DISCLAIMER: These are my personal views, not necessarily what will happen, and not reflecting all of Big East Coast Bias' viewpoints.
Where do we start with the East Region? Does one start with the North Carolina Tar Heels, perhaps the most talented team in the dance? What about sleeping giant Kentucky, who has once again kicked into gear in lieu of the calendar's turn to March?
Personally, this region felt extremely top-heavy; the top five seeds are excellent, but the rest pose little threat to make a Cinderella run. Take these picks as you may, and understand that I am no expert at predicting the bracket. Here we go:
Round of 64
(1) North Carolina vs. (16) Florida Gulf Coast
A 16 seed has never beaten a one seed. That will not happen here either. Marcus Paige and the Heels start slow, but coast through the second half en route to the second round.
Pick: North Carolina
(8) USC vs. (9) Providence
The Trojans appear in the dance a year before when many said they would, and Andy Enfield's team possesses a talented backcourt in Julian Jacobs and Jordan McLaughlin, as well as depth and talent at every position. Providence, on the other hand, will have the two best players on the court in Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn. Look for Dunn and Bentil to take control and win the game late.
(4) Kentucky vs. (13) Stony Brook
Jameel Warney is a beast for Stony Brook, and dedicates every game he plays to singer Mark Morrison. Seriously. Kentucky, however, oozes talent up and down their roster. Guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray will control the game throughout, and the Wildcats will win comfortably.
(5) Indiana vs. (12) Chattanooga
Chattanooga is a trendy upset pick, and for good reason: the Mocs lost just five teams all season, and Indiana may be reeling after an upset loss in the Big Ten Tournament to Michigan. Indiana still can lay claim to the most talent on the court, however, and Yogi Ferrell will fend off a late Chattanooga rally to set up a second round clash with Kentucky.
(6) Notre Dame vs. (11) Michigan/Tulsa
I'm writing this with the expectation that Michigan takes care of Tulsa, a team with no business being in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines are playing much better as of late, including an aforementioned victory over Indiana. Notre Dame still possesses key contributors from last season's Elite Eight team, but there's enough talent on the Wolverines roster to pull the upset.
(3) West Virginia vs. (14) Stephen F. Austin
Another trendy upset pick here: the Lumberjacks have lost just once in conference play in the last three seasons, and proved themselves to be a scary matchup after their 2014 NCAA Tournament upset over VCU. However, there's too much depth and talent on West Virginia's roster to think another upset is in the cards. Jaysean Paige, Devin Williams and the rest of Bob Huggins' squad lives to fight another day.
Pick: West Virginia
(7) Wisconsin vs. (10) Pittsburgh
The Badgers have to be ecstatic to be here, considering their early season struggles and the departure of Bo Ryan. New coach Greg Gard has rallied the remnants of last year's national runner-up together, and the Badgers have gotten hot at the right time behind Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Pitt won't be a pushover, but the Badgers will win relatively comfortably here.
(2) Xavier vs. (15) Weber State
Sorry, Weber State, Damian Lillard isn't walking through the door. Joel Bolomboy is an extremely talented player for the Wildcats, but they don't possess nearly the same talent and depth as the Musketeers. Save for an inexplicable home loss to Georgetown, Xavier has avoided letting their guard down all year, and will do so once more. Muskies win big.
Round of 32
(1) North Carolina vs. (9) Providence
The best chance for Providence to pull the upset off here is if North Carolina's biggest weaknesses rear their heads. The Tar Heels do struggle to shoot the three, and often fail to put together complete games on both sides of the ball. However, the Heels are playing in front of a friendly crowd, and the Friars will be burnt out after a much tougher first round test. Additionally, it will be tough for Providence, given their lack of height, to stop Brice Johnson inside. Like the first game, the Tar Heels take a while to get going, but win by double digits.
Pick: North Carolina
(4) Kentucky vs. (5) Indiana
I've gone back and forth a few times on this, mostly due to the fact that both teams can be so much better than what their seeds suggest they are. However, guard play wins in March, and the Hoosiers will miss James Blackmon Jr. now more than ever. Ulis and Murray carry the torch once again for the Wildcats.
(3) West Virginia vs. (11) Michigan
The Wolverines should be riding high after an upset victory, and will enter this game with a ton of confidence. West Virginia is much more talented than Notre Dame is, however, and their press will give Michigan's backcourt fits. The Mountaineers will march on.
Pick: West Virginia
(2) Xavier vs. (7) Wisconsin
Part of me wanted to pick the Badgers for a second, especially considering their success in one of the nation's best conference. However, some of the Badgers wins don't look as impressive now as they did back when they won them: Maryland and Iowa, two signature victories then, are both in free fall mode. Xavier is playing close to home in St. Louis, and will once again ride their depth to a victory.
(1) North Carolina vs. (4) Kentucky
Unlike previous years, these two teams did not meet in the early part of the season. This matchup provides ample consolation for both fan bases, and will prove to be one of the better matchups in the tournament. The Wildcats will give the Heels their toughest test yet, but UNC once again prevails behind Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige.
Pick: North Carolina
(2) Xavier vs. (3) West Virginia
West Virginia presents a scary matchup for the Musketeers, partly due to the fact that the Mountaineers bench play is extremely potent as well. Unfortunately for West Virginia, their press shouldn't affect Xavier the way it does with other teams, considering the depth the Musketeers possess at guard in Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, Remy Abell, and Miles Davis. Xavier will ensure a 1 vs. 2 matchup in the Elite Eight.
(1) North Carolina vs. (2) Xavier
As I mentioned earlier, UNC struggles to shoot the three pointer effectively. This will finally catch up to them in the regional final, and the Musketeers will ride their balanced attack to the Final Four for the first time in program history . J.P. Macura solidifies his status as "that white guy you would hate if he played for Duke" after a series of key hustle plays down the stretch.
Basically, don't expect to see many huge upsets; the top of this region is really, really good. I still believe that North Carolina is the tournament's most talented team, but the most talented team is not always the one who wins. Pick Xavier to represent the East region in St. Louis.