If history means anything, the East Region of the 2021 NCAA Tournament might be considered the best bracket.
The fact that Michigan State and UCLA are playing one another in the First Four speaks to that. On top of that, Michigan, Connecticut, Maryland and Georgetown also make up the bracket. Meanwhile, more recent heavyweights like Alabama, Florida State, and Texas also find themselves in the East Region. Just for good measure, Rick Pitino returns to the NCAA Tournament with Iona.
Of course, the only thing that matters is how these teams play over the next few weeks.
Let’s dive into the East Region to figure out what’s going to happen with so many big-name programs fighting for a Final Four spot.
Top Seed: Michigan Wolverines
If you rewind a couple of weeks, we were talking about Michigan being on the same level as Baylor and Gonzaga. Unfortunately for Juwan Howard’s team, a few losses and one huge injury question mark have changed that.
There is uncertainty surrounding Isaiah Livers, who is Michigan’s second-leading scorer and arguably their most important player. It’s not a given that Livers will miss the tournament, but after suffering a stress injury, it’s hard to envision him being 100%.
Needless to say, that changes the way we look at the Wolverines as a Final Four contender.
Main Competition: Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide isn’t necessarily getting the kind of respect one would expect for a team that went 16-2 in the SEC and then won the conference tournament. Then again, they are the No. 2 seed in the East Region and enter the Big Dance winning nine of their last 10 games.
In a way, Alabama resembles a poor-man's Baylor. The Crimson Tide has a large contingent of guards that loves to push the tempo and shoot the ball from deep.
As long as the shots are falling, Alabama will be a threat to reach the Final Four.
Sleeper: LSU Tigers
The Tigers were one point and a layup away from beating Alabama in the SEC Tournament final, which is strong evidence that LSU can play with anyone.
The Bayou Bengals have four players who are capable of scoring 20-plus points on any given night. To be fair, LSU is a flawed team and doesn’t have much depth beyond those four standout players. But they can keep up with anyone offensively, and if they play a little defense, the Tigers could make a deep run.
As a No. 8 seed, LSU’s path isn’t exactly conducive to a long stay in Indiana. But if they can carry over their offensive performance from the SEC Tournament, the Tigers are a team that could bust some brackets.
Tough Out: Iona Gaels
The Gaels had to start and stop their season on multiple occasions, and because they played just 17 games, they got stuck with a No. 15 seed. However, Iona is far better than the average 15-seed. It’s also worth noting that they have a Hall of Fame coach.
Offensively, the Gaels know what they’re doing with Isaiah Rose averaging over 18 points per game and two other players scoring in double figures.
It won’t be easy for Alabama to create separation from the Gaels because Iona’s scoring prowess should help keep them in the game.
Possible Cinderella: Georgetown Hoyas
If you saw the Hoyas run the table in the Big East Tournament, it’s not hard to envision them keeping up that momentum in the NCAA Tournament, not unlike Kemba Walker’s UConn team in 2011.
It’s one thing to knock off an ailing Villanova team, but Georgetown humiliated Creighton in the final. Fittingly, the Hoyas will get another No. 5 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Patrick Ewing has helped mold Qudus Wahab into a serious post presence while Jahvon Blair is playing the best basketball of his career.
If the Hoyas can harness the momentum from the Big East Tournament, they have as good a chance as anyone in the top half of the East bracket to make a deep run.
Upset Alert: UNC Greensboro over Florida State
There’s something about this year’s Florida State team that just doesn’t feel right.
The Seminoles were extra sloppy in the ACC Tournament final and don’t seem to have the same quality depth as in past years, even if Leonard Hamilton still uses his bench liberally. That being said, FSU is a Final Four threat if they can survive the first round.
However, Greensboro looks like a threat to them. Isaiah Miller is a senior who averages 19.3 points per game and is also one of his team’s best rebounders despite being undersized. If the Seminoles don’t come to play, they will be on upset alert against the Spartans.
Don’t Buy the Hype: Maryland Terrapins
It’s reasonable to think that after enduring life in the Big Ten this season that the Terrapins will be ready for anything the NCAA Tournament throws at them. But nobody should assume that Maryland playing in the Big Ten gives them an advantage in the Big Dance.
In fairness, veteran guards like Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins will give the Terps a fighting chance. However, Maryland was only 9-11 in Big Ten play and suffered losses to Northwestern and Penn State late in the season.
If not for high strength of schedule and a few quality wins early in conference play, Maryland wouldn’t even be in the tournament.
Player to Watch: McKinley Wright, Colorado
Most people probably haven’t seen a lot of McKinley Wright this season, but he was a first-team All-Pac-12 performer and a talented point guard who can score just as well as he can dish out assists to his teammates. Whether he gets enough help from his teammates is another story.
But he’s the kind of player who can put a team on his back during the NCAA Tournament, which is something he’s more than capable of doing in such a wide-open region.
In the end
Look out for the No. 3 seed Texas Longhorns.
Winning the Big 12 Tournament could be the perfect springboard for Shaka Smart’s team, which has three talented guards and is starting to get strong contributions from the frontcourt.
Michigan’s uncertainty with Livers helps make this region wide-open. Either LSU or St. Bonaventure could challenge the Wolverines in the Round of 32. Alabama has a tricky road to the Sweet 16 as well. Also, it’s hard to put too much faith in Florida State because they’ll have a difficult road out of the opening weekend.
Frankly, there could be more teams in this region that are capable of reaching the Final Four than any other region. But the Longhorns are quietly peaking at the right time and have a favorable path to the Final Four.
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