Favorite: North Carolina
For the 15th time in program history, the Tar Heels sit atop one of the four regions ready to march toward another National Championship. For head coach Roy Williams, this is his sixth time earning a No. 1 seed at Carolina and this could be a season he wins it all. Finishing just shy of a 30-win season (28-6), the Tar Heels are a force to reckon with, winning five in a row as they marched through the ACC Tournament. The most impressive thing the Tar Heels have shown over the last few games has been their defense. Carolina whipped Norte Dame in the conference semis and held Virginia without a field goal for nearly eight minutes in the title game.
Brice Johnson leads the Tar Heels with 16.6 points and 10.6 rebounds a night, and is always a player to expect a career performance on any given night. Joel Berry and Marcus Paige, who offer a dynamic scoring threat for any team to contain, join Johnson for a 1-2-3 punch from any direction. Carolina has a deep bench to combat any issue it faces on a march to a championship and with its 82-point average per game, teams will need a stellar defensive effort to upset the Heels. Carolina plays its best when it's running and gunning and the best way to beat the Heels, dictate tempo.
Carolina certainly will not have an easy path to the final four, with Xavier, West Virginia and UK landing in the East bracket.
Dark Horse: Indiana
The Hoosiers have won six of their last eight, losing to Penn State and Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game 72-69. However, IU has beaten Iowa twice, ranked No. 4 and 16, No. 17 Purdue and No. 14 Maryland 80-62. Finishing 25-7 in the Big Ten is certainly nothing to take lightly, as the Michigan State Spartans were the only team the really handled the Hoosiers with ease in conference play. Yogi Ferrll leads the Hoosiers with 17 points per game, as his team drops 82+ each night. The Hoosiers shoot at a clip of 50 percent from the field and owns a plus-7 margin on the glass against their opponents. I like the Hoosiers to meet the Cats in the second round in a game that is totally guard heavy. First to 85 in this game wins.
Best First Round Upset: Michigan
Michigan is a team that is like short circuit. One night its on, the next its off, and the season as been this way from the word go for the Wolverines. Over the last month, Michigan has dropped five of eight, but beat a good Indiana team in the Big Ten semifinals before falling to Purdue. The Wolverines score it a clip of 74 points a night led by Caris LeVert's 16.5 per contest. Michigan spreads the wealth with four players averaging double-figures and can go eight deep without suffering a significant drop off. Defensively, the Wolverines allow nearly 68 an outing, leaving little room for error. Having to play through a 20-11 Tulsa team shouldn't create too much of a challenge for Michigan, setting up a battle with No. 6 Notre Dame. The Irish have been hot and cold all season, and with losing four of its last seven coming into the tournament, including a 31-point beat down by UNC, have them searching for any sign of life coming into the field of 68 and very vulnerable for the taking.
Player to Know:
WVU's Jaysean Paige is the catalyst to the Press-Virginia mentality and his ability to stay on the court allows this team to do what it does best, score off turnovers. Paige leads the way for the Mountaineers with 14 points per contest. WVU could be one of the most dangerous teams in the East Region, as their ability to press off the bus can create havoc for even the most disciplined teams in the nation.
Intriguing Matchups Along the Way:
Obviously UNC versus either UK or Indiana should be a great matchup, something one wouldn't expect in the Sweet 16. Wisconsin versus Xavier should be a good matchup but the game that could be one to remember is Xavier and WVU. Xavier has a deep bench that can run with WVU's press and tempo and scores over 81 a game.
East Regional Prediction:
North Carolina 82 WVU 75