Katz's Region Breakdowns: East
Sixteen points on my mind when thinking about the East Regional:
1. Kentucky's freshman duo of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins continue to live up to the hype. Their play in the SEC tournament title game against Mississippi State at key moments was simply amazing. Wall knew when to take over the game.
You can sense that he will make plays in this tournament and possibly pull off a Carmelo Anthony-like run and take the Wildcats to the national title. Cousins is a man among boys at times with his physical play. Expect Cousins to be a force throughout this tournament. It should be a good watch seeing these two play this month.
2. The committee couldn't have done a better job of putting together two teams that have been mysteries this season than No. 8 Texas and No. 9 Wake Forest. At times this season, both teams played at a high enough level to make them contenders for their respective conference titles. But alas, they faded down the stretch and find themselves limping into the NCAA tournament.
If Texas were to play up to its potential, it certainly could beat Kentucky in the second round. Wake Forest has the pieces to be a pest as well. Texas coach Rick Barnes firmly believes that the Longhorns can flip a switch and win multiple games in the tourney. We shall see. Kentucky winds up potentially facing a former No. 1 team in the second round and has a No. 2 seed in West Virginia that, according to the committee, would've been the next No. 1 to be selected.
3. No other player in the bracket has hit more big shots than Big Shot Da'Sean Butler of West Virginia. Butler had a run this season that's hard to match. Making two game-winners in the Big East tournament is almost unthinkable, especially since everyone in Madison Square Garden knew he was getting the ball. It's going to be fun to see if if Butler can continue his magical March.
4. Considering how both teams like to play, one of the most interesting first-round games will be the 7-10 matchup between Clemson and Missouri in Buffalo. Both teams love to press, trap and run. The problem for Missouri is it doesn't have Justin Safford, who is out with a knee injury. Safford would have guarded Clemson's Trevor Booker. But if the game speeds up and both teams get up and down as quick as coaches Oliver Purnell and Mike Anderson like, it could be the most entertaining watch of any first-round game.
5. Morgan State's Todd Bozeman likely isn't getting past No. 15 West Virginia. But Bozeman deserves credit for invigorating his career by heading to the MEAC after a 10-year banishment (due to infractions at Cal) and delivering on the promise he made when hired that he'd get the Bears into the NCAA tournament. He's done it not just once, but twice.
6. New Mexico has a real shot to get to the Sweet 16 and a potential matchup against No. 2 West Virginia. The Lobos got a favorable draw with Montana in the first round followed by a matchup against either erratic Washington or gritty Marquette in the second round. A Sweet 16 appearance would validate what has already been quite a remarkable season for the Lobos. If you're looking for a player to become a star in the first weekend, it could be junior guard Darington Hobson. He can do a little bit of everything.
7. The best story in the bracket may be Montana senior guard Anthony Johnson. I caught up with him after his remarkable 42-point game in the Grizzlies' win over Weber State in the Big Sky title game -- a game in which the Grizzlies trailed by 20 at the half. Johnson was at a dead-end dishwashing job when he met his wife, Shaunte, who helped him get a tryout at Yakima Valley JC. The two would go on to become a package deal at Montana, with Shaunte playing on the women's team. Johnson is a prolific scorer. Expect the Grizzlies to push the Lobos for a spell.
8. The most intriguing first-round matchup is No. 6 Marquette and No. 11 Washington in San Jose. Marquette has been one of the hardest-working teams in the country and the Golden Eagles have worked wonders in late-game situations lately. Coach Buzz Williams has maximized his team's talent better than most, and senior forward Lazar Hayward and junior swingman Jimmy Butler are both underappreciated for their contributions to Marquette's success this season.
But they go against a Washington team that has underachieved this season, yet still has one of the better four-year players in senior forward Quincy Pondexter. If the Huskies can get out and run against Marquette's stingy defense, they'll win. If it's a low-scoring, half-court game, give the edge to the Golden Eagles.
9. The one double-digit seed that can reach the Sweet 16 is probably No. 12 Cornell. The Big Red have the pieces in place to make this kind of run, led by 7-foot senior Jeff Foote inside and senior forward Ryan Wittman outside. Their near-miss at Kansas proved to the nation that they can be a major factor in the first weekend. It's too bad Cornell didn't get a better seed, with a formidable Kentucky team likely waiting in the Sweet 16. But it's hard to question a 12-seed when you look at Cornell's résumé.
10. The problem with being so sure about penciling Cornell into the second round is the first-round opponent. Temple coach Fran Dunphy knows the Big Red as well as anyone from his days in the Ivy League as head coach of Penn when Cornell coach Steve Donahue was his assistant. Temple is also one of the hottest teams in the country after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament title Sunday in Atlantic City, beating Richmond in the final. This may be as tough a 5-12 game to predict that we've seen in a long time.
11. Wofford is in the Big Dance for the first time and Mike Young's crew is a possible pest for Wisconsin in a 13-4 game. The problem is that Wofford probably can't force Wisconsin to change its style of play.
12. A potential Sweet 16 matchup between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 4 Wisconsin could be a tough matchup for the Wildcats. The Badgers have taken down Duke this season and have the ability to fluster a team like Kentucky if senior guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon make shots. Junior forward Jon Leuer presents a tough matchup with his ability to hit shots facing the basket as a step-out 4 man. Oh, and Bo Ryan is one of the most underrated game coaches in the biz.
13. The most anticipated matchup of any possible Elite Eight game would be No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 West Virginia in Syracuse. John Calipari and Bob Huggins are old Conference USA rivals and have won consistently, regardless of where they've been. Both teams have big-time shot-makers in Wall and Butler, and the Carrier Dome would be rocking with Big Blue Nation and Mountaineer Nation, two of the more passionate fan bases.
14. The one team that you can't underestimate in this bracket is Marquette. The Golden Eagles have proved throughout the season that overlooking them is a mistake. They show no fear in late-game situations. They're the kind of team that could prove just as capable of losing in the first round as reaching the Elite Eight and beating Big East rival West Virginia.
15. If you had said on New Year's Day that Texas-Kentucky would be a possible second-round matchup, you would have been laughed at for quite some time. It's another example of just how long the season can be and how quick we all are to make predictions too early in the season.
16. The trendy pick is to go against Kentucky and choose West Virginia to come out of the East. Kentucky has been pushed countless times this season, but Wall and Co. find a way to win. I say they do again.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
ESPN COLLEGE BASKETBALL ENCYCLOPEDIA
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- Nike Men's Missouri Tigers Basketball Grip Dri-fit Cotton Black T-shirt