self in reaching the Big East championship game.
Also, sixth-seeded Butler is an intriguing case. The Bulldogs have been turnover-prone, but at their best, they have notched wins over Indiana, Gonzaga, Marquette and North Carolina.
TEAMS TO BEAT
Indiana (27-6) has been the country's top-ranked team for a reason -- its best is better than anyone else's. When the Hoosiers are making shots and taking care of the ball, they are something to watch. But if an opponent can limit Cody Zeller in the post and force the guards to cough the ball up, Indiana can be vulnerable.
Miami (27-6) offers experience and a point guard (Shane Larkin) capable of taking games over down the stretch. The Hurricanes have NBA size up front and a coach (Jim Larranaga) who knows what it takes to win in March. Question is, can the Hurricanes do it with a bull's-eye across their chest? That was a problem for a couple of weeks late in the regular season.
No. 14 Davidson vs. No. 3 Marquette: It's safe to say Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams wasn't thrilled to see the Wildcats matched up with his squad. Davidson is a veteran squad that can shoot the 3-pointer and is coached by Bob McKillop, who takes a back seat to no one in the X and O category. While Marquette is mentally tough, it won't own an overwhelming talent advantage on the Wildcats.
8-9 winner (North Carolina State-Temple) vs. No. 1 Indiana (third round): Either foe presents a tricky matchup for the Hoosiers. The Wolfpack isn't great on defense but has excellent balance on offense and can run with Indiana, while the Owls have a senior guard in Khalif Wyatt who can go off for 35 on any night and single-handedly pull off an upset.
PLAYERS TO KNOW
Indiana F Victor Oladipo is considered a leading candidate for the Wooden Award despite modest individual stats. He is this good because he combines offensive efficiency with terrific defense. Coach Tom Crean has compared him to Dwyane Wade, whom he coached at Marquette, and that should tell you all you need to know.
UNLV F Anthony Bennett might be playing in his only NCAA Tournament. The Canadian freshman has the talent to be a No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft and can take over games almost any time he wants. If Bennett gets on a run, the Rebels are quite capable of getting to the tournament's second weekend.
Bucknell F Mike Muscala is a favorite of the tempo-free crowd, and for good reason. Muscala has put up terrific numbers despite getting double- and triple-teamed most nights. If Muscala has a typical game against Butler on Thursday night, the Bison can pull off an upset.
Davidson owns a 17-game winning streak, and only five of those victories were by fewer than 10 points.
Bucknell brings a seven-game winning streak into the tournament.
Montana enters the tournament with six consecutive wins since a BracketBusters defeat at Davidson.
Illinois has lost four of its past six games, beating only Nebraska and Minnesota in that span.
Colorado is just 4-4 in its past eight games, including a baffling loss on its Senior Night to a bad Oregon State team.
Since starting 18-1, Syracuse is just 8-8. In its past five games, the Orange has topped 62 points once.
NUMBERS TO NOTE
57.6 percent -- The shooting percentage from 3-point range by Syracuse's James Southerland during the Big East tournament. Southerland canned 19 of 33 in four games as the Orange reached the championship game.
2 -- Teams in this region who own wins over No. 1 seeds. Butler and Illinois each took out Gonzaga and Indiana, with the Fighting Illini earning extra credit for beating Gonzaga in Spokane.
4-2 -- Colorado's record against Top 25 teams this year. It would have been 5-1 if Pac-12 officials hadn't botched the ending of regulation at Arizona back in January, when Sabatino Chen's board-and-cord 3 to win the game before time expired was somehow waved off.
38 percent -- The shooting percentage over the past five games for California's Allen Crabbe, the Pac-12's leading scorer. If the Golden Bears are to make any kind of run, Crabbe must find the range more consistently.
1.13 -- Points that LIU-Brooklyn surrenders per possession, which ranks 323rd in Division I. While the Blackbirds play an appealing up-tempo style and can rack up the points against anyone, their defense certainly won't hold up if they play Indiana in the second round.
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