2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: East Region - Is Michigan State on Too Much of a Roll?

Mike Lawrie

Michigan State rolled through Michigan in the Big 10 final. Does that signal that the Spartans are ready to take the East Region? We give you the mid-major teams to look out for, and also which players will warrant a second look during Thursday and Friday games.

The East region was the single region where no one could determine who would get the No. 1 seed. It eventually went to the ACC champ, Virginia, who the committee ruled had the best season from end to end.

That is an interesting ruling to make, considering the losses that the Cavaliers had early in the year. It would seem that Virginia could struggle to get out of the region and into the Final Four.

In fact, it looks like the team that should be looked upon as the favorite here is the one that it sitting at the No. 4 seed. Consider that Michigan State rolls in as the Big 10 champion, and the school that does not is not one to be trifled with in the NCAA Tournament. In the final against Michigan -- a team that ultimately got a No. 2 seed -- they stretched out a double digit lead and just looked superior in all aspects of the game.

They have a distinct advantage in the first game against Delaware and then a half of the region that looks like it will be lacking in tough outs for a team as tough and as healthy as the Spartans.

Look for a lot of green and white in Dallas.

Top Mid-Major picks to Pull Upsets:

1. Harvard's Depth Wears Down Cincinnati: Harvard is one of the deepest teams in the country, and that gets lost when you think of them just as any other Ivy League team. They are far from that. They have players who have been tested against one of the tougher nonconference schedules which included a win over Green Bay and near losses against UConn and Colorado. The Bearcats are one of the stiffer defenses in the country, but Harvard has a lot of weapons and Cincy won't be able to concentrate on one player as they could against a normal mid-major team. This team took down New Mexico last year, and they have more weapons this season.

2. St. Joe's Continues to Roll: At the beginning of the season, we looked at the depth on St. Joe's and saw that they don't have a weak point on their entire bench. They may not be the most talented group of players, but they can bring anyone into the game, and get quality contributions from them. The Hawks are going keep rolling with the play of Halil Kanacevic, who has emerged as the go-to player for St. Joe's and the big reason why they are the A-10 champions. There will be questions about whether the Hawks guards can stay with the UConn backcourt, which is scary, but there is no doubting that this team can compete with the Huskies, thanks to efficient shooting and all-around play.

3. North Carolina Central: If you don't pick a MEAC team to win a game in the NCAA Tournament, you aren't paying attention to history. This Eagles team is no exception to the great teams who have pulled shocking upsets in the past. Remember that they already have a win over an NCAA Tournament team, in North Carolina State, and they were in games against Wichita State and Cincinnati. They have been tested, and actually came out better for it when they got into the conference season. They are experienced and really good shot defenders, which should come in handy against Iowa State. The real question will be whether they can score enough and not get worried if they fall behind.

Mid-Major Players to Watch:

1. Devon Saddler, Delaware: We might only get to watch Saddler for one game, since they drew the tough test of playing Michigan State. But Saddler had a great season for the Blue Hens, and had to cover both scoring and ball distribution duties for Delaware at times this season. He is quicker than he looks, and should give the Michigan State defenders a tough time as he finds ways to weave the ball inside to his bigs. At 6-2, he will be undersized against the Spartans, but that hasn't stopped him all year.

2. Matt Tiby, Milwaukee: He cut his hair during the Horizon League Tournament, and it didn't seem to change the toughness and strength that the Panther forward plays with. There will be no more intense player on the floor when Milwaukee takes on Villanova, and that should mean something despite the obvious mismatch. Tiby is relentless in the post and will fight and scratch for every rebound. He will also annoy his opponents so much that they will keep putting him on the line, because they will foul him just to keep him quiet. Just watch, someone on Villanova will lose their cool because of him. And he will crack a little smile, and calmly hit his free throws.

3. Halil Kanacevic, St. Joe's: We mentioned how hot Kanacevic has been lately and that is an understatement. The senior pulled down 17 boards against St. Bonaventure during the A-10 semifinals and then 14 more against VCU. He should have no issues against UConn, who struggles to keep opponents off the boards. During February, Kanacevic was a monster offensively as the Hawks reeled off six wins during the month to crawl into contention for the regular season league title. He is very good at the kick out to his teammates for the open look if he is trapped inside. He doesn't look like the difference maker, but looks can certainly be deceiving.

Check out the full bracket and print one of your own. And don't forget to compete in the Mid-Major Madness bracket contest.

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