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East Regional Preview: Sorry, but Hoosiers have no easy path

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

This one seems to be the toss-up region. Not in terms of a Final Four favorite; Indiana will run away with that and be picked in four out of five brackets. But for all the Round-of-64 and Round-of-32 matchups? You're going to notice a lot of disagreement. I think the East stands to have the best chance at the weirdest Sweet 16, Indiana's movement down the bracket aside.

I cannot do justice in this space with telling you how much I love one particular matchup: Butler-Bucknell. I have long loved Mike Muscala's game. And while I think Butler is good, it definitely has deficiencies that could come to bite it here. Andrew Smith vs. Muscala will be a very nice matchup. And don't expect a lot of turnovers. Bucknell doesn't force many, and neither does Butler. This will be close. Expect a final somewhere in the neighborhood of 61-58.

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Elsewhere, almost every Round-of-64 game intrigues. Montana has Will Cherry to go up against Syracuse/Michael Carter-Williams. Cherry's solid on D. NC State-Temple will be the 8/9 game that nobody talks about that turns into the best one. Illinois-Colorado could just get nuts if Colorado's defense can't control the pace.

Jim Boeheim's the only coach in the quadrant with a national title, but Tom Crean, Brad Stevens and Jim Larranaga have reached the Final Four. And a really nice story: Bob Thomason at Pacific had his team play him into the NCAA tournament after he announced his retirement before this season. He has been at the school for 25 years. Great stuff there. Pacific gets Miami.

Here's a breakdown of the East Regional:

THREE INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THE REGION

1. When Indiana doesn't make the Final Four, fans will lament not getting Indy.

I so very much enjoy what Tom Crean has built in Bloomington. I think Cody Zeller is actually, somehow, underrated at this point. Victor Oladipo has become the must-see player that college basketball needs every year. And yet, I don't think IU is getting out of this region. Had it been in Indy instead of D.C., then, yeah, definitely. And Hoosier fans will travel well, but nothing could compare to Lucas Oil being smothered in crimson.

2. This region will have more upset picks than any other.

Notice I said picks, not results. Big difference. Everyone's right in saying the Midwest is the toughest region. But if you hear the South or West is the most "wide open" of any, look again. Illinois might be a trendy seven-over-two pick, with Miami having its doubters despite winning the ACC. Cal over UNLV could become chic since Vegas has never put together a run of games this season that made people believe. Montana over Syracuse, Butler into the Elite Eight, even NC State -- preseason favorite in the ACC -- could be an upset that some people go with.

3. Butler could face a conference opponent in the Round of 32. How?

Well, technicality here, but yeah, because the Bulldogs will be announcing their move from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East for next season. And who's sitting as a No. 3 seed in this region? Marquette, which is pretty terribly over-seeded, by the way. That's a talking point that you probably won't hear too much on, but, jeez, Buzz Williams' team really got rewarded. This remains a possibility, just not one that I'm predicting.

FIVE BEST PLAYERS IN THE REGION

1. Victor Oladipo (Indiana): Athletic freak who was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year while averaging 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. Every possession is a potential highlight.
2. Cody Zeller (Indiana): Adroit center who has the best endline-to-endline speed of any big man in the game. Zeller leads the team with a 16.9 point and 8.2 rebound average.
3. Anthony Bennett (UNLV): Freshman power forward who brings the power. Hard to contain him in the paint, he makes Vegas the five seed that it is. Bennett averages 16.1 points and 8.1 boards.
4. Shane Larkin (Miami): Point guard who is the son to baseball's Barry Larkin. The young guy of the group, Larkin's game has gotten better as the year's gone on. He scores 14.2 points while dishing 4.3 assists.
5. Mike Muscala (Bucknell): As versatile a center as college hoops has. Though he could put on some weight, Bucknell's man in the middle can score from inside and out. Was Patriot League POY and scored 19 points combined with 11 rebounds, only one of two players this year to cross both those thresholds at that high an average.

FIVE BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE REGION

The biggest Round of 64 upset will be ... No. 14 Davidson over No. 3 Marquette. Marquette is a quality team that's well-coached but, again, it's overseeded. And Davidson has a better offense and the two best players on the floor. And guess what -- I'm not done with Davidson yet.

The lowest-seeded school to make the Sweet 16 will be ... No. 14 Davidson. The guess here is that Bob McKillop's team will upset Marquette and then beat Bucknell after the Bison take care of Butler. Davidson of course went to the Elite Eight a few years back, when Stephen Curry turned into an NBA player in front of our eyes. Now it's time for these Wildcats to show how good Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks are. And Davidson is the best free-throw-shooting team in the nation, by the way. Can only help them.

The player the country doesn't know now but will know by Saturday is ... Davidson's De'mon Brooks. He's going to be ready and reap rewards against Marquette, which will be forced to mind Cohen's versatile ability to score from different spots. Brooks is a stud of a forward.

The Elite Eight showdown will feature ... No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Miami. Yeah, you heard right. I'm taking the Orange over Indiana in the Sweet 16 because I think Jim Boeheim's team has the talent and defense to play against IU. I think it stands to be an incredible game. Can the Hoosiers beat the zone? I'm not sure. This is a bit of a wild card, but why not have a little fun? As for Miami, it's the oldest team in college basketball with a sophomore point guard that's beyond his years. The Canes will probably still be smarting from not getting a No. 1 seed, too.

The champion of the East Region will be ... No. 2 Miami. Jim Larranaga is going back to the Final Four, only this team it won't be with a mid-major, like he did in 2006 at George Mason. Larranaga has already wrapped up the National Coach of the Year, in my opinion, and here we'll see even more reason why Miami has had such a perfect, charmed season. Hurricanes are very much for real, folks, and they got the right draw to prove it with a trip to Atlanta.
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