Wrapping up our look across the shootyhoops landscape, with Ohio State’s East Region. Don’t forget to get your picks in for tBBCBC before tip-off tomorrow- we’ve also linked to our “Impressions” of some of these teams from earlier in the year.
This is my worst nightmare.
A bit of a confession… I was a North Carolina fan as a kid (not living in Ohio), and loved Jordan, Perkins, Worthy, and Dean Smith basketball. Then, to make things worse, I did a grad degree in Lexington and worked with the athletic tutoring program during the Pitino/Mashburn era… yup, I was around for “The Shot“. Add to that some family in West Virginia (it’s all relative), a six year stint in Seattle, and the fact that I’ve finally come to my senses and follow Ohio State full time and this year’s East Region is a personal history of my career as a fan.
In addition to that, it’s got to be the most difficult region in recent memory. We talked about this in this week’s tBBC Radio Hour, but I’ve got to agree with Jeff Rapp’s assessment that this one is “loaded up”:
Yeah, it’s a tough region. But I’m a tough guy, so here’s what you need to know…
Bracket Favorites - This may be waaaay to obvious, but I believe that North Carolina and Ohio State have got to be the top dogs in this region.
We know how the Buckeyes have been playing, and the Tar Heels seem to have found their rhythm as well (collapse in ACC Final not withstanding). Both team excel on the defensive side of the court, which makes them stand out against some very athletic, but often undisciplined, teams who are hoping to emerge to the Final Four.
Cinderella Pick - Speaking of discipline, I think Princeton might be a surprise in the East. Notorious for their offensive patience, their first game against a very VERY young Kentucky team might play right into their hands. While Coach Cal is known for success, you’ve got to wonder how much he relies on athleticism rather than strategy- this game will be an early (or perhaps only) test. The Tigers will be riding a wave of emotion after their huge win against Harvard, and are in an ideal set of circumstances to pull the upset against one of college basketball’s true blue bloods.
Players to watch for - Other than all of the Buckeyes, you’ve got to know Kendall Marshall from North Carolina. The reason for their late season success, his ability to get comfortable in Roy Williams’ offense and take over games when necessary makes Carolina a threat at yet another deep tournament run. Another name is Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, who averages around 16 points per game for the Golden Eagles- he’s an important counterpunch to Marquette’s 6’11″ Chris Otule
Best unheralded player – In Ohio, we know all about Xavier’s Tu Holloway, but the rest of the country is poised to “discover” him this postseason. Holloway is averaging over 20 points a game to go with his 5 assists and 5 boards. If he finds a way to get on track the Musketeers might be taking second year coach Chris Mack all the way to the sweet 16.
Obscure team – The Blackbirds of Long Island. Yeah, I’d never heard of them either, but they were established in Brooklyn in 1926. Winners of the Northeast Conference, they also have the feel good story of the bracket in the person of Texan Julian Boyd; Boyd missed most of last season with a heart condition, but is currently leading the Blackbirds with 13 points and 9 rebounds a game. Famous LIU alumni include actress Dina Meyer and former Cleveland Browns President John Collins.
Elite 8 Picks – Ohio State and North Carolina, although I could see Syracuse riding one of their hot streaks and second round matchups in front of a very friendly crowd from New York City to the Elite 8 as well.
My pick? The team with the best balance, the ability to play inside and outside, as well as hit the mid-range shot, and the team with the best amount of freshman energy and senior leadership.
Yup. The Ohio State University.