We are going region by region looking at the Thursday/Friday matchups and talking about some of the main storylines and what you can expect from the region as a whole.
Up first is the East Regional.
#1 Virginia (KP Ranks - Ovr: 4, Off: 25, Def: 3) vs #16 Coastal Carolina (Ovr: 232, Off: 298, Def: 124)
Friday 3/21 approx 8:25 CDT in Raleigh, NC
Nothing to see here really. A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed, and I don't expect that to change. The slow, methodical pace should theoretically give Coastal Carolina a chance since there won't be nearly as many possessions, but the suffocating defense that accompanies it should put any hope of an upset out of mind early.
#8 Memphis (Ovr: 45, Off: 66, Def: 53) vs #9 George Washington (Ovr: 46, Off: 81, Def: 44)
Friday 3/21 5:55pm CDT in Raleigh, NC
The most evenly-matched game in the entire tournament. Memphis has the slight offensive advantage, but George Washington has a nearly equal defensive advantage. While George Washington is the hotter team right now, Memphis has clearly been playing better opponents over that time period. I'd lean towards Memphis on this one, but this will likely be a highly entertaining game.
#5 Cincinnati (Ovr: 24, Off: 109, Def: 9) vs #12 Harvard (Ovr: 33, Off: 55, Def: 33)
Thursday 3/20 1:10 pm CDT in Spokane, WA
Looking at the ranks, you would think that Harvard's advantage on offense (3.3 points) is much bigger than Cincinnati's advantage on defense (4.9), but the opposite is actually true. Cincinnati really looks to have an elite D, and while I initially leaned towards Harvard, I'm definitely going to have to go with Cincinnati here. This is the one 5-12 upset that probably won't materialize.
#4 Michigan State (Ovr: 10, Off: 11, Def: 39) vs #13 Delaware (Ovr: 105, Off: 60, Def: 192)
Thursday 3/20 approx 3:40 CDT in Spokane, WA
With no real marquee win to their name, the Fighting Blue Hens don't seem like a good candidate to pull the upset. The hot streak they are on lends itself to thinking they can pull off the improbable, but Michigan State just won the Big 10 tournament title, so they are on a bit of a streak themselves, and against much better competition. They just seem too strong here. It's too bad, because the mascot for the Blue Hens wins the award for Most Likely to be a MegaMan Villain (check it out here). I'm tempted to fill out a mascot bracket just so I can pick them to move on.
#6 North Carolina (Ovr: 26, Off: 58, Def: 22) vs #11 Providence (Ovr: 40, Off: 22, Def: 92)
Friday 3/21 6:20 CDT in San Antonio, TX
North Carolina has nearly twice the defensive advantage as Providence has an offensive advantage, but believe it or not, Providence is actually the hotter team right now. Sure, UNC had won 13 out of 14 before losing their last two, but the only wins of note in that group were home wins against Duke and Pittsburgh. Providence pushed Villanova to two overtimes, played Creighton tough on the road, and then ran through the Big East tournament. They are definitely the hotter of the two teams, and North Carolina has already shown enough unpredictability to keep me from trusting them completely in this matchup.
#3 Iowa State (Ovr: 23, Off: 15, Def: 54) vs #14 NC Central (Ovr: 78, Off: 117, Def: 63)
Friday 3/21 approx 8:50 CDT in San Antonio, TX
Not much to talk about here, as Iowa State is much better on offense, and a bit better on defense. Really, I was surprised at how low their defense actually was. It definitely might be their weakness that could send them home, but not in this game.
#7 Connecticut (Ovr: 25, Off: 80, Def: 11) vs #10 Saint Joseph's (Ovr: 49, Off: 68, Def: 55)
Thursday 3/20 5:55 CDT in Buffalo, NY
Connecticut hails from a much tougher conference, where the top 5 teams spent the entire season beating up on each other. Saint Joseph's had a good run through the A-10 tournament, but I don't think their defense can hold up to the pressure brought by Connecticut.
#2 Villanova (Ovr: 6, Off: 16, Def: 14) vs #15 Milwaukee (Ovr: 163, Off: 177, Def: 172)
Thursday 3/20 approx 8:25 CDT in Buffalo, NY
Villanova is just too balanced a team to make this anything but a solid win. Milwaukee, the 5-seed in the Horizon tournament, had a nice run to get to the Big Dance, but they won't stay for long.
Most Likely First-Game Upset: #11 Providence over #6 North Carolina
This was outlined pretty well up above, but North Carolina has shown a propensity to play down to their perception of the competition, and if they guess wrong, they have a hard time turning it on to retake control of the situation.
Low-Seeded (Outside Top 4) Runner: #6 North Carolina
Despite the fact that they are ripe for an upset, if they get past that first round matchup, I like their chances to start piling up wins. They have already shown they can beat teams with good offenses or good defenses, and they are up and down enough that they really can beat anyone. Iowa State would be a bad matchup, but UNC has the versatility to hang with Iowa State on the outside.
Final Four Pick: Iowa State over Virginia
I hadn't realized just how solid a team Virginia has been until I sat down and researched the teams for this post. But their slow pace makes them susceptible to teams that can heat it up from outside, and Iowa State can definitely do that.