The Beasts in the East
Tyler Smith
FoxSports.com
Posted Mar 27, 2008


The real story this weekend is that all has gone according to plan in the East Region, and now we've got a bunch of big boys slinging it out in Charlotte with a Final Four berth on the line.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Forget about all the storylines Yes, North Carolina finally has a healthy Ty Lawson. Tennessee's postseason experiment involving J.P. Prince as the starting point guard is interesting. Washington State guard Taylor Rochestie's unselfishness to give up his scholarship next season is noble. Even Derrick Caracter's disappointing collegiate career is semi-newsworthy.

But the real story is that all has gone according to plan in the East Region, and now we've got a bunch of big boys slinging it out in Charlotte with a Final Four berth on the line.

It doesn't get any better than this.

The Cinderella stories are entertaining, but when the Sweet 16 rolls around, it's almost always about the top teams advancing (unless your name is George Mason).

After witnessing Upset City last Friday in Tampa — a day in which all four underdogs pulled off the upset — I'm ready to see the heavyweights go at it.

That's why I'm in Charlotte.

That's exactly what's going to go down here on Thursday, when No. 1 North Carolina faces No. 4 Washington State, followed by No. 2 Tennessee against No. 3 Louisville. All four of the teams were in The Associated Press preseason top 10.

Out in Phoenix, you've got one big-time program in UCLA. The Bruins play Western Kentucky and then get the winner of Xavier-West Virginia. That's a road clear of major potholes for Ben Howland's club.

The Midwest has Kansas, Wisconsin, No. 10 Davidson and No. 12 Villanova.

Yawn, yawn.

The only region that compares is down south, with Memphis going against Michigan State and Texas facing Stanford.

Still, it doesn't stack up to the quartet in Charlotte. The Tar Heels enter the Big Dance as the top team in the nation and have the best college basketball player in the country. Even if you are pro-Michael Beasley, North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough is the best college basketball player who hasn't been eliminated.

It's the 40th time that North Carolina will play in the NCAA tournament, tied with UCLA for second behind Kentucky (49).

"We knew from the time the brackets were announced that this was the toughest one in the tournament," Tar Heels sophomore shooting guard Wayne Ellington said. "All the top seeds advanced, and that means you've got a lot of great teams here."

Like Louisville, whom the Tar Heels could potentially see in the Elite Eight. The Cardinals have eight Final Four appearances under their belt and a coach in Rick Pitino who has gone to the Final Four with three different schools. They are also one of the hottest teams in the country since New Year's.

Then you've got a Tennessee team that has established itself as more than just a football school since Bruce Pearl's arrival — and don't expect that to change anytime soon. The Vols began the season ranked No. 7 in the country and have been a fixture near the top of the polls all season long, even moving all the way up to No. 1 for a week after a road win at Memphis.

"Right from the selection show, we knew it was going to be tough for the No. 2 seed (in the East)," Vols senior shooting guard Chris Lofton said. "Next thing you know, we see us as the No. 2 seed. We knew it was going to be difficult coming in, but now look at it."

The one school that may appear out of place is Washington State, but the Cougars were a preseason top-10 pick after its unlikely run a year ago to the NCAA tournament. Washington State was expected to challenge UCLA for the Pac-10 title, and while it didn't quite live up to the preseason hype, the Cougars were still the third-best team in the top conference in the nation.

"I don't think us being here gives any credibility," Cougars junior forward Daven Harmeling said. "We don't get a lot of respect, and deservedly so."

Maybe not compared to their brethren out here in Charlotte.

Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. He can be reached at GoodmanonFOX@aol.com or check out his blog, Good 'N Plenty.


Related Stories
That's A Wrap
 -by HawgsIllustrated.com  Mar 27, 2008
Breaking down the Sweet 16
 -by ScoutHoopsExperts.com  Mar 27, 2008
Pearl vs. Pitino
 -by InsideTennessee.com  Mar 27, 2008

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