East Region breakdown: Plenty of depth after top-seeded Virginia

Dick Bennett was so nervous about his son’s season at Virginia that he wouldn’t watch the games. He waited for Tony’s call afterwards to get updates.

Today, Dick couldn’t be prouder. Tony Bennett cut down nets on Sunday after the Cavaliers defeated Duke for the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship, Virginia’s first title since Ralph Sampson’s career ended in 1983.

It’s been a remarkable run for Bennett, who took two of his three Washington State teams to the NCAA Tournament before arriving in Charlottesville, and now it continues with the expectation of the favorite in the East Region.

Virginia is smoking, having won 16 of 17, but this new territory for the Cavs, who look to reach a Final Four for the first time since 1984.

The dangerous teams may be further down the bracket.

Third-seeded Iowa State defeated three NCAA teams on its way to winning the Big 12 Tournament. The Cyclones have one of the nation’s top offenses.

Fourth-seeded Michigan State is healthy and cruised to the Big Ten Tournament title with a 14-point victory over Michigan on Sunday.

“It gives us a little barometer of where we are and where we can be,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.

No. 2 seed Villanova has had a few extra days to stew over its Big East quarterfinal loss to Seton Hall. The Wildcats are bidding to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.

The regional final site is also a big story here. Four survivors will meet on March 28 in Madison Square Garden, the first time the famed building has held NCAA Tournament games since the gambling scandals of the early 1950s.

BEST MATCHUP

If it’s close, look for No. 11 Providence to hang with No. 6 North Carolina. The Friars are the nation’s second-best free-throw shooting team at 78.1 percent. The Tar Heels are 344th at 62.5 percent.

UPSET SPECIAL

No. 12 Harvard over No. 5 Cincinnati

Harvard pulled off a stunner last year as a No. 13 seed. The Crimson is riding an eight-game winning streak and has held three of those opponents to 47 or fewer points.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Michigan State guard Gary Harris is the type of leader that can take a team to the Final Four. He set the tone the Spartans’ victory over Michigan on Sunday with 13 first-half points.

FINAL FOUR PICK

Michigan State over Iowa State

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