Previewing the East Regional: Does Indiana survive the chalk?
The Hoosiers have their issues. They haven’t played all that well in this tournament to date. They lack some toughness in their front court. Their back court doesn’t have the size to deal with bigger guards like Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche. But at the end of the day, Indiana was still the best team in the country for the majority of the regulars season. They are still the outright champs of the Big Ten conference. There is a reason for that, and it’s more than the simple fact that they have a pair of all-americans on the roster.
But they could also win: Miami
Personally, I think that the loss of Reggie Johnson is being a bit overblown. Yes, he’s big. And yes, he helps rebound and takes some of the pressure off of Julian Gamble. But Johnson hasn’t played well in more than a month. He’s not the same player he was early in the season, and the 1.9 points, 5.5 boards and the 20% he’s shooting from the floor prove that. Yes, this hurts Miami’s depth, and it certainly puts more pressure on Gamble to stay out of foul trouble. But the Hurricanes are still a very good basketball team, and they still have a healthy Shane Larkin.
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Most Important Player: Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Syracuse, Miami, and Marquette all have one thing in common: their most important player is a guard. Michael Carter-Williams is the engine that makes Syracuse run, Shane Larkin is one of the best point guards in the country, and Vander Blue has arguably been the best player in the tournament to date. Part of the reason that I like Indiana to come out of the East is that I think Oladipo shuts down all three of those guys, and that very much changes the dynamic for all threes teams.
Story line to watch: There are a number of them. Jim Boeheim is looking to make his first Final Four since 2003 while proving to the nation that he’s not actually leaving after this season. Indiana won’t officially be back until they get to a Final Four, which should happen this year. Miami’s turnaround this season has been one of the year’s most fascinating stories, as Jim Larranaga has turned a bunch of Frank Haith’s recruits into a national title contender. And who wouldn’t want to see dancing Buzz Williams cutting down the nets?
And the winner is?: Indiana
For all the reasons listed above, I just think that Indiana’s going to be able to get it done. They have the best post scorer in the region in Cody Zeller and the best perimeter defender in DC this weekend in Oladipo. They surround Zeller was four guys that can bury the three. Yogi Ferrell is playing great basketball at the point guard spot, and Will Sheehey is one of the best sixth men in the country.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.