Resetting the East region: Virginia, Michigan State, Iowa State and UConn

Tuesday March 25th, 2014

Virginia Cavaliers Will the Cavaliers still be smiling after their trip to Madison Square Garden? (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

You may not have watched every game of the NCAA tournament, but don’t worry: We did. We’ll tell you how each team got to the Sweet 16 and why they will or won’t make the Final Four.

Dates: Friday, Sunday

Location: Madison Square Garden, New York City

Sweet 16: No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Connecticut, 7: 27 p.m. ET, TBS; No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State, 9:57 p.m. ET, TBS

Elite 8: TBD

Other regional resets: Midwest (Michigan vs. Tennessee; Louisville vs. Kentucky) South (Florida vs. UCLA; Stanford vs. Dayton) | West (Arizona vs. San Diego State; Wisconsin vs. Baylor) 

Virginia Cavaliers

How they got here: Virginia rallied in the second half for a 70-59 win over No. 16 Coastal Carolina in the round of 64 before overwhelming No. 8 Memphis 78-60 in the round of 32.

Why they'll make the Final Four: The Wahoos are a top-20 team in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, per, and they looked like it in beating Memphis. Five players scored in double-figures for Virginia as the team shot 56 percent from the floor and smothered the Tigers on the glass with a 40-28 rebounding advantage. Sure, coach Tony Bennett's team trailed Coastal Carolinaat halftime of its tourney opener, but this club has now won 18 of its last 19 games, with the only loss coming in overtime at Maryland on March 9. The Memphis game, in which the Cavaliers shot 55.6 percent and held the Tigers to 40.6 percent, was a case study in Virginia's game plan on both ends, which led to both the ACC regular-season title and the league's tournament crown.

Why they won't make the Final Four: Virginia might be the 1-seed in the East, but many expect the Cavaliers' Sweet Sixteen opponent to emerge as the region's Final Four representative. Coach Tom Izzo's fourth-seeded Michigan State squad might be one of the more under-seeded teams in the tournament. With nearly a week to prepare, a tournament-tested Izzo is a tough draw for Bennett and the 'Hoos. Meanwhile, it's hard to ignore a couple of glaring stats from Virginia's hard-fought win against Coastal Carolina. The Cavaliers once trailed by 10 points to the Chanticleers and somehow didn't grab a single offensive rebound on the night. Which rebounding squad shows up against the Spartans on Friday?

-- By Zac Ellis

Michigan State Spartans Michigan State looks like a title contender again now that its gotten key players like Adreian Payne (ceonter) and Keith Appling back on the court. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Michigan State Spartans

How they got here: The Spartans routed No. 13 Delaware 93-78 and then overcame No. 12 Harvard's second-half surge to win 80-73.

Why they'll make the Final Four: Talent. No other team in the East region has as much of it as Michigan State. Adreian Payne dropped 41 against Delaware to show he’s fully healthy after missing several weeks with a sprained foot, and Branden Dawson, who also missed significant time with a broken hand, checked in with 26 against Harvard. They’ll help lighten the load on sophomore star Gary Harris, who has led the Spartans in scoring while waiting for the rest of the team to heal. The Spartans’ defense, which is ranked 44th in adjusted tempo on, should be able to hold Virginia’s efficient-but-not-dominant offense in check. Their excellent three-point percentage (14th on kenpom) should be able to create spaces in the lane for drives and points in the paint. The Cavaliers are the toughest out in the regional, so if Michigan State can solve their defense, expect the Spartans to roll to a win over Iowa State or Connecticut. And don’t forget, Michigan State's talent also extends to the sidelines – head coach Tom Izzo has been to six Final Fours and is 41-15 in the NCAA tournament.

Why they won't make the Final Four:

The Spartans – for good reason – have been inconsistent this season. Against Harvard, some of the lack of conditioning and cohesiveness showed, as MSU let the Crimson take a second-half lead after being ahead by 16 points earlier in the period Michigan State doesn't do anything particularly poorly – except shoot free throws – but this isn't an exceptional team at keeping the ball, either with offensive rebounds (ranked 103rd) or turnover percentage (88th). If the Spartans fumble early against Virginia, look out – the Cavaliers do not surrender leads easily, especially not lately. Iowa State and Connecticut won’t be as difficult to knock out as Virginia, but each team has star – DeAndre Kane and Shabazz Napier, respectively – who can take over games.

-- By David Gardner

DeAndre Kane, Iowa State Cyclones DeAndre Kane's last-second layup got Iowa State past the Tar Heels and into its first Sweet 16 in 14 years. (Eric Gay/AP)

Iowa State Cyclones

How they got here: The Cyclones rolled past North Carolina Central 93-75, in the second round. Thanks to a last-second basket by DeAndre Kane, they squeaked past North Carolina 85-83 in the third round.

Why they'll make the Final Four: Even without Georges Niang, lost for the rest of March with a broken foot, Iowa State has multiple offensive options. And now coach Fred Hoiberg has had a few days to plan accordingly for life without a primary playmaker. As it is, four other players are averaging 14 points per game or better in the tournament. None of those players is shooting worse than 46.7 percent from the field. And leading them all is DeAndre Kane, who represents that seemingly unflappable veteran point guard everyone believes you need to make a run. He's averaging 19 points, 8.5 rebounds and six assists in the tournament – with the game-winning layup against North Carolina to his credit. All of that is potent enough to solve a Connecticut defense that ranks ranked No. 10 nationally in adjusted efficiency, per, in the Sweet 16. On a good day it's enough to pierce either Michigan State's rugged defense or Virginia's formidable pack line.

Why they won't make the Final Four: Surviving North Carolina, barely, without Niang was one thing. But against top 15 defenses like the Cyclones might face in the Sweet 16, the absence of a core playmaker is means one less option and one more strain on Iowa State's attack. And the Cyclones' own defense has never represented a terrific fallback. North Carolina Central's had an effective field goal percentage of 50 and scored 1.21 points per possession, while the Tar Heels' numbers were 52.9 and 1.06, respectively. If Iowa State's offense struggles, it's not clear what else it can rely on.

-- By Brian Hamilton

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut Huskies If Shabazz Napier stumbles, UConn will have a hard time advancing. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Connecticut Huskies

How they got here: The Huskies beat No. 10 seed St. Joseph's 89-81 in overtime in the second round, then knocked off former Big East rival and No. 2 seed Villanova, 77-65, in the third round.

Why they'll make the Final Four: Shabazz Napier, who leads UConn in points, rebounds and assists per game, might be the most indispensable player in the Sweet 16. The All-America guard had 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists -- each a team-high -- in the win over the Hawks and then put up 25 points -- more than double the output of any other Huskies player -- in the victory over the Wildcats. Connecticut has the nation's 10th-best adjusted defensive efficiency, which will come in handy when trying to slow down Iowa State in the Sweet 16. If they get past the Cylones, the Huskies won't be cowed by facing two of the nation's top 10 teams according to UConn has wins over Florida, Harvard and, of course, Villanova, plus five wins over ranked conference opponents: three against Memphis and two against Cincinnati.

Why they won't make the Final Four: Napier, who suffered a bruised shin against 'Nova but should be ready to go at the Garden, isn't necessarily the overwhelming one-man show you might expect. Still, he has yet to get consistent help from his teammates. While Napier uses 28 percent of the Huskies' offensive possessions two of his teammates -- Ryan Boatright, a 6-foot guard and DeAndre Daniels, a 6-9 forward -- use over 22 percent themselves.  Those two combined for 35 points on 11-of-21 shooting against St. Joe's but just 22 points on 7-for-22 shooting against Villanova. The Huskies don't like to play fast, which could be a major problem against the fast-moving Cyclones, and their lack of rebounding -- they have outrebounded opponents by almost exactly one per game this season and are only +3 in this tournament -- could cost them.

-- By Ted Keith

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