Absurdly Early Bracketology, Part I: The East Region

Even though it's an exercise in futility (as I illustrated in Monday's post), I've decided to post a preseason bracket for the second season in a row, split into a series of four posts, one for each region.

Personally, this exercise served two purposes. Firstly, it gave me the chance to work with the new 68-team bracket. Secondly, it serves as an abbreviated season preview, since I wasn't able to do a post for each conference this season, like I did in 2009-10. Unfortunately, as I've been battling the office bug du jour over the past few days, the team capsules will be shorter than originally anticipated.

This series of posts will serve as a preview for SB Nation Bracketology's new format, though I probably won't use team logos on a weekly basis, and I'll also have the weekly bracket in one post instead of four. Basically, my goal is to provide a quick capsule of what a team did in the past week, what's coming up in the next week, and in the case of the likely one-bid leagues, provide a quick status of the league races, as they develop.

Teams are presented in their individual pods, much like following an actual bracket. That means the top seed's pod will come first, followed by No. 4's, then third seed's, with the seed No, 2's group at the bottom of the entry.

When I present my first bracket of the actual season, after the Thanksgiving weekend tournaments and ACC/Big Ten Challenge--likely on Friday. December 3--I'll recap my rules for determining auto bids during the various stages of the season. Right now, they're just guesses.

Before I get into the teams, a couple of general trends I noticed.

  • Thanks to both Western sites, Denver and Tucson, being Thursday/Saturday ones, the NCAA's goal to have each "First Four" doubleheader feature both an at-large and auto bid matchup is going to be difficult to meet, if they intend on keeping the integrity of the bracket intact. With three of the four top seeds in this projection playing on Friday, it's easy to send the auto bid teams somewhere. However, I have the Last Four In playing for spots on the 12 and 13 lines. Since the 4 seeds all play on Thursday/Saturday out West, logistical issues are possible.
  • There is a First (Opening) Round game in each region. I did not assign days (Tuesday or Wednesday) to these, however.
  • Three Midwestern sites, Chicago, Cleveland, and Tulsa, and the one in the Carolinas, Charlotte, slated for Friday/Sunday games, combined with the likely strength of the ACC, Big Ten, and Big 12 means most teams on the top 3 lines are likely to be playing on these two days.

After the jump, it's time to take a look at the home of the number one overall seed, the East Region.

Reminder: The East Regional will be played in Newark on Friday, March 25 and Sunday, March 27.

Charlotte Pod (March 18 and 20)

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1. Duke (ACC Champion): While the defending National Champions lost Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas, and Brian Zoubek to graduation, the Blue Devils still have more than enough talent left over (led by the Plumlees, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith) and coming aboard (Liberty transfer Seth Curry, freshman PG Kyrie Irving) to repeat.

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16. First Round: Quinnipiac (Northeast Champion) vs. Stony Brook (America East Champion): The Bobcats claimed a share of the NEC regular season crown last season, and missed the Tournament by this much, falling to Robert Morris by a bucket at home in the conference final. Even with a couple of key losses, look for Quinnipiac, led by NEC Player of the Year Justin Rutty, to get over the hump. Meanwhile, the Seawolves, who also claimed their conference's regular season crown, lost their conference POY, Muhammad El-Amin. However, head coach Steve Pikiell returns basically everyone else. Keep an eye on: Long Island, Mt. St. Mary's, Robert Morris for the NEC and Maine and Binghamton for the America East.

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8. West Virginia (Big East at-large): The Mountaineers will have a hard time replicating their 2010 accomplishments (Big East Tournament title, Final Four berth), especially with Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks gone. Expect 6-8 forward Kevin Jones to have a breakout season, and Truck Bryant, John Flowers, and Wellington Smith to up their games, which should be more than enough to keep Bob Huggins' team competitive in the Big East.

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9. Arizona (Pac-10 at-large): The Wildcats should get back to the Tournament after taking a year off. Read more about Sean Miller's team in Part One of my Intriguing Bracket Teams series.

Tucson Pod (March 17 and 19)

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5. Memphis (C-USA champion): Another team who is looking to get back to the Tournament after a year's break, expectations are high for the Tigers, not because of who they return (forwards Wesley Witherspoon and Angel Garcia and center Will Coleman), but who's coming aboard, a highly-touted recruiting class, featuring guards Joe Jackson, Will Barton, and Jelan Kendrick and forward Tarik Black. Plus, junior guard Charles Carmouche joins the team after transferring from New Orleans, who's dropping down to Division III.

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12. Texas A&M (Big 12 at-large): The Aggies lost much of their firepower from last season, and suffered a more significant and painful loss when power forward Tobi Oyedeji, one of the program's most heralded recruits ever, died tragically in an automobile accident. Point guard Dash Harris is one the leading returnee, and he'll try to get the ball to fellow guard B.J. Holmes and forward David Loubeau, who will each need to improve their consistency to get A&M back in the Tournament for the sixth straight season.

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4. Temple (A-10 champion): While Ryan Brooks graduated, all of the other key players are back from last season's A-10 regular season co-champion/tournament champion squad. Juan Fernandez and Lavoy Allen lead a group of players who should give Fran Dunphy a great chance at picking up his first Tournament win since 1994.

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13. Old Dominion (CAA champion): While it's true Gerald Lee's graduation means a big hole in the middle for the Monarchs, Blaine Taylor has everyone else back from last season's team that grabbed a First Round win over Notre Dame. That group includes a whole bunch of players who can score--Kent Bazemore, Keyon Carter, Ben Finney, Frank Hassell, and Darius James. Keep an eye on: George Mason, VCU, William & Mary

Cleveland Pod (March 18 and 20)

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6. Baylor (Big 12 at-large): The Bears' prospects for this season will rely on how two questions are answered. 1) Is LaceDarius Dunn going to be allowed back on the team after his arrest on domestic violence charges? and 2) Can 6-11 McDonald's All-American Perry Jones adequately replace Ekpe Udoh? If the answers to both questions is yes, Baylor could get back to the Elite Eight, and maybe further.

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11. Xavier (A-10 at-large): Last week, the Musketeers lost Brad Redford,  their best 3-point shooter (by percentage) from last season, to a torn ACL. This follows an offseason where Jordan Crawford left for the NBA and Jason Love graduated. Still, expect to see Chris Mack's team in the field on Selection Sunday, especially as senior Terrell Holloway improves at the point and Jamel McLean and Kenny Frease take over inside.

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3. Kentucky (SEC at-large): While it's not likely that John Calipari's 2010 recruiting class, led by point guard Brandon Knight, will be as wildly successful as John Wall and company (especially if Enes Kanter is declared ineligible), the Wildcats have more than enough talent to contend in the SEC and make a deep tournament run. Outside of the youngsters, keep an eye on Florida transfer Eloy Vargas and one of last season's reserves, Darius Miller, to make an impact.

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14. UC Santa Barbara (Big West champion): The Gauchos return just about everyone from last season's squad, which tied for the regular season crown and claimed the conference's auto bid with a win over preseason favorite Long Beach State. A quartet of juniors--Will Brew, Orlando Johnson, James Nunnally, and Jaime Serna--have the opportunity to build a mini-dynasty in the Big West, but it won't be easy. Keep an eye on: Long Beach State, Pacific

Washington Pod (March 17 and 19)

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7. Wisconsin (Big Ten at-large): Last season was a lesson for many of us in the preseason prognostication business: don't bet against a Bo Ryan-coached Badger team. With the graduation of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, expect this year's Wisconsin team to be a bit more interior-oriented, especially with Jon Leuer completely healthy and Keaton Nankivil ready to take on an even bigger role.

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10. Murray State (Ohio Valley champion): Read more about the Racers in Part One of my Intriguing Bracket Teams to Watch series. This is a bit optimistic for Murray State's seed, but with a good run through both the non-conference slate and the OVC season, a shocking seed number is possible. Keep an eye on: Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State

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2. Villanova (Big East at-large): With Scottie Reynolds' graduation, this is now Corey Fisher's team. It doesn't hurt that there's a lot of talent remaining, featuring Dominic Cheek, Antonio Pena, Corey Stokes, Maalik Wayns, and Mouphtaou Yarou, who missed a good chunk of last season with a case of hepatitis B. The big question for Jay Wright's team is if they've recovered from a rough end to last season, which featured a one-and-done trip to the Big East Tournament and a near loss to Robert Morris in Round One of the NCAA, just before Nova fell to St. Mary's in Round Two.

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15. Morgan State (MEAC champion): The Bears have won the MEAC regular season crown for three straight seasons--last season by five games--and two straight auto bids. Even with Reggie Holmes' graduation, expect the dominance of Todd Bozeman's club to continue, especially with Kevin Thompson and Dewayne Jackson inside. Keep an eye on: Delaware State, Norfolk State, South Carolina State

Tomorrow, it's off to the other side of the country, as I'll take a look at the first projection for the West Region.

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