Do you like blue-blood programs with plenty of history and lots of titles and name brand mystique? Then this is your region. North Carolina, Indiana, and Kentucky will all try and knock each other off on their way to yet another final four. The Tar Heels earned the one seed thanks to an ACC Championship. They might be the deepest team in the field. When one player doesn't step up they have several more waiting to take his place. Starting point guard Marcus Paige struggled down the stretch, and they were still able to win the conference crown. Indiana and Kentucky could meet in an amazing second round clash, and both teams have the talent and firepower to put a scare into the Tar Heels if not beat them. The bottom part of the bracket is like UFC at the big dance. Xavier, Pitt, Wisconsin, and West Virginia will attempt to bludgeon each other to death while they race towards the elite eight. Don't be surprised if whoever comes out of the bottom part of the bracket is so beat-up and exhausted that they get rolled in the elite eight. There's a little something for everyone in this region...offense, defense, over-achieving mid-majors, and possibly the strangest at-large bid in tournament history in Tulsa.
Players To Watch:
Kris Dunn is the college basketball equivalent of Messi. He's not the leading scorer in the country, but if you need him to score he can light it up better than anyone else. He's fantastic at getting his teammates involved. Every game out he seems to perform a mind-bending feat on either defense or offense. He's the most fun player to watch in all of college hoops, and he's a big reason why Providence is back in the NCAA tournament again. He'll have some competition for eyeballs in this region though. Stony Brook is making its first ever tournament appearance thanks almost entirely to Jameel Warney. I'm not exaggerating. Warney put up an insane 40-10-4 line in their conference championship game. He averaged 19 and 11 for the season. Warney won't shy away from the bright lights and could cause Kentucky's front court to wish they were still playing SEC teams. Notre Dame might not play any defense, but Demetrius Jackson is so good at offense that it almost doesn't matter. He's a great signal caller for the Irish who also has the capability to score in bunches. Louisville had one of the best defenses in the country this year...Jackson lit them up for 27 points. At Kentucky it's usually some star freshman setting the world on fire who makes this list. This year it's second-year guard Tyler Ulis who's been so good over the past month that he's made his way into the player of the year argument. Ulis is a tremendous pass-first point guard averaging over seven assists per game. He's also refined his scoring skill set to become a dangerous shooter to compliment his off-the-dribble game.
Vulnerable high seeds:
None of the upper seeds in this region have a ton of flaws, but two teams do have glaring problems that could cause them problems. Notre Dame's defense is almost non-existent. They rank 172nd in defensive efficiency. That means if their shooting is even a little off they could be in a world of trouble. West Virginia has plent of positives, but the one thing they do is put people on the free throw line at one of the highest rates in the country. Giving up free points in never a sound strategy. It's also something that gets magnified come March.
Upset-Minded low seeds:
Providence earned a nine seed, so they barely qualify for this. However, Dunn and Ben Bentil are a dynamic duo that can give anyone fits. An upset win over eight seed USC wouldn't really be that surprising. But, if Dunn locks up Paige in round two then an upset over North Carolina isn't out of the question. Chattanooga isn't a team that's getting much upset buzz. And that's mainly because Indiana's been so good for most of this season. However, the Mocs are one of the few one seeds to actually win their conference tournament, and they beat a very good Dayton team early this season when the Flyers were playing their best ball.
Kentucky is doing their traditional round into form at the right time, and I think they have the depth and firepower to take on all comers in this region. There's a chance both Indiana and North Carolina could be gone before they even have to play them. And no one on the bottom half of the bracket has the offense to score with Wildcats outside of Notre Dame who can't play defense.