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South Region: A Clear Path for Duke

SOUTH REGION

The South may be the region where the No. 1 seed has the easiest road to the regional final. Duke is joined by three teams from the Big East (No. 2 seed Villanova, No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 9 Louisville) and the Big 12 (No. 3 Baylor, No. 5 Texas A&M). Fourth-seeded Purdue had an outside shot at a No. 1 seed themselves before star forward Robbie Hummel went down with a season-ending knee injury, and eighth-seeded California was the Pac-10 regular season champion.

Best First-Round Matchup: No. 8 California vs. No. 9 Louisville

These two teams are led by coaches who went back to the college game after failing as NBA head coaches. Mike Montgomery's eighth-seed Golden Bears have strong senior leaders in guards Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher with forwards Jamal Boykin and Theo Robertson, who are the top four scorers on the team. The quartet was led by Randle's 18.7 per game average. Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals beat Syracuse twice this season, but did have a couple of bad losses (Charlotte, Western Carolina). The Cardinals are led by the duo of senior guard Edgar Sosa and sophomore forward Samardo Samuels, the only two Cardinals' players to average double-digit points per game this season (led by Samuels' 15.7 per game average).

Best Potential Second-Round Matchup: No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 6 Notre Dame

Baylor is led in scoring by guards LaceDarius Dunn (19.4 PPG) and Tweety Carter (15.7 PPG) along with forward Ekpe Udoh (13.9 PPG). Notre Dame played well without star forward Luke Harangody and was on the tournament bubble before a six-game winning streak late in the season. Forward Tim Abromaitis (16.3 PPG) and guard Ben Hansbrough (Tyler's brother) are also key players for the Fighting Irish.

First-Round Upset: No. 13 Siena over No.4 Purdue

Purdue is not the same team without star forward Robbie Hummel (knee), and now guards E'Twaun Moore (left ankle) and Louis Jackson (left leg) are dealing with injuries suffered in the Boilermakers' Big Ten tournament loss to Minnesota. Siena has four players who average more than 13 points per game this season, including junior forward Ryan Rossiter (13.9 points per game, 11.1 rebounds per game).

Cinderella: No. 6 Notre Dame

The return of leading scorer Luke Harangody comes at the right time for the Fighting Irish. The team has played well recently, and Harangody, who missed five last-season games before returning for the regular-season finale, could lead a run to the Elite Eight -- provided his gimpy knee holds up.

Bust: No. 4 Purdue

The Boilermakers are not playing particularly well, and key injuries could be a factor later in the tournament, even if they avoid a first-round upset against Siena. A second-round game against No. 5 Texas A&M or No. 12 Utah State could be trouble if they get that far. It's been a quick fall for the Boilermakers, who were talked about as a potential No. 1 seed not all that long ago.

Team to Knock off the No. 1 Seed: No. 8 California

California has senior leadership that won't get rattled playing Duke and has athleticism the Blue Devils don't have. A potential second-round matchup could be a very good matchup.

Who's Hot: No. 1 Duke

Duke has only lost once since Feb. 1, and that was a road game against Maryland.

Who's Not: No. 2 Villanova

The Wildcats have lost three of their last four and five of their last seven games. It was somewhat of a surprise they got a No. 2 seed, and if they cannot turn things around they could suffer a quick exit.

Road Warriors: No. 4 Purdue

The Boilermakers had notable road wins at Michigan State, Ohio State and Minnesota during Big Ten play and also had road wins over Tennessee and Alabama during their non-conference schedule.

Road Weary: No. 9 Louisville

The Cardinals lost seven road games this season, including losses to Seton Hall and St. John's. They lost on the road to tournament teams Kentucky, UNLV, West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

Toughest Road to the Final Four: No. 3 Baylor

The Bears have a potential second-round matchup with Notre Dame, followed by a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Villanova. Not to mention a potential Elite Eight matchup with No. 1 seed Duke.

Player to Watch: Jerome Randle, California

Randle is the Golden Bears' leading scorer at 18.7 points per game. He has made 41 percent of his three-pointers this season and shoots 93.5 percent from the free-throw line. In fact, he has not missed a free throw in over a month. Randle will be the key if California is to beat Louisville in the first round and upset Duke in the second round.

Sweet 16 Teams:

No. 1 Duke -- Top seed shouldn't have any trouble in the first two rounds
No. 5 Texas A&M -- The Aggies, if they beat Utah State in the first round, will get either a floundering Purdue squad or No. 13 seed Siena.
No. 3 Baylor --The Big 12 battle-tested Bears should be able to make it through the first weekend
No. 2 Villanova -- The Wildcats have enough senior leadership to turn around their late-season struggles and make an appearance in the Sweet 16

Final Four Pick: Duke

This year's Duke squad is not being talked about as a national title favorite, probably due to the absence of at least one flashy, headline-grabbing player. But the veteran core of Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith will lead the Blue Devils to a deep tournament run.

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