The East Region of the NCAA Tournament is the only region where the top 4 seeds have all advanced to the regional semi-finals, which means there will be four good teams slugging it out for a trip to Atlanta this weekend. Even with a lot of chalk, there was no shortage of excitement coming out of the East during the tournament’s opening weekend. Let’s take a closer look at what happened and what’s going to happen this weekend in Washington D.C.
Butler is certainly the best team in this region not to advance out of the second round. The 6 seed Bulldogs found themselves in a tight game against Marquette, but missed a pair of potential game-winning three-point attempts late, spoiling another strong tournament performance. The 9 seed Temple came up a little short in its bid for an upset over top-seeded Indiana. Khalif Wyatt scored 31 points and could not be stopped by the Hoosier’s defense for much of the game. Behind Wyatt’s heroics, the Owls led down the stretch, but Indiana stormed back in the final minute to win, sending Temple home.
Illinois also put a scare into Miami, but the 7 seed wasn’t able to pull out a win over the Hurricanes in the final minutes. As expected, the 11 seed Bucknell and the 14 seed Davidson both played well and came close to pulling off a first round upset, although neither was able to advance.
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The top seeded Indiana Hoosiers survived a major second round scare from Temple in order to advance to the Sweet 16. Indiana was forced to play a slow down game against the Owls, which is out of their comfort zone, but they managed to score the final 10 points of the game and pull out a win in the final minutes to keep their national title hopes alive. Miami breezed past Pacific in the first round, but really had to work to get past Illinois in the second round. Shane Larkin came through in the clutch to ensure that the Hurricanes went through to the Sweet 16. Marquette may be the luckiest team still alive in the tournament after winning two games that easily could have gone the other way.
The Golden Eagles needed Davidson to make a late turnover to give them a chance to win on a late bucket to survive the first round, and then Marquette survived after making a similar turnover with seconds remaining in their second round win over Butler. Marquette has played with fire through the first two rounds, but they’ve escaped serious burns and made it to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, fellow Big East member Syracuse has had a relatively easy road to get to the tournament’s second weekend after blowing out Montana and winning comfortably over Cal, despite an ugly last few minutes. Despite only having to play a 13 and a 12 seed, the Orange have continued to play well following a good performance in the Big East Tournament.
Who’s playing who:
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The Sweet 16 will get started Thursday night in the East Region with 2 seed Miami playing 3 seed Marquette. The Hurricanes have handled being the favorite well so far, but the Sweet 16 is a whole new level of pressure for a team that hasn’t been there before, especially considering they will be playing a veteran Marquette team that has been to this round of the tournament each of the past two years. The Golden Eagles may be a little lucky to still be alive, but reaching the final 16 three years in a row is no accident.
As for the game, look for the Golden Eagles to come out with a lot of effort and intensity, especially on the defensive end. Miami will have to be able to match Marquette’s energy level, and Larkin will have to take care of the basketball against a feisty defense. Defensively, the Hurricanes will have to pay close attention to Vander Blue, who averaged 15 points per game during the regular season, but then scored the game-winning basket against Davidson before going off for 29 points against Butler. If Blue outplays Larkin, the Golden Eagles will likely advance; if Larkin gets the better of Blue, it’ll put Miami in position to advance. Either way, it should be a close and exciting game.
The nightcap in Washington will be the 1 seed Indiana against the 4 seed Syracuse. This is a matchup between Indiana’s potent offense and Syracuse’s stingy defense. The Hoosiers will look to spread the floor, but the size and length of the Orange 2-3 zone tends to turn good shooting teams into mediocre shooting teams. The x-factor could be Indiana center Cody Zeller, if he’s able to score inside consistently and force the zone to constrict around him.
Syracuse was eliminated last year when they couldn’t handle Jared Sullinger in the post, and they could meet the same fate this year if they can’t contain Zeller. On the other side, if the Hoosiers don’t play good defense and Syracuse is able to make shots and keep pace with the Indiana offense, the advantage could turn to the Syracuse, who is more likely to come up with a defensive stop late in the game when they really need it. Indiana was able to grind out a win over Temple, but if they have to do the same against Syracuse, it could be a different story.