Southeast: It’s Panthers’ for the taking
This is the easiest region in the tournament and Pittsburgh should be able to take advantage.
Somehow, Florida got a No. 2 seed despite losing to Kentucky in the SEC championship game on Sunday afternoon.
BYU earned a No. 3 seed though The Jimmers clearly aren’t the same team since losing big man Brandon Davies to an honor code violation shortly before the end of the regular season.
This region is loaded with quality mid-major teams: No. 8 Butler, No. 9 Old Dominion, No. 11 Gonzaga, No. 12 Utah State, No. 13 Belmont and No. 14 Wofford.
There are also some big-time coaches with Tom Izzo, Jamie Dixon, Billy Donovan, Ben Howland, Mark Few, Bo Ryan and Brad Stevens manning the sidelines.
Don’t be shocked if there are plenty of upsets in this region.
Best first-round matchup: No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 Michigan State. Howland vs. Izzo. No more needs to be said.
Best potential matchup: No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 4 Wisconsin. The Panthers would go up against one of the top duos in the nation in the Badgers’ guard Jordan Taylor and skilled big man Jon Leuer if this Sweet 16 matchup materializes.
Upset special: No. 11 Gonzaga over No. 6 St. John’s. I can’t believe this qualifies as an upset, but that’s what the numbers say. The ‘Zags are playing well of late — and I just don’t trust the Red Storm all that much away from Madison Square Garden.
Cinderella? No. 10 Michigan State. I know the Spartans have been a train wreck for most of the season and Izzo is frustrated with this group, but I just couldn’t resist from taking Izzo as a dog.
My pick: Pittsburgh. These guys have toughness, quality guard play and enough big bodies up front. The Panthers also have experience — and one heck of a coach in Dixon.
A year ago, The Jimmer knocked Florida out of the Big Dance in the first round. Now the Gators get another shot — but now everyone knows about Jimmer Fredette.
Who would have ever thought that Michigan State and UCLA would be matching up in a 7-10 game? But Izzo’s Spartans go in as the No. 10 seed and Howland’s Bruins are the No. 7 seed.
Which Kansas State team will show up? The Wildcats were one of the major disappointments early in the season, but came on strong down the stretch. Can Jake Pullen continue his stellar play of the past month?
Mid-Major Darlings. Two of the top mid-major programs in the country, Butler and Gonzaga, are both in the region — and both finished strong with conference tournament titles to earn the automatic berth. Can either one make some noise this March?
Lavin’s Return. Steve Lavin took over a St. John’s team that is loaded with seniors and he’s made college hoops in New York relevant again. However, the Red Storm lost D.J. Kennedy to a season-ending knee injury earlier this week — and we’ll see whether the Johnnies can get past Gonzaga in the first round without him.
Top Players to Watch:
Brad Wanamaker, 6-4, 210, G, Sr., Pittsburgh
Jimmer Fredette, 6-2, 195, G, Sr., BYU
Jordan Taylor, 6-1, 195, G, Jr., Wisconsin
Jon Leuer, 6-10, 230, F, Sr., Wisconsin
Jake Pullen, 6-1, 200, G, Sr., Kansas State
Chandler Parsons, 6-10, 220, F, Sr., Florida
Best Player You’ve Never Heard of: Frank Hassell, 6-9, F, Sr., Old Dominion
Overrated: No. 3 BYU
Underrated: No. 11 Gonzaga