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NCAA Tournament 2016 East region: Upset watch, who will get to Final Four, team capsules

By Gethin Coolbaugh, The Sports Xchange   |   March 14, 2016 at 8:40 AM
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EAST REGION

Top seeds: 1) North Carolina, 2) Xavier, 3) West Virginia, 4) Kentucky

Upset Watch: Florida Gulf Coast, the beloved squad known as "Dunk City," shocked the world in 2013, its first season as a Division I team. The No. 15 seeded Eagles upset No. 2 seed Georgetown and advanced to the Sweet 16. As impressive a run as that was, making headway in this year's dance would top that. If they can make it past Farleigh Dickenson in the play-in game, top-seeded North Carolina is waiting -- the preseason pick of many to prevail in March.

Get To Know: North Carolina senior forward Brice Johnson was one of only two unanimous selections to the 2016 All-Atlantic Coast Conference First Team. The Naismith Trophy semifinalist's production increased significantly from his junior year, when he averaged 12.6 points and 7.8 boards and was named third-team All-ACC. This season, Johnson carried the Tar Heels with averages of 16.6 points and 10.6 rebounds, especially so with five double-doubles in six games to open the season while Marcus Paige was sidelined with a broken right hand.

Jamal Murray made an instant impact when he committed to play for John Calipari at the University of Kentucky, becoming the only Wildcat in program history to score 30 points in multiple games during his freshman season. The guard led Kentucky in scoring, averaging 20.2 points per game, and was named to the midseason watchlist for the Naismith Trophy. Murray, born in Kitchener, Ontario, earned first team All-SEC honors in his first full campaign.

Kris Dunn and the Providence Friars didn't have as strong a regular-season showing as they hoped for, but the back-to-back Big East Player of the Year can make everyone forget about that with a strong showing in March. Dunn joins elite company in Troy Bell, Rip Hamilton, Troy Murphy, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin as the only players in Big East history to win Player of the Year honors in back-to-back campaigns. The do-it-all junior point guard averaged a career-high 16.0 points, 6.4 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals while shooting 44.2 percent from the field. Dunn edged out teammate Ben Bentil for the top Big East award, despite the sophomore forward leading the league in scoring with 21.2 points and pulling down 7.8 boards per game.

One game to see: A second-round matchup between top-seed North Carolina and No. 9 seed Providence would produce a matchup between two of the best point guards in the country in the Tar Heels' Marcus Paige and Providence's Dunn. The Tar Heels should have little trouble beating the No. 16 seed -- after all, we're still waiting for that holiest of upsets -- so this meeting hinges on the Friars' ability to get past an offensively-gifted Southern California team in their opener.

Numbers Inc.:

5 -- Final Four appearances for North Carolina under coach Roy Williams since 2002.

9 -- Seniors on the Tulsa roster, the most of any team in the country.

20 -- Double-doubles in 34 games this season for North Carolina's Brice Johnson.

42.2 -- Field goal percentage for Providence this season, despite boasting two of the best players in the Big East in Dunn and Bentil.

57 -- Southland Conference wins for Stephen F. Austin in the past three seasons, compared to just one loss.

See you in Houston: If history is any indicator, the North Carolina Tar Heels are in good shape. The last time the Tar Heels entered the season ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, as they did this year, they went on to win their sixth NCAA national championship in 2008-09.

East Capsules

1. North Carolina (28-6). Roy Williams led his "pretty dog-gone good basketball team" to its 15th No. 1 seed, most in ACC history. This balanced Tar Heels team is fresh off its 26th conference tournament crown and look to bring home the school's third NCAA title since 2005.

2. Xavier (27-5). With six players averaging more than nine points and their ability to play both man and the 1-3-1 zone defense, the Musketeers are in good position to build on last year's Sweet 16 appearance.

3. West Virginia (26-8). -- The Mountaineers continue to silence their critics after finishing second in the Big 12 after being picked to finish 12th in the preseason polls. This ferocious defensive team employs a full-court press that makes life hard by forcing plenty of turnovers.

4. Kentucky (26-8). -- The Wildcats may not have seven NBA-caliber players like they did last season, but the SEC Player of the Year and Naismith Trophy semifinalist Tyler Ulis (16.8 points, 7.2 assists) and Murray team up to make for a troublesome backcourt duo.

5. Indiana (25-7). The Hoosiers are not a one-trick pony any longer, but Tom Crean's team still features four players averaging 11 or more points and an offense that scores over 80 points per game.

6. Notre Dame (21-11). The Fighting Irish shot a solid 47.1 percent (869 of 1844) from the floor collectively this season, led by Zach Auguste's 54.9 percent clip, but they have been known to struggle on the defensive end.

7. Wisconsin (20-12). The Badgers are hot at the right time, winning 11 of 14 entering the tournament. That's good news for coach Greg Gard, who took the reins after Bo Ryan's sudden retirement in December. That five-year contract extension is looking pretty good right now.

8. Southern California (21-12). Under third-year coach Andy Enfield -- the architect of Florida Gulf Coast's Sweet 16 run in 2013 -- the Trojans have developed an impressive offense that scores over 80 points per game with a plethora of scoring options.

9. Providence (23-10). Dunn and Bentil are one of the best twosomes in the country when they're firing on all cylinders, but the Friars were consistently bogged down by poor shooting starts this season -- something that would send them packing early in March.

10. Pittsburgh (21-11). Michael Young's 16 points and seven rebounds per game lead a Panthers team that settled into ninth in the ACC and stalled out with four losses in its final six games.

11. Michigan (22-12) /11. Tulsa (20-11). The Wolverines struggled to the tune of a 4-12 record against teams with a top-100 RPI. As for Tulsa, it certainly doesn't hurt to have as experienced a roster as the Golden Hurricane does (nine seniors) has come tournament time.

12. Chattanooga (29-5). Coach Matt McCall and the Mocs don't like to think of themselves as the underdogs, but it's a role they'll need to embrace to get the upset against Indiana.

13. Stony Brook (26-6). -- Jameel Warney stuffed the stat sheet (19.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 62.6 field goal percentage) and leads the way for the Seawolves, who are making their first ever NCAA tournament appearance.

14. Stephen F. Austin (27-5). Another year, another NCAA tournament appearance for Brad Underwood and the Lumberjacks. That marks three straight appearances in the big dance for Stephen F. Austin, which forces turnovers at a comparable rate to its opponent, West Virginia.

15. Weber State (26-8). The Wildcats are one of the country's best two-point shooting teams, finishing the regular season at a 55.5 percent clip, and are riding high as the Big Sky Conference champions.

16. Florida Gulf Coast (20-13)/16. Farleigh Dickenson (18-14). Dunk City makes its triumphant return to the NCAA Tournament after their magical run to the Sweet 16 in 2013, while Farleigh Dickenson (and its questionable defense) returns to the big dance for the first time since 2005.

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