The final part in our 2016 NCAA Tournament preview focuses on the East Region.
The North Carolina Tar Heels earned the No. 1 seed in the East after finishing atop the ACC regular season standings and winning the conference tournament.
Let’s get to some of the keys to this part of the bracket and whether or not I think the Heels can make it to Houston!
Best Opening Game: No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin
Bet against Stephen F. Austin at your own peril. Brad Underwood has led the Lumberjacks to an 88-13 record over the past three years, which includes going 53-1 in the Southland Conference. This is a championship team that knows what it takes to win. It should be a matchup of two teams built on forcing turnovers, meaning we’ll get an entertaining contest that could come down to who can execute the most and handle the opponent’s defensive pressure.
Upset Alert: No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 12 Chattanooga
Despite winning the regular season Big 10 championship, there’s still a tremendous amount of pressure on Tom Crean and the Hoosiers to translate that to postseason success. Indiana certainly didn’t help itself last week with a disappointing loss to Michigan in the Big 10 Quarterfinals, and it needs to avoid looking ahead to a potential Round of 32 matchup with Kentucky. Chattanooga is a proud program that’s won 29 games this season and the Mocs are definitely capable of getting win No. 30 against Indiana.
Best Player: Kris Dunn, Providence
Come at me, Big Blue Nation! Even though Tyler Ulis is in this region and has been outstanding for Kentucky this season, I’m still taking Providence guard Kris Dunn as the best player. Dunn doesn’t have the same luxury as Ulis of being surrounded by NBA talent, but he’s a regular triple double threat who is also an excellent defender. He’s the type of player capable of putting a team on his back and carrying it to the Sweet 16. Watch out, UNC.
Final Four Prediction: Kentucky
I feel gross for even saying it, but I think John Calipari gets the Wildcats back to another Final Four. Kentucky might have the best backcourt in the country in Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis, and they’re the type of players you count on in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky’s inconsistent frontcourt would be seriously tested in a potential Sweet 16 showdown with North Carolina, but having Ulis and Murray is still a big advantage over any other team in the East Region.