Syracuse Gets a Tricky Road to New Orleans: East Region Thoughts
Just like Kentucky, there was an assumption that Syracuse would find themselves on the one line regardless of what happened this weekend. And not only is that the case but Jim Boeheim's team will get the travel path expected, beginning in Pittsburgh with a trip to Boston on the horizon if they reach the Sweet 16. First up for Syracuse are the Bulldogs of UNC Asheville, who are led by Big South POY Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm. Eddie Biedenbach's club was a 16-seed last year as well, falling to another Big East team (Pittsburgh) after winning a game in Dayton.
The key for Syracuse this weekend will be to get Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph going as both played poorly in New York. Likely won't be an issue against UNC Asheville but that, along with their struggles with defensive rebounding, could be in a possible third round matchup with Kansas State. Frank Martin's Wildcats are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, and their guard play has improved down the stretch as well. If Angel Rodriguez can keep the turnovers down and Jamar Samuels and Rodney McGruder are scoring efficiently, K-State can get to the Sweet 16.
Ohio State earned a two seed as a result of their sharing of the Big Ten regular season crown and getting to Sunday's title game, with wins over Duke and Florida helping their non-conference slate. The Buckeyes saw their season come to a painful end in the Sweet 16 last year, and despite losing some key cogs from that squad there's more than enough talent to get to New Orleans. Loyola (MD) is deep and will have the most entertaining coach in the field (Jimmy Patsos) but a third round matchup with either Gonzaga or West Virginia will likely be of more concern for Buckeye fans.
The Mountaineers have one of the nation's best players in Kevin Jones, and he's had to carry this team throughout the year. The majority of their guards are young and Truck Bryant needs to be more consistent with his decision-making if WVU is to make any kind of noise. Gonzaga finished second in the WCC and their non-conference schedule prepares them well for this time of the year. But if Elias Harris and Robert Sacre' don't answer the bell against Jones and Deniz Kilicli they may not be in Pittsburgh very long.
The three-seed is ACC tournament champion Florida State, who has defeated Duke and North Carolina twice apiece for the first time in school history. Leonard Hamilton's team is a tough group to crack defensively due to their athleticism and effort on that end of the floor, but turnovers have been a problem for much of the season. If Luke Loucks and Ian Miller take care of the basketball the Seminoles can go a long way. St. Bonaventure will counter with A-10 Player of the Year Andrew Nicholson, but the Noles may have too much depth for the Bonnies (who are a great story, by the way) in the paint.
Cincinnati and Texas has the potential to be an interesting 6/11 matchup, but outside of J'Covan Brown and Clint Chapman the Longhorns are a very young basketball team. Losing Alexis Wangmene to a broken wrist hurts in the depth department, as even though the Bearcats play small they've got depth inside led by Yancy Gates. Mick Cronin's guards will take a high number of three-pointers, and if they're falling Cincinnati can do more than win just one game.
And the East is also a region where more folks would line up to pick the five-seed as opposed to the four. Vanderbilt's the five, and despite their recent issued in the Big Dance this feels like a different group. The main reason being their SEC tournament crown, won by beating Kentucky on Sunday. Jeffery Taylor and company displayed a confidence level not seen in previous Vanderbilt teams this past weekend, and that could very well get them to New Orleans. Harvard has the depth and experience to give Vandy trouble, but with Festus Ezeli inside and sharpshooter John Jenkins also on the floor the Commodores will be tough to beat.
As for Wisconsin, the Badgers live and die by the three. Bo Ryan's team shoots just 32% from beyond the arc but scores 36% of their points by way of the shot, making it very important that Jordan Taylor and company are knocking those down at a solid clip. Enter 13-seed Montana, who allows opponents to score just 24% of their points from three. Guards Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar are two of the best in the western United States, and big man Derek Selvig has the ability to match up with Wisconsin's big men as they like to play inside or out in the swing offense.
Syracuse has a good route to New Orleans, where they won their lone national title back in 2003, from a travel standpoint. But matchup-wise there are some possible roadblocks, be it the rebounding prowess of Kansas State or the perimeter skill of a Vanderbilt. And that's just on their side of the bracket, as an Elite 8 battle with Ohio State could be an issue as well.
Best second round matchup: Wisconsin vs. Montana
G Dion Waiters (Syracuse)
G Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin)
F Jeffery Taylor (Vanderbilt)
F Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)
F Kevin Jones (West Virginia)