Being the No. 1 overall seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket has its privileges. You usually get to play a number of pseudo home games and are supposed to get a favorable draw. So I get why Ohio State is playing in Cleveland, Ohio for the first two rounds, and I get why their second round matchup will be against one of two teams that do not belong in the March Madness field to begin with. It's a sleep walk to the Sweet Sixteen, but that's where the Buckeyes benefits end.
If you consider seeding, Thad Matta's boys were downright jobbed by drawing some heavy hitters as top four seeds. One through four - Ohio State, Kentucky, Syracuse, and North Carolina - comprise the best collection of big dogs of any region in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, I'd argue that each of these four teams is more dangerous than their respective seed line peers for any other reason of the bracket.
As for the rest of the seeds in the East, I don't see a lot of upset potential, and I'd be surprised if this bracket didn't play according to seed after the opening round (with the exception of a possible 'Cuse over UNC 3-2 upset).
No surprises here. Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Kentucky are the class of this region. Obviously, Ohio State is the best team in the land and here's why. They have the best player in college basketball in Jared Sullinger and surround him with experienced talent that spreads the floor. On defense, their length and experience on the perimeter allows the Bucks to really bother teams who don't run their stuff or get impatient.
The two-seed North Carolina Tar Heels pose their own unique challenges. They have the best offensive front court in college basketball and are one of the few teams that can boast a true five in Zeller, a true four in Henson, and most importantly a true three man in Harrison Barnes. Barnes isn't an oversized third guard, he's a true small forward who can play inside and out making him a matchup nightmare. Don't believe me, ask Kyle Singler.
The three-seed Syracuse Orangemen are unique in style. They are big and athletic as usual but that active zone defense is what gives opposing offenses fits, especially in a tournament setting with preparation time at a premium. Your team may see a Syracuse style zone once all season if they're lucky.
Kentucky is a dangerous four-seed who happens to be peaking at the right time. They boast more NBA talent than any of the other teams on the four line, and Coach Calipari has them firing on all cylinders on both ends. The committee did the Buckeyes no favors here by putting the Wildcats as a four in this region.
Not many. Perhaps Marquette can win two games as an 11 by getting past Xavier and then using familiarity with Syracuse zone to pull off an upset in the second round. Jae Crowder has to play better than he did in the Big East tournament and center Chris Otule has to give the Golden Eagles more productive minutes to allow Crowder to slide to his natural position as a hybrid four. If not, Xavier will beat them. Other than that I don't see any other double digit seeds making noise outside of round one.
All Region Team
My front court could potentially go six-deep and matchup with any other region in the tourney. Sullinger is my five for obvious reasons. I had him penciled in on this team last May.
The power forward is fellow freshman Terrence Jones of Kentucky. His dynamic inside/outside skill set would complement what Sullinger does on the boxes. Find me a better pair of bigs in this tournament.
My small forward is yet another frosh, Harrison Barnes. I don't want a third guard in my lineup. We're not building a mid-major here.
At shooting guard is Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom, who's explosive getting to the rack and credible shooting the ball from beyond the arc. He nudges out the electric Demontez Stitt of Clemson and the steady combo-guard Brandon Triche of the Orange.
Point guard goes to perhaps the most underrated player in the country in Tu Holloway. He does it all for the Xavier Musketeers, getting buckets in bunches at over 20 points per game, dishing out over five dimes per contest, and pulling down five boards with his 6'0" frame. Not many folks know who Tu is but Marquette better.
When your filling in your East brackets, remember that upsets will be the exception and playing according to seed will be the rule in this region. Marquette is the only double digit seed that will grab a win with the top four seeds advancing to the round of sixteen.
In Newark, Syracuse's zone is tailor made to defeat a UNC squad that lacks a credible jumpshooter outside of Harrison Barnes. The Tar Heels lost this game when Reggie Bullock was injured.
The top half of the bracket is a similar styled matchup nightmare for Kentucky. The Wildcats lack the true blow-by guard it takes to do damage to Ohio State's long athletic perimeter defenders. Without much of a dribble drive threat, the Buckeyes can focus on contesting jumpers around the arc. On the other end, Sullinger creates enough double teams to manufacture offense for teammates against the young Wildcats. Diebler goes 4 for 6 from deep and is a direct beneficiary of UK's help to the talented post.
In the Regional Final, the Buckeyes can deploy enough shooters against Syracuse's zone which allows Sullinger room to duck into cracks and crevices in the zone's interior for a monster game. Like Kentucky, Syracuse lacks the explosive guard play necessary to win a shootout with the Buckeyes.
Ohio State advances to Houston looking like the best team in the land, as predicted back in November.