The East Regional of the NCAA Tournament has gotten its first big shakeup and we haven’t even played a game yet. Syracuse announced that center Fab Melo, a great rebounding and shotblocking presence, without whom the Orange lost their only game of the regular season at Notre Dame, is suspended for the tournament. It’s impossible to argue that this is anything less than a huge body blow to the region’s #1 seed. Can they survive it and make it first to Boston next weekend for the Sweet 16 and then on to New Orleans for the Final Four? TheSportsNotebook breaks down the East Regional by the four pods and makes a pick….
#1 SEED POD (Syracuse-UNC Asheville, Kansas State-Southern Miss)
This is a pretty dry foursome here. Southern Miss played poor basketball down the stretch, although if Kansas State does win that game, the Wildcats will be the first time with a chance to expose the Melo-less Orangemen. Jamar Samuels is a good post scorer for K-State and while it’s not as though Syracuse will roll over and die for him, Samuels no longer has to worry about Melo blocking his shots. Still, I don’t think Kansas State is that talented, and Syracuse is still well-coached with a good forward in Kris Joseph. They get out of opening weekend.
#4 SEED POD (Vanderbilt-Harvard, Wisconsin-Montana)
Wisconsin is the nominal favorite here at the 4-spot, but Vanderbilt is one of the most talented teams in the bracket—in fact without Melo, I would say they’re the best team in the top half of the East. They can score and rebound down low with Festus Ezeli and Jeffrey Taylor. They can score from outside with Jeff Jenkins. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has Jordan Taylor, perhaps the best player in this foursome, can frustrate anyone with their ability to control temp and can get hot from three-point range as well as any team. A potential Saturday game with the Commodores and Badgers. Since I’m a Wisconsin fan I usually bail on making a pick, but in this case I can’t because to give away the ending, I think the winner of this pod is going to the Final Four. My heart is of course with Wisconsin, and in my pool sheets that’s who I’ll pick, because I don’t want to ever profit from a Wisconsin loss. But in my head I think it’s Vandy.
#3 SEED POD (Florida State-St. Bonaventure, Cincinnati-Texas)
I’m seeing Upset City all over this one. Florida State, whom I picked to win the ACC Tournament is absolutely ripe to be picked now and St. Bonaventure, with its outstanding post man in Andrew Nicholson is the one to do the picking. Cincinnati is similarly vulnerable after a good run to the final game in the Big East Tournament. Texas is playing good basketball right now, they’ve been competitive with the Big 12 elite of Kansas, Missouri and Baylor, they got a big win over Iowa State in the conference tournament and now Rick Barnes’ young Longhorns are going to win two games this weekend from the 11-seed spot.
#2 SEED POD (Ohio State-Loyola MD, Gonzaga-West Virginia)
The Gonzaga-WVA game should be great , but in the end form holds here and two-seed Ohio State moves forward. I like Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas’ ability to neutralize Gonzaga up front if that’s the matchup, and I don’t see West Virginia being able to exploit Ohio State’s lack of depth if it’s the Mountaineers who move forward.
LOOKING AHEAD TO BOSTON
The matchups I’ve picked are Vanderbilt-Syracuse and Ohio State-Texas. For the record, this sounds like a great idea for a football doubleheader, with a minor bowl game giving way to a big showdown. I noted above that I’m picking Vanderbilt, because with Melo out and the Buckeyes not very deep, the Commodores are the deepest and most talented team in this regional.