NCAA East Region preview

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Sports,College,Jeffrey Tomik

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Did you know ...

Gonzaga will be making its 14th straight tournament appearance?

Only Kansas, Duke and Michigan State have longer active streaks. While the Bulldogs don't have a Final Four to show for their long tournament run, they have been successful in opening-round games -- winning 10 of their last 13. Gonzaga's best tournament run was in 1999 when the Bulldogs made the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed, losing to eventual national champion Connecticut.

Key opening game

No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Montana

Wisconsin allows just 51.9 points a game, the fewest in the country. The Badgers' slowed-down pace is not always the most entertaining style to watch, but it has been effective in the tournament -- at least in their opening game. Wisconsin has made the round of 32 the last five years. Montana, winner of the Big Sky, has won 14 straight games. The Grizzlies' last loss was Jan. 14 at Weber State.

The favorite

No. 1 Syracuse Orange

For a team that is 31-2, the Orange have some obvious flaws. Syracuse struggles with defensive rebounding and lacks a true go-to player. But the Orange have been able to overcome their shortcomings with their unusual depth -- seven players average more than 6.5 points a game -- and ability to win the turnover battle -- they're second in the nation with a plus-6.3 turnover margin. Also, this may be the best 2-3 zone Syracuse has ever had.

The contender

No. 3 Florida State Seminoles

The Seminoles are tough to figure out. They won the ACC tournament and went 4-2 against Duke and North Carolina this year. But they also lost to two Ivy League schools -- Harvard and Princeton -- and were defeated by ACC bottom-feeder Boston College. While Florida State's overall play has been inconsistent, they always play well defensively, ranking fourth in the country in field goal percentage defense.

One and done

No. 5 Vanderbilt Commodores

The Commodores won the SEC tournament, defeating Kentucky in the final. But they have not fared well in the NCAA tournament. Vanderbilt has been a top-five seed in their last three appearances but lost to double-digit seeds -- Richmond, Murray State and Siena -- each year. The Commodores face a Harvard team that defeated ACC tournament champion Florida State earlier this season.

Cinderella

No. 10 West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers have an experienced inside-out combination that could take them far. Senior forward Kevin Jones led the Big East in scoring (20.1 points a game) and rebounding (11.1 a game), and Darryl "Truck" Bryant was second on the team with 17.2 points a game. Jones had 21 double-doubles this season, third most in the country. Junior forward Deniz Kilicli adds another scoring option in the post.

The Examiner predicts ...

No. 1 Syracuse Orange

The Orange have proved they can win a lot of different ways. Coach Jim Boeheim has done a masterful job with the rotation -- a task made easier with players like Dion Waiters, James Southerland and C.J. Fair coming off the bench. But this team needs its two seniors -- Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine -- to step up. During the Big East tournament, Joseph and Jardine combined to make just six of 23 shots in two games.

jtomik@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Jeffrey Tomik

Sports editor
The Washington Examiner