East Regional: Syracuse looks to have an easy road to NOLA

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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Syracuse is the favorite.

The Orange should be able to get past UNC-Asheville in its first game, then shouldn't have much difficulty with a second-round matchup against either Kansas State or Southern Miss.

To be honest, this region isn't overly intimidating.

Ohio State and Florida State have been enigmas. The Buckeyes are talented among their top four players, but have underachieved. The Seminoles are playing well, but it's tough to predict which team will show up. Bo Ryan has milked as much as he could out of his Wisconsin team this season and it's difficult to imagine the Badgers doing much of anything.

Vanderbilt, much like Florida State, is tough to figure. The Commodores were a top-10 pick in the preseason but injuries to big man Festus Ezeli took their toll early. Even so, Vandy still has been inconsistent -- even with Ezeli's return to full speed.

Can lower-seeded teams like Southern Miss, West Virginia, Texas and Harvard make some noise? It would be surprising.

Truth be told, the road is paved to some degree for a Syracuse club that has battled numerous off-court issues. Now we'll see if they can continue passing such tests.

Five main storylines

1. Orange persistence: Syracuse has endured an eventful season -- on and off the court. The Orange found a way to overcome several off-court internal issues to win the Big East regular-season title. Can Jim Boeheim get out of the east and advance to New Orleans -- the site of the school's national title back in 2003?

2. Eggheads unite:The Academic Bowl -- Nice of the committee to pit Harvard against Vanderbilt right off the bat. Can't even begin to imagine the GPA's with those two teams.

3. Home cooking: Bob Huggins and West Virginia were rewarded by the committee and will play Gonzaga in Pittsburgh -- which is just 75 miles from Morgantown.

4. Sully's challenge: Can Jared Sullinger lead Ohio State to the Final Four after returning for his sophomore season? The Buckeyes shared the Big Ten regular-season crown and came up short in the conference tourney, but no one will remember any of that if Ohio State gets to the Final Four.

5. Seeing Red: Harvard -- The Crimson got in for the first time since 1946, but can they make any noise in the tourney? It'll be a tough first game against Vandy.

East Regional Picks

Who will win: Syracuse appears to have caught a break with the easiest region of the four No. 1 seeds.

Dark-horse pick: Vanderbilt has been up and down, but it looks like Festus Ezeli is finally healthy physically and mentally and now these guys have swagger after beating Kentucky to win the SEC tournament.

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Most likely upset: West Virginia over Gonzaga. The Mountaineers are playing in their backyard against a 'Zags team that has to come a long, long way.

Best mascot: West Virginia Mountaineer. No one wants to mess with this guy.

Best point guard: Ohio State's Aaron Craft may not blow you away, especially on offense, but he is one of the elite perimeter defenders, knows how to run a team -- and is capable of scoring when necessary.

Best post player: Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. The Buckeyes' big man uses his derriere as well as anyone in the country to score around the basket. Once he gets the ball in the paint, he's difficult for anyone to stop.

Best coach: West Virginia's Bob Huggins. Most would say Jim Boeheim, but Huggins is a terrific Xs and Os guy. He's won 639 Division 1 games in his career.

Best reputation: Wisconsin's Bo Ryan can flat-out coach. He was successful at Division III Wisconsin-Plattesville and has led the Badgers to the NAA tournament in each of his 11 seasons in Madison.

Five stars on display

1. Jared Sullinger: He could have left for the NBA a year ago, but opted to return to go for a national title. He entered the season as the front-runner for National Player of the Year honors and while he's had a terrific season (17.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg), he hasn't dominated as much as many anticipated.

2. West Virginia's Kevin Jones: Probably would have won Big East Player of the Year if he had a more competent supporting cast. Jones averaged 20.1 points and 11.1 boards -- and was only the third player in league history to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding.

3. Vanderbilt's John Jenkins: He's somewhat one-dimensional, but there may be no more prolific perimeter shooter in the entire country. Jenkins averaged 20 points and has shot at least 41 percent from beyond the arc each of his three seasons with the Commodores.

4. Florida State's Michael Snaer: The junior wing has made big shots this season for the surging 'Noles -- and he's more than just a scorer. He's a terrific perimeter defender as well.

5. Syracuse's Dion Waiters: Arguably the best sixth-man in the nation. Waiters, a strong and athletic sophomore guard, has accepted and thrived in his role coming off the bench after nearly being booted off the team a year ago. When the Orange needs a basket, Jim Boeheim puts the ball in Waiters' hands.

Six random notes

1. Florida State comes in with as much momentum as anyone, having knocked off North Carolina to win the ACC tourney.

2. Harvard is making its first NCAA appearance since 1946.

3. The last time Gonzaga didn't win the WCC regular-season or tournament title was in 1997.

4. Southern Mississippi is making its first NCAA appearance since 1990 -- when it was a member of the Metro Conference.

5. No head coach is more entertaining in the entire field than Loyola's Jimmy Patsos -- who used to work as a bartender.

6. This region has its share of Canadians: St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson, Texas' Myck Kabongo, Syracuse's Kris Joseph and Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos.

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