PUT ME IN COACH: Watch out for St. Joe’s, Providence in the East

MARSHALL -As the opening tip off draws near, I hope some of you have at least gotten started with filling out your brackets.

This one of my favorite times of year.

There is so much hype in the air. As a sportswriter, seeing certain teams and players grow up in front of our television screens is really entertaining.

Sports are something that can bring families and friends together and there is no better example than the NCAA tournament.

Today, we will be looking at the East Region. This region features some of the greatest coaches in the game in Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg.

Intriguing matchups

No. 7 Connecticut

vs. No. 10 St. Joseph’s

The Hawks were one of the best stories of the conference tournament’s Championship Week because of what their coach, Phil Martelli, had gone through since St. Joseph’s was eliminated from the NIT tournament last season.

He has since lost two family members unexpectedly and his son, Jimmy Martelli, was fired from Rutgers after being involved in the Mike Rice scandal.

St. Joe’s captured its first Atlantic 10 title since 1997 and earned its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008.

The Hawks haven’t won a game in the NCAA tournament since 2004, a la Jameer Nelson.

UConn enters with one of the premier players in the country in AAC player of the year in Shabazz Napier.

The senior guard averages 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.

The Huskies are coached by former UConn player Kevin Ollie.

Ollie was never a star at UConn, but still managed a long-term NBA career as a journeyman, playing for 12 different teams in the league.

No. 6 North Carolina

vs. No. 11 Providence

Providence is coming off a big win over Creighton in the Big East championship game and has a pure scorer in senior guard Bryce Cotton.

He averages 18 points and six assists.

UNC didn’t look good against Pittsburgh in the ACC tournament until the final 10 minutes, when its furious comeback fell short.

Roy Williams’ group has looked like one giant case of split personality disorder all year.

If the Tarheels are slow out of the gate and take longer than they should to decide they want to play, San Antonio may be their final stop.

Predictions

Virginia should advance easily past Coastal Carolina while I can see George Washington pulling a slight upset over Memphis to advance to the next round.

Unless Jeremy Linn dons a uniform, Harvard just doesn’t have the defensive skill to stop the Cincinnati scoring onslaught of senior guard Sean Kilpatrick and mates.

Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country and, arguably, the hottest right now coming off a Big Ten championship win over Michigan. The Spartans have too much firepower for Delaware to even make it close.

As well as Providence is playing, I think North Carolina rises to the challenge and outlasts the Friars in a hard-fought contest.

The Tar Heels will likely get a date with Iowa State, which will breeze past North Carolina Central.

Even though all the momentum is with St. Joe’s right now, something tells me Napier won’t let his team fall in the second round, but it will be a great game as UConn advances to play Villanova.

On Wednesday

The West Region is next.