The Villanova Wildcats earned the No. 1 seed in the East Region and they certainly have the offense to win it. The Virginia Cavaliers are the 2-seed in the East Region. With the top defense in the country, they certainly have the ability to take it.
But then there is this pesky team from Cedar Falls, Iowa, that might have something to say about that, a team with a top 20 offense and defense, a team is well-balanced and hungry to prove itself.
Can the Northern Iowa Panthers get through to Indianapolis?
Favorite: Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as the top defensive team in the country, and while they have struggled over the last three games of the season, they will have time to rest up before facing Belmont in the first round. They won't be worn down from the ACC season. They won't be trying to playing on consecutive days any longer. And while Belmont has the ability to hit some crazy 3-pointers and really cause problems for any team with its long range shooting, Virginia is just that much better at defending, especially on the outside. Belmont won't have a chance at rebounding either, and that will certainly be their downfall. Anthony Gill is the name to know for the Cavs, who seem to have the easiest route to the regional finals of any team on the 2-line. Gill is a monster on the boards, especially on the offensive end, and he will help Virginia slow the game to their liking with long extended possessions on missed baskets.
Darkhorse: Northern Iowa Panthers
We mentioned this back in February, but Northern Iowa is one of the few teams in the country that is ranked in both the top 30 in offensive and defensive efficiency, now down to eight. That has been a leading indicator for teams that have been able to break through to the Final Four. The biggest problem for the Panthers is that they got stuck in a region with two of the others. But Northern Iowa is built to win this region. The Panthers are going to do it with defense primarily. If you remember how punishing Wichita State's defense was on their road to the Final Four, or even last season as they went undefeated in the regular season, Northern Iowa's defense might be better than that. They rotate players in waves which keeps everyone fresh, and everyone who is called on has the ability to cause the turnovers that they almost immediately turn into points. Plus the Panthers have one of the most underrated players in the country in Seth Tuttle. He has put together a season which should have him in consideration for a place on the First Team All-American squad. He likely won't get it. That would be a snub of one of the most impressive shooters in the country.
First Round Upset: UC Irvine Anteaters
Here is what you need to know about the Anteaters: Mamadou Ndiaye turns away 9.1 percent of the shots he sees on the floor. One out of every 11 will be sent into the stands. And if Ndiaye hadn't been injured for half the season, he might have done even better. At 7-6, he will be a tough matchup for any team that he faces up against. Just remember back to November when the Anteaters put up a very good game against Arizona. Ndiaye only had a single block in that game, but his presence meant so much more for Irvine. They almost got over the hump against the Wildcats, and Louisville is not Arizona. Look for Jaron Martin and Will Davis to help shoot the Anteaters into the second round in their first trip to the NCAA Tournament
Name to Know: Jordan Sibert, Dayton Flyers
Dayton shockingly just made it into the field, but got a bonus in getting to stay home and play its First Four game in Dayton. The Flyers will be led by Jordan Sibert, who if you don't remember him from last season, will take every opportunity to remind you how good he is against Boise State. He is a strong shooter and the strongest defender on the Flyers. He will badger the Broncos and will be the main reason why the Flyers are playing in the first round against Providence. He will likely be the reason they are playing into the second round against the Oklahoma-Albany winner.