Making the rights picks in a March Madness bracket is never easy, and the East region in 2015 provides no exception. The group is headlined by No. 1 seed Villanova (32-2) and No. 2 seed Virginia (29-3), with the Wildcats easily running through the Big East to take the conference championship, while the Cavaliers were considered one of the top teams all year.
Both Villanova and Virginia are favored to make the Final Four and contend for a championship. No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Louisville round out the top four in the East region. Both the Sooners and Cardinals are defensive stalwarts that have been plagued by inconsistent scoring.
The rest of the field consists of interesting matchups. In a fortunate case of a neutral court advantage, Dayton face Boise St. at their home court in the first round to see which team earns the No. 11 seed and a chance to play No. 6 Providence. The game against the Friars would be in Columbus, Ohio, which would ostensibly be another home game for the Flyers, should they advance.
No. 7 seed Michigan State lurks as a potential threat for a long tournament run, the Spartans under coach Tom Izzo always seem to put it together in March. No. 5 Northern Iowa (30-3) might be underrated as well, since the school comes from the lesser known Missouri Valley Conference.
Betting odds to win the region have Villanova as the favorites at 9/5, followed by Virginia, 5/2, according to Bovada.lv. The rest of the field's odds shrink from that point on. Northern Iowa is 8/1, and Michigan State (9/1) and Oklahoma (9/1) are right behind.
The odds for the next 12 schools come out this way:
NC State 25/1
Boise State 66/1
UC Irvine 150/1
Here’s a look at what any amateur bracketologist should know about the East region heading into the tournament:
Player to watch: Seth Tuttle, PF, Northern Iowa
The East region doesn’t boast a lot of individual star power. Villanova and Virginia are two teams that rely on balanced, team-centric play. Tuttle does just about everything for UNI, however. The 6’8 senior forward averages 15.3 points per game along with 6.8 rebounds. If Northern Iowa makes a run, it will likely be centered around Tuttle.
The No. 1 seeded Wildcats are seemingly dead-even with No. 2 Virginia. Jay Wright’s Wildcat squad scores from all over and made easy work of the Big East. Nova will shoot a lot of three-pointers, and rely on the stewardship of senior guard Darrun Hilliard.
Look for sophomore guard Josh Hart to make an impact off the bench. He won the Big East Tournament MVP despite coming off the bench.
Upset Pick: Michigan State
It feels odd to call the Spartans an upset pick, but a seven-seed is a seven-seed. The Spartans are playing really well, even taking the West region's No. 1 seed Wisconsin to overtime in the Big Ten tournament final. Izzo’s duo of guards, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice, are dangerous under the direction of an experienced and successful coach. Don’t be surprised if the Spartans vastly outplay their seeding.
For an individual game upset, consider Dayton over Providence, should the Flyers make it to the second round. Providence might be a weak six-seed and Dayton will basically have home-court advantage.
Conclusion: Pick Virginia
This region is probably the most wide open. In the end, Villanova might be too dependent on three-point shots and may feel the effects of a true go-to guy. Virginia allows the fewest points (50.8 per game) in the NCAA, with Tony Bennett squad’s commitment to pack-line defense perhaps enough to carry them. Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon leads the team in scoring with 13.9 ppg, and star guard Justin Anderson might be able to turn it around after being sidelined with injuries. The Spartans can be the shock pick here, but Virginia probably has enough to advance to the Final Four.