In a year full of parity in college basketball, it’s been tough to scope out the elite versus the meek.
That remains true in Pitt’s East Region of the NCAA Tournament, as it’s difficult to pick out the contenders in the grouping. There is an array of teams that can make noise in the corner of the bracket
1 SEED: NORTH CAROLINA (28-6) – Roy Williams’ team is coming off of a sweep of ACC championships, winning the regular season and tournament titles. The Tar Heels are deep at all positions, sporting multiple talented big men, such as Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, as well as talented guards, such as Joel Berry II, Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson. All that firepower will be hard for any team in the region to stomp out.
2 SEED: XAVIER (27-5) – One of two Big East teams to earn a No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament, the Musketeers are a tough team, and under head coach Chris Mack, have tournament experience and a bevy of confidence. They rebound well, feature tremendous depth and have impressive wins over Villanova, Michigan and Butler.
3 SEED: WEST VIRGINIA (26-8) – The runner-up in the Big 12 tournament is as ferocious a defense as one will find in college basketball. Affectionately nicknamed “Press Virginia,” the Mountaineers wreak havoc on opponent’s offensive sets, playing full-court press throughout the entire game. If West Virginia shoots well, its peak is higher than most other squads.
4 SEED: KENTUCKY (26-8) – You won’t find a more talented four seed in the tournament than the Wildcats. They feature the diminutive-but-dynamic point guard Tyler Ulis, who can score and dish it as well as anyone in the country, alongside Jamal Murray, who surged in Kentucky’s SEC Tournament title run. Head coach John Calipari has to get some production out of disappointing blue chip recruit Skal Labissière, who needs to become a force in the paint.
5 SEED: INDIANA (25-7) – The Hoosiers proved this year that they can compete against the best of the best, beating out Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin for the Big Ten regular season title. But they went out with a whimper in the Big Ten tournament, losing on a buzzer-beater to Michigan in their first game. Senior point guard Yogi Ferrell might have a storied tournament performance in him, but he’ll need help from his supporting cast, such as Thomas Bryant and Max Bielfeldt.
6 SEED: NOTRE DAME (21-11) – Notre Dame looked poised for another strong run in the ACC tournament, until it ran into the buzzsaw of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Despite that 30-point loss, the Fighting Irish field a diverse attack, with speedy point guard Demetrius Jackson and shooter Steve Vasturia complimenting big men V.J. Beachem, Bonzie Colson and Zach Auguste. That versatility makes the Irish a difficult matchup.
7 SEED: WISCONSIN (20-12) – The Panthers’ first opponent is the reigning runner-up of last year’s tournament, but they have lost a lot of pieces since then. Without their former coach — Bo Ryan — and two best players — Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker — from their team last year, the Badgers are led by new coach Greg Gard and returners Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Those two have played on the biggest stage before, and other teams can’t undervalue that experience.
8 SEED: USC (21-12) While Wisconsin sports experience in big games, the Trojans lack any, with this tournament appearance being their first since 2012. Coach Andy Enfield has some experience as a bracket-buster, leading Florida Gulf Coast University to the Sweet 16 in 2013. Their offense is balanced, with five scorers averaging double-figures, but will likely need someone to step up as a go-to-guy if they want to advance past the first weekend of the tournament.
9 SEED: PROVIDENCE (23-10) Providence has high-octane star power on its roster, with sensational point guard Kris Dunn and high-scoring forward Ben Bentil carrying the Friars to another NCAA Tournament berth. Those two have the ability to will their team to a win any time out, and higher-seeded teams can overlook the duo at their own peril.
13 SEED: STONY BROOK (26-6) The Seawolves have the look of a potential mid-major Cinderella story, even with their tough first round matchup against Kentucky withstanding. They’re headed by one star, but that one star, Jameel Warney, is a force in the paint. He scored 43 points in Stony Brook’s American East championship game, which sent the program to its first-ever conference championship win. Getting past the Wildcats is a tall task, but they have a better shot than most think.