NCAA March Madness Preview: The East Region

March 18, 2009

The East Region features a beast from the Big East, a one-man giant killer, a legend’s son, and the greatest college basketball program in the sport’s history. Here is our preview of this loaded region:

#16 East Tennessee State (23-10, Atlantic Sun champion)

ETSU qualified for the dance by winning their conference tourney. The Buccaneers are led by Kevin Tiggs' 21.5 PPG average, and guard Courtney Pigram's 17.6 PPG.

Tournament Outlook: One and done.

#15 Binghamton (23-8, America East champion)

The Bearcats’ roster received a boost this year from several transfers out of big-name schools. Binghamton’s go-to-guy will be D.J. Rivera, who averaged 20.1 PPG to go along with his 6.6 RPG.

Tournament Outlook: One and done.

#14 American (23-7, Patriot champion)

This team has struggled this year against squads from the power conferences, losing to Oklahoma, Georgetown, and Maryland by double-digit margins. For any hope of tourney glory, the Eagles need a monster game from senior Garrison Carr.

Tournament Outlook: Drawing Villanova in their hometown equals one and done for the Eagles.

#13 Portland State (23-9, Big Sky champion)

The Vikings have an impressive road win at Gonzaga on their resume, thanks in part to solid guard play. In particular, look for little floor general Jeremiah Dominguez to take over when things get tight. Should he falter, backcourt mate Dominic Waters could provide a reliable Plan B for the coaching staff.

Tournament Outlook: Portland State’s backcourt could cause some trouble for mediocre number four seed, Xavier. However, in final minutes look for Xavier to pull away, as Portland State gets bounced in the first round.

#12 Wisconsin (18-12, Big Ten at-large)

This bubble team should have stayed in the bubble, as the Badgers might have cost America the opportunity of seeing Patrick Mills from St. Mary's. This team is led by Marcus Landry and his 12.6 PPG.

Tournament Outlook: One and done.

#11 Virginia Commonwealth (24-9, Colonial champion)

Two years ago the Rams ousted Duke, thanks to star point guard Eric Maynor and his ability to repeatedly breakdown the Blue Devils' defense. This season, Maynor has some help on the interior in the form of shot-blocker Larry Sanders. With Maynor, the Rams will have the advantage of having the best player on the floor in most of the games that they play. Moreover, the Rams are only 250 miles from home, and thus, should enjoy some support from their fans.

Tournament Outlook: If Maynor does his giant-killer act one more time, the Rams could win their first round matchup. However, look for them to go no deeper than the second round, as they could face Villanova on their home turf. Most likely, the Rams are a first round casualty, as Maynor will be reasonably contained by UCLA's four-headed monster of Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, and Jerime Anderson.

#10 Minnesota (21-10, Big Ten at-large)

Coach Tubby Smith is a master at rebuilding programs, and he is well on his way to doing it again at Minnesota. The Gophers are led by Lawrence Westbrook and his 12.4 PPG. They also feature top-100 frosh recruit, Ralph Sampson III, son of the legendary ex-NBA All-Star.

Tournament Outlook: One and done. This is a so-so team from an overrated league.

#9 Tennessee (21-11, SEC at-large)

This Tennessee squad has some athletes who can get up and down the floor. The best of the bunch is forward Tyler Smith, a clutch player who averages roughly 17 points and 6 boards. Although the Vols played in the pathetic SEC, they remain battle-tested due to a solid nonconference schedule that included Marquette and Gonzaga.

Tournament Outlook: One and done. Despite the excellent coaching of Bruce Pearl, the Volunteers lose a close one to OSU.

#8 Oklahoma State (22-10, Big 12 at-large)

The player to watch for OSU is guard James Anderson, the team's leading scorer at 18.1 PPG, and a 41% shooter from three-point land.

Tournament Outlook: After narrow victory against Tennessee, the Cowboys lose a close game to Pitt in the second round.

#7 Texas (22-11, Big 12 at-large)

The Longhorns' can be a dangerous team when explosive guard A.J. Abrams is on his game and lighting it up from deep. In addition to Abrams, Texas also can count on forward Damion James, an outstanding rebounder and solid second option who averages 15.4 PPG and 9.2 RPG. But the key to this team could be the play of center Dexter Pittman. This year, Pittman has shed some excess weight, and has occasionally provided Texas with a boost on the interior.

Tournament Outlook: Texas will beat Minnesota, and could give Duke a run for their money in round 2. Possible Sweet 16 in the cards, but nothing beyond that.

#6 UCLA (24-7, Pac-10 at-large)

For the Bruins to reach a fourth consecutive Final Four, they will need to solidify the trademark Ben Howland-defense that has abandoned them this year. Should they fail to correct their defensive inconsistencies, this team will need their three senior leaders -- playmaker Darren Collison, versatile scorer Josh Shipp, and interior bruiser Alfred Aboya -- to raise their game. The one element this Bruins team does possess is outstanding shooting, as Collison, Shipp, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Dragovic, and Michael Roll all can knock down treys from deep.

However, the real key to this team might lie with the play of their freshmen. Thus far, the Bruins acclaimed 5-man recruiting class has seen its struggles. In particular, starter Jrue Holiday needs to return to the poised, cerebral play he exhibited earlier in the year.

Tournament Outlook: Can the sport’s most successful program ever be considered a sleeper? Apparently, the whole nation has goose-stepped along to Seth Davis' prediction of a first round exit. Still, is there a more dangerous six seed in the tourney than the Bruins? This is a sixth seed that just might have more offensive game than the higher seeds in their bracket. The toughest matchup for the Bruins could be their second round road game against hometown Villanova. Should they prevail in that contest, they will be Final Four bound.

#5 Florida State (25-9, ACC at-large)

Senior Toney Douglas is the real deal. The former Auburn transfer led the 'Noles with a 21.3 PPG average, and made both the ACC's first team, as well as the conference's all defensive team. FSU is coming off a strong showing in the ACC tourney, as they beat North Carolina, and lost a competitive final to Duke.

Tournament Outlook: The Seminoles advance to the Sweet 16.

#4 Xavier (25-7, Atlantic 10 at-large)

Xavier had another disappointing finish in their conference tourney, as they lost once more in the semifinals. The Musketeers are led by B.J. Raymond's 14.1 PPG, and Derrick Brown's 13.8 PPG. Another player to watch is exciting Jason Love, a high-flyer who can also clean up the glass. Xavier is a solid, veteran team, but not overly talented.

Tournament Outlook: Second round exit.

#3 Villanova (26-6, Big East at-large)

Although the 'Cats have the luxury of playing their first two games in Philly, they are talented enough to beat anyone in the region regardless of venue. Scottie Reynolds has been the anchor all year, as he has averaged 15.5 PPG. Assisting him on the interior has been Dante Cunningham, a solid contributor at 16 points and roughly 7 boards per game. In addition, 'Nova has a collection of spot-up three point shooters who can be difference-makers should they get hot.

Tournament Outlook: The home-cooking is a huge advantage for the 'Cats, as it could very well propel them deep into the Tournament. The winner of the Villanova-UCLA second round game will beat Duke and advance to at least the Elite Eight.

#2 Duke (27-6, ACC champion)

Last year everyone but the NCAA Tournament Committee knew Duke was overrated, and they proved it with a quick exit. The same problem that plagued Duke last year – the lack of an inside presence – has not been cured this season either. Still, the Blue Devils are significantly better, as Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, and the versatile Kyle Singler have all improved their games. In particular, the athletic Henderson has emerged as a genuine star and go-to guy for Coach K.

Tournament Outlook: Duke’s aggressive defense and solid perimeter play could take them to the Elite 8. More likely, however, they get bounced in the Sweet 16.

#1 Pittsburgh (28-3, Big East at-large)

The Panthers don't overwhelm teams with their talent, so much as with their tenacity and veteran play. Pitt is a team that doesn't beat itself, as they defend, take care of the ball, and pound the glass. As a result, they will be competitive in any game they play. Levance Fields is a solid floor general, DeJuan Blair is a punishing interior bruiser, and Sam Young is a do-everything forward who can play with the best of them. Because very few teams in this region matchup well with the Panthers other than UCLA and Villanova, they could be Detroit-bound.

Tournament Outlook: At a minimum, the Panthers should reach the Elite Eight. If they face Duke in that round, then pencil them in to Detroit.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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