Wednesday, December 8, 2021

East bracket breakdown

A very critical factor in a team’s success during the NCAA Tournament can be who you play. And with a shocking upset just around the corner, anything is possible.

Let’s take a look at the other teams in the bottom half of the East regional bracket.

First round opponent:

No. 7 seed N.C. State (22-10)

Herb Sendek’s Wolfpack are coming off a 30-point, 91-61 loss at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament final. But, in the conference tournament, the Wolfpack downed No. 2 Maryland in the semifinals.

N.C. State is led in the three major offensive categories by guard Anthony Grundy. The 6-foot-3 senior leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists, averaging 18.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

Freshman guard Julius Hodge, a friend of MSU sophomore guard Marcus Taylor, adds 10.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

Spartan head coach Tom Izzo said he admires Sendek’s success at N.C. State.

“I know Herb, and he’s done a great job there,” Izzo said. “I know they had their backs against the wall and Grundy is a heck of a player.”

The Wolfpack lost in late November at Ohio State, but also downed Syracuse on the road and swept a three-game series with the Virginia Cavaliers.

Possible second round opponents:

No. 2 seed Connecticut (24-6)

The Huskies are the most likely second-round opponent if the Spartans get past N.C. State. UConn won a national title in 1999, the first year Izzo led MSU to the Final Four and one year before he won his first national title.

UConn received the automatic bid from the Big East by defeating Pittsburgh in double-overtime in the conference’s tournament final.

The Huskies are winners of nine straight games with sophomore forward Caron Butler leading the team in scoring in seven of those games. Butler averaged 19.5 points to lead the team and 7.6 rebounds a game, second only to forward/center Emeka Okafor’s 9.1 rebounds per game.

Forward Johnnie Selvie, a Flint native, gives the Huskies senior leadership with his 11.8 points and 6.0 rebounds a game.

No. 15 seed Hampton (26-6)

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s champ started the season by upsetting North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Pirates have won 15 of their last 16 games and head into the postseason with plenty of momentum.

Hampton plays UConn in the first round.

Possible third round opponents:

No. 6 seed Texas Tech (23-8)

Head coach Bobby Knight has worked wonders in his first season at Texas Tech, but his team is coming off of a 90-50 loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Conference Tournament semifinals.

Center Andy Ellis patrols the paint for Knight’s Red Raiders and guard Andre Emmett is their main perimeter threat.

But the star here is Knight, and a potential matchup in the Sweet 16 between Texas Tech and MSU excites Taylor.

“That would be a blast from the past,” he said.

No. 11 seed Southern Illinois (26-7)

The Salukis got in off of the bubble with an at-large bid. Owners of nonconference wins against Iowa State and Indiana and a two-point loss to Illinois, the Salukis lost to eventual champ Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

The Salukis take on Texas Tech in what should be an opening round gem.

No. 3 seed Georgia (21-9)

The Bulldogs receive an at-large bid out of the SEC and head coach Jim Harrick has national championship credentials, winning with the UCLA Bruins in the 1996 tournament.

Swingman Jarvis Hayes’ 17.8 points per game and guard Ezra Williams’ 16.9 points pace the offensive attack.

The Bulldogs recorded wins at Pepperdine and at Kentucky en route to earning a berth in the tournament.

Georgia plays Murray State in the first round.

No. 14 Murray State (19-12)

The Racers, the perennial Ohio Valley Conference representative, get great scoring from guard Justin Burdine and have a legitimate double-double guy in forward James Singleton, who averages 10 rebounds and 12.2 points per game

Though the Spartans received a No. 10 seed, it appears a fifth-straight trip to the Sweet 16 isn’t out of the question. The Spartans match up well with each of the teams in the lower half of the East bracket and could just as easily win three games as they could lose to N.C. State.

Dan Woike, a men’s basketball reporter, can be reached at woikedan@msu.edu.

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