The East Region of the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket, which will wrap up next Friday and Sunday, March 25th and 27th, in Newark, N.J., is anchored by Ohio State, the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes, a team that has a nice mix of veterans and youngsters, as well as inside and outside talent, are one of the two favorites this season, along with Kansas.
Don't expect things to be easy for the Buckeyes, however, as this regional is absolutely stacked. Naturally, you can expect Thad Matta's team to get past winner of the First Four game between Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State, and likely their Second Round matchup against either Villanova or George Mason. But things will get rough when Ohio State reaches New Jersey, as they could face SEC Tournament champion Kentucky in the regional semifinal. The young Wildcats seem to be getting things together at the right time, and they'll have rabid fan support backing them up wherever they play. West Virginia, the team that knocked John Calipari's team full of NBA prospects out in the East Regional final, is a potential weekend opponent for Kentucky.
Come to think of it, No. 2 seed North Carolina and third-seeded Syracuse have also found themselves late in the season, rebounding from earlier struggles to earn protected seeds. With expected wins Friday, the teams will face stern tests in the Third Round on Sunday. The Tar Heels could face a seventh-seeded Washington team that made a Sweet Sixteen run last season, and is primed to do the same this time around. Meanwhile, the Orange could encounter a sixth-seeded Xavier team that is equipped to shoot its way past Jim Boeheim's 2-3 Zone defense. Syracuse's other potential Third Round opponent is a Marquette team they lost to in Milwaukee during Big East play.
Most Intriguing Second Round Game: No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Princeton in Tampa on Thursday: While the Tigers are known for a slowdown style, they can play uptempo too, which is dangerous given how efficient their offense can be. Plus, they have the maturity to give a Wildcat team full of freshmen fits.
Upset Special: The winner of the UAB-Clemson First Four game over No. 5 West Virginia on Thursday: The Mountaineers haven't played well away from Morgantown from late, plus they could be a bit rusty after losing in Wednesday's Big East Tournament second round. A Blazer or Tiger team with game experience and a chip on its shoulder just may be able to make a statement if West Virginia's shooters, like Casey Mitchell, can't get on track.
Chris Dobbertean's Regional Pick: Ohio State, and the Buckeyes will head to San Antonio tested, as this region is not an easy path.