This year’s South Region boosts a large crop of NBA-bound talent, a mid-major scoring machine, and several recent Final Four participants/national champions. The talent pool is extremely deep, and there should be some real parody in the region as each team, even the top seeds, has some serious flaws that can be exploited. Style of play can make or break March success, and the South touts some intriguing potential match-ups of unlike opponents: Kansas lacks a true point guard and can struggle against pressure, and the potential match-up with Shaka Smart’s Havoc looms over Jayhawk faithful; Georgetown has struggled to put the ball in the basket (outside the outstanding Otto Porter), and the high scoring Florida Gators are chomping at the bit to take a shot at the Hoyas in the round of 16. The house that Jerry built will host the last weekend of the South and I suspect some serious drama will unfold before the Arlington, Texas crowd.
1) Kansas Jayhawks: Bill Self’s team comes into the tournament after yet another Big 12 Title (a silly 9th straight) and is primed to make a run to Atlanta. Led by freshman sensation, Ben McLemore, and senior big man Jeff Withey, Kansas can get up and down the floor with the best of them, and defends tough in the half court. Their big weakness all year has been their lack of a true point guard, and if Kansas falls short of their goal of a South Region crown this will likely be a big reason why.
2) Georgetown Hoyas: JT3 and Big East POY Otto Porter lead a young Hoya team up I-95 to Philadelphia for the first weekend of the tournament. Unfortunately, I can speak from experience that JT3’s Hoyas travel well to Philadelphia (where they knocked my Villanova teams’ off in two straight years) and I think this familiarity bodes well for the Hoyas early round games. Porter is a player capable of carrying his team to Atlanta, and if he is on his game, the Hoyas will be able to make a serious run in the South.
3) Florida Gators: Florida may be one of the deepest and most talented teams in the country. They lost a disappointing game in the SEC title to Ole Miss, but this could be exactly what they needed to get them fired up for a March run. Florida’s biggest weakness is their up and down nature. If Florida is able to hit 3’s, they will be a tough out. However, if their jumper doesn’t fall, they haven’t proven themselves consistently tough enough to gut out the ugly games.
VCU Rams: Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams shocked the world as an 11 seed when they made the Final Four in 2011. But, they won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year because this Rams’ team may be a more talented than the Final Four squad. With their signature full-court pressure coming at you for 40 minutes, VCU is an extremely difficult team to prepare for on short rest and are a match-up nightmare. Even if the guests at the party know they are coming this time around, VCU would happily slip on the red slipper for another March dance.
1) North Carolina (8) v. Villanova (9): a rematch of the 2009 Final Four. Nova Nation is hoping for some revenge, but Ol’ Roy would love to see his vastly improved squad continue their solid play with a match-up with his past employer looming. Villanova has proven game in some big match-ups this year (winning 3 top 5 games as an unranked team) and not many in college basketball are a bigger game than UNC. The game should be up and down, and I suspect a scoring line to reflect both teams’ preferred fast pace.
2) UCLA (6) v. Minnesota (11): Tubby Smith’s Minnesota had some big wins in the tough Big Ten this year, and UCLA suffered a major loss when Jordan Adams went down with a significant lower body injury in their conference tournament. Ben Howland may be coaching his last game for UCLA if he cannot get his young Bruins, led by the only confirmed freshman in the draft Shabazz Muhammad, prepared for this upset special.
3) Michigan (4) v. S. Dakota St. (12): the match-up between Jackrabbits star Nate Wolters and the Wolverines Trey Burke is the kind of stuff NCAA tournament dreams are made of. These are two of the very best in the country getting a chance to play head to head in a game that otherwise never would have happened. This is why we love March Madness.
Potential Third Round Matchups:
1) Michigan (4) v. VCU (5): VCU is one of the best teams in the nation at pressuring in the full court. Michigan boasts a very talented backcourt in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. capable of handling said pressure. Whichever of these teams’ strengths breaks first would be the deciding factor in this potential match-up.
2) Kansas (1) v. North Carolina (8): The Roy Williams Bowl. Kansas will never be able to forget the things Roy did when he manned the sideline at Fogg Allen, nor will they forgive the way he decided to leave it. It’s an extremely sexy match-up that most basketball fans are hoping for (just not this particular fan).
Players to Watch:
NBA Draft Picks: Otto Porter, Ben McLemore, Jeff Withy, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Trey Burke, and Tim Hardaway Jr. are only some of the names in the South region that are coming to an NBA arena near you. The South may be the most talented region in terms of pro-level talent, so enjoy these stars while you can as most won’t be on college campuses for much longer.
Nate Wolters– S. Dakota St.: this kid is one of the best players in the country you’ve never heard of. He’s scored over 2000 points in his four years as a Jackrabbit, and is averaging a line of 22.7 points, 5.6 boards, 5.8 dimes, 1.8 steals on nearly 50% from the field and 39% from 3. His match-up with Trey Burke is one of the big stories of the opening round in the South.
Rodney Williams– Minnesota: you watch ESPN, right? Williams is a highlight waiting to happen.
James Michael McAdoo– North Carolina: McAdoo came back for his sophomore year to get better and improve his draft stock in this year’s draft. His unsteady play at times this year has not helped him rise on many draft boards. A few great games in March can change that.
I’m choosing the Hoyas because, in my opinion, Otto Porter was the most outstanding player in college basketball this year. No top team depends on their star to be a star as much as Georgetown and Porter was constantly able to throw the Hoyas on his back by playing whatever role necessary to get wins. He may not be amazing at any one thing (which is the reason he’s not in conversation for the first pick in the draft), but he’s very, very good at everything. The South region is wide open, and it may be the toughest of all the regions to determine a winner. The talent pool is deep, and the match-ups are intriguing. I went back and forth with my selection, having trouble settling on a winner. Ultimately, I settled on Georgetown because I believe in Porter just a little bit more than the stars at Florida, Kansas and Michigan. Otto Porter’s all-around excellence and nightly consistency will shine through as he leads Georgetown to the South Region crown.