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2011 NCAA Tournament: East Region Preview

Thad Matta and Jared Sullinger
Yes, Blatant Homerism is a college football blog. We love March Madness and college hoops, too. For the next few days, we'll breaking down the Big Dance in all its glory for your edification.

Leading up to Thursday's tip-off, The Skinny and Homerism will be previewing each region. We've already covered the West, Southeast and Southwest regions. Last up we have the loaded East region.

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2011 NCAA Tournament: East Region Preview

Overall Quality (1-5): 3.5

Much like the West, the East Region is solid. With Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky, the East is arguably the strongest region at the top. But, that doesn't mean this region will be all chalk by the regional semifinal. With Xavier (6), Washington (7) and George Mason (8) in the middle of the region, expect a couple very intriguing matchups in the second round. With the exception of Marquette (11), I don't see any high seeds with true Cinderella potential.

Play-in Winners: Clemson and Alabama State

I have never understood the fascination with the "bubble." Honestly, name one bubble team that has ever done anything in the actual tournament?

However, I have to admit I liked the idea of expanding the tournament to 68 teams. I'd rather watch these bubble teams in a play-in game than listen to their coaches whine about the NIT.

Then again, now that we have the play-in games, I still don't care. Hopefully, the NCAA will take notice when it considers any further dilution of the best sporting event on the planet. Wake me up on Thursday!

Jay WrightBuy Low: Villanova

I am tempted to buy Princeton, but 'Nova's stock might actually be lower, despite the seeding discrepancy. Any mention of 'Nova this week will be immediately followed by mention of the fact that the Wildcats haven't won a game in seven months.

I actually like that 'Nova was sent home early last week. Jay Wright has the time and attention of his team, but is too late to (W)right the ship?

Sell High: Ohio State

Am I the only one who has yet to be impressed by the Buckeyes? Ohio St. is certainly deserving of a No. 1 seed, but in my mind, the Buckeyes are a big risk for the Final Four, let alone a national championship.

First, I think the Buckeyes are susceptible to athletic guards who can pressure them on both ends. Second, OSU's non-conference schedule was awful – ranked 245th by kenpom.com). It's often overlooked, but conference play is far different than non-conference play. It is important to play and prepare for other quality teams of divergent styles much like they will face in the tourney. This is especially true for teams in the B1G, which, for the most part, play a very similar style.

For me, there is simply too much risk in this Ohio St. team.

Locational Landmine: Washington Shipping Out to Charlotte

For the most part, the committee did a nice job of placing these teams close to home, with the exception of the Washington Huskies. The Huskies' reward for winning the Pac 10 Championship: a 3,000-mile trip from Seattle to Charlotte. UW's first-round opponent, Georgia, has a mere 200-mile trip up I-85 from Athens. However, I wouldn't count on UGa having a home court advantage, as Georgia has Mark Richt and spring practice on its mind.

Bet the Farm: Kentucky Will Beat West Virginia in the Second Round

Betting against Bob Huggins is rarely a wise move, but coach John Calipari and the Wildcats will be out for revenge after WVU robbed them of "their year" in last season's regional final.

Kentucky is one of the real wildcards in this tournament. The young 'Cats have the talent to make a serious run at the national title, but UK also has upset potential in the early rounds. I really don't know how UK will fare in 2011, but it won't lose to WVU.

Best Villain: Terrence Jones, Kentucky

As UW fans are all too aware, Jones de-committed from the Huskies at the 11th hour for greener pastures in the Bluegrass State. With the addition of Jones, Washington would probably be a top seed out west. Instead the Huskies are the No. 7 seed in Charlotte/Newark.

Player on the Spot: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina

Harrison Barnes
Barnes has been on the spot from the moment he committed to coach Roy Williams. In this era of college basketball, dominated by underclassmen, we have come to expect a lot from freshmen the caliber of Barnes. Unfortunately for Barnes, the weight of Tar Heel Nation is especially heavy with Duke's resurgence and Kentucky's new found recruiting prowess. If UNC has any chance of making a deep tournament run, Barnes has to be the guy to carry them.

Coach of the Hour: Thad Matta, Ohio State

Matta is one of the game's best coaches, and the Buckeyes are going to need his coaching prowess in full effect to win a region filled with hall of fame coaches. Final Fours are worthy accomplishments. Yet, much like Bill Self in 2009, Matta needs a championship to cement himself among the elite.

Darkhorse: Xavier

I really wanted to go with Xavier-Marquette winner in this one, but I thought that was a cop out. Either team is capable of making a run into the second weekend of the tournament, but I think Xavier is a slightly better team.

Tu Holloway is this year's "best player you've never heard of" (and one of Skin's personal favorites). Holloway is a microcosm of his entire team – a complete player, solid on offense and defense, doesn't beat himself. All attributes that can go a long way in the Big Dance.

Is this year the Muskies finally take their place along side Gonzaga and Butler as an elite mid-major?

Winner: Syracuse

The Orange isn't as sexy a pick as Ohio St., UNC or Kentucky, but the 'Cuse have all the pieces to advance through this region. Coming out of the Big East, the Orange is battle tested. Plus, Syracuse is arguably the best combination of offense, defense and rebounding in the East's group.

There is no Carmelo Anthony on this team, but Scoop Jardine is an outstanding leader. The emergence of Fab Melo in the post adds another dimension to this team. Lastly, coach Jim Boehiem's 2-3 zone can be nightmare in tournament situations.