South Regional Preview: Top four with minimal disparity
The South Regional is wide open. Kansas may be the No. 1 seed, but there isn't much difference between the Jayhawks, Georgetown, Florida and Michigan.
South Regional Preview:
The four top teams in the region all, at one time or another this season, had a chance to earn a No. 1 seed. Kansas might be as vulnerable of a No. 1 seed as there is in the field, and Georgetown clearly overachieved this season. Neither one of those teams is a work of art on the offensive end. Florida has been to the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons and could easily come out of the region, and the same can be said for No. 4 Michigan -- which boasts the top player in this portion of the bracket and maybe the entire nation in Trey Burke. Let's not overlook Shaka Smart and VCU, either. The Rams could cause problems for Burke in a likely Round of 32 matchup.
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There should be a few upsets in the region, but it's difficult to imagine a Cinderella getting too far.
Here's a breakdown of the South Region:
THREE INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THE REGION
1. Star power -- So many terrific players and coaches in this region. You've got two of the top candidates for the National Player of the Year in Trey Burke and Otto Porter, two of the best freshmen in Ben McLemore and Shabazz Muhammad -- and also maybe the National Defensive Player of the Year in Jeff Withey. You've got Billy Donovan, Bill Self, Roy Williams, Ben Howland, Tubby Smith, John Beilein, Jay Wright and Shaka Smart -- each of whom has made at least one Final Four appearance.
2. Roy Williams against former club -- The North Carolina-Kansas matchup should be entertaining for a myriad of reasons. First of all, many Jayhawks fans still resent (OK, hate) Williams for leaving for Chapel Hill. Second of all, this North Carolina team is completely different than the one that was blasted down in Miami. The Tar Heels could pull off the upset -- as long as they get past 'Nova in the Round of 64.
3. Hot Seat Matchup -- Ben Howland and Tubby Smith are both fighting for their coaching lives -- and will meet one another in the opening game of the tourney. Howland is losing his fan base while Smith desperately needs an NCAA tournament victory since it would be his first since coming to Minnesota.
FIVE BEST PLAYERS IN THE REGION
1. Trey Burke (Michigan): The front-runner for National Player of the Year honors and has been the best point guard in the country. Burke can do it all -- score, distribute and also defend. He averaged 19.2 points and 6.7 assists per game for a team that won 26 games.
2. Otto Porter (Georgetown): The sophomore forward has carried the Hoyas, especially after Georgetown lost its second-leading scorer Greg Whittington early in league play. Porter is extremely versatile and averaged 16.3 points and 7.4 boards this season.
3. Ben McLemore (Kansas): He redshirted last season and has quickly become the team's go-to guy and potentially the first overall pick in June's NBA Draft. Averaged 16.4 points and is a versatile scorer who can shoot if from deep and also get to the bucket.
4. Jeff Withey (Kansas): He might be the elite shot-blocker in the entire country. Withey improved on the offensive end and averaged 13.6 points this season, grabbed 8.4 boards and swatted nearly four shots per game.
5. Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA): Came in as the top-rated freshman by many and, after missing the first three games, has averaged 17.8 points and 5.3 boards per game. Can really score it and shot it much better from deep than was expected.
FIVE BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE REGION
The biggest Round of 64 upset will be ... Minnesota over UCLA. The Gophers have struggled lately, but Ben Howland's team has to adjust on the fly after losing freshman starter Jordan Adams -- who was the team's most versatile scorer. Tubby Smith's team has lost 11 of its last 16 games, but they are well-prepared after playing in the Big Ten.
The lowest-seeded school to make the Sweet 16 will be ... No. 8 North Carolina -- It means Roy Williams will have to knock off his former program, Kansas. The Tar Heels have changed their style and been far more successful since inserting P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup.
The player the country doesn't know now but will know by Saturday is ... Nate Wolters -- I'm not sure that South Dakota State will pull the upset over Michigan, but Wolters is a terrific player and is a pleasure to watch. This head-to-head battle between Wolters and Trey Burke should be highly entertaining.
The Elite Eight showdown will feature ... Florida vs. Michigan -- I'm not sold on Kansas, primarily due to the Jayhawks point guard situation, and I think Trey Burke and Michigan can get past the Jayhawks in the Sweet 16. On the other side, the Florida Gators have a nice draw and have too much talent, experience and balance and should get past either UCLA or Minnesota in the Round of 32 -- and likely Georgetown in the Sweet 16.
The champion of the East Region will be ... Florida -- Billy Donovan's team has come up short and lost in the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons, but the road is paved fairly nicely for the Gators this year. I don't know who takes the shot in close games, but I'm not sure Florida will need someone to knock down a game-winner until the Gators reach the Elite Eight.
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