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East Region Preview: Are Michigan State and Iowa State the two best teams?

Mar 17, 2014, 8:03 AM EDT

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In a move that surprised many when the bracket was announced, it was Virginia and not Michigan that ended up getting the No. 1 seed in the East Region. Did they deserve it? Well, when you win the ACC regular season title outright and back that up with an ACC tournament title, I think you’ve made all the statements that you need to make.

The problem?

Their reward was getting stuck in a bracket with a No. 4 seed that just so happens to be one of the most talented teams in the country and, thanks to the long-awaited arrival of overall team health, peaking as the the tournament begins.

That would be Michigan State. The same Michigan State that’s coached by Tom Izzo. Them’s the breaks.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. Can Michigan State’s seniors get a Final Four?: One of the coolest streaks in college basketball is that Tom Izzo has never had a four-year senior graduate without reaching a Final Four. That will end this season if Keith Appling and Adreian Payne cannot get Sparty to North Texas.
  • 2. Does Hilton Magic reach the east coast?: Iowa State has been one of the best teams all season long. Fred Hoiberg is a wizard. The Cyclones are one of the most entertaining teams in the country. Can they ride the wave all the way to the Final Four?
  • 3. Is this where the upsets are?: The consensus on Monday morning will be that the East’s No. 3 and No. 4 seeds are better than their No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. Does that mean that we’ll see Virginia and Villanova falling early?

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Iowa State

How much fun would that be? I’m not sure that there is a matchup in this entire tournament that I would look forward to more than seeing Tom Izzo match wits with Fred Hoiberg with a trip to the Final Four on the line. We’ve said all season long that the Spartans are a title favorite once they get back to 100%, and I think they proved they are by steamrolling No. 2 seeds Wisconsin and Michigan in the Big Ten tournament. And Iowa State? Well, they just won the tournament of the toughest conference in the country.

MOREEight teams that can win the national title, and why.

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Final Four sleeper: North Carolina

The problem with relying on North Carolina is that you never quite know which North Carolina is going to show up. This is a team that beat the preseason top four teams in the country during the season — including Final Four favorites Michigan State and Louisville — but also lost to the likes of Belmont, UAB and Wake Forest. Here’s the perfect example: they dug themselves a 20-point hole against Pitt in the ACC quarterfinals. They nearly erased that deficit in the final 10 minutes. Good UNC is really good. Bad UNC could lose to No. 11 seed Providence in the Round of 64.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 12 Harvard vs. No. 5 Cincinnati: The Bearcats are one of the toughest, most physical defensive teams in the country. But they can’t score. Harvard is tough and physical as well, loaded with the kind of talent you never see in the Ivy League these days. Slow down Sean Kilpatrick, and the Crimson could land another tournament upset.
  • No. 11 Providence vs. No. 6 North Carolina: Bryce Cotton vs. Marcus Paige. Yes, please.

Matchups to root for

  • No. 7 UConn or No. 10 St. Joseph’s vs. No. 2 Villanova: Take your pick: either two former Big East rivals square off, or we get ‘The Holy War’ in the NCAA tournament. Either way, that will be fun.

The studs you know about

  • Gary Harris, Michigan State: The Spartans are loaded, but for my money, Gary Harris is their best player and their best potential pro.
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: I’ve been trumpeting Kilpatrick for months. He’s had a superb season made all-the-more impressive by the fact he’s the only offensive option on his team.
  • Shabazz Napier, UConn: There aren’t five players in the NCAA tournament I’d rather have with the ball in his hands in a critical moment than Napier. Will he have his Kemba Walker moment?
  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Outside of a rough stretch at the start of ACC play, Paige has been one of the best guards in the country this season.

MOREAll-Americans | Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: The Cavs have been a bit under-the-radar all season long, but Brogdon has been their best player this season and it’s not really all that close.
  • Bryce Cotton, Providence: College basketball’s ironman. He averaged 41.9 minutes in Big East games and carried the Friars to their first tournament in a decade.
  • Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina-Central: Ingram might be the most dangerous scorer in the region. He went for more than 30 points five times and hit for 25 points on six different occasions.

Upsets that ARE happening

  • No. 12 Harvard over No. 5 Cincinnati: The Crimson picked off No. 3 seed New Mexico in the Round of 64 last season, and I think their defense is strong enough that they can land another upset this year. Siyani Chambers is the truth.
  • No. 2 Villanova won’t get out of the first weekend: I don’t know what to make of Villanova this year, but I do know this: their only elite win came against Kansas when the Jayhawks were sputtering and they got blown out by Syracuse and Creighton twice and lost to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament.

Upsets that AREN’T happening

  • No. 13 Delaware over No. 4 Michigan State: The Blue Hens have three really talented scorers on their perimeter. It’s a shame they are running into this Spartan team.

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 14 North Carolina-Central vs. No. 3 Iowa State: NCCU is going to have to hope that Iowa State has an off-night, but remember: this team won at N.C. State this season. They’re not a pushover.

CBT Predictions: No one gets in the way of the Michigan State freight train, not even Tony Bennett and his vaunted packline defense.

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