SOUTHWEST REGION PREVIEW
This regional features the second highest No. 1 seed in Kansas, the Big East second-place finisher (Notre Dame), the Big Ten second-place finisher (Purdue) and the A-10 tournament champion (Richmond). As far as coaches go, there are two national champions (Bill Self and Rick Pitino) and the Big East Coach of the Year (Mike Brey). And if you're looking for some star players to watch, there's the Big East Player of the Year (Ben Hansbrough), the Big 12 Player of the Year (Marcus Morris) and the nation's leader in rebounds and double-doubles (Kenneth Faried). All in all, it's a regional that should be highly competitive with the opportunity for upsets in each round.
Best First Round Matchup: No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Florida State
Both teams play tough man-to-man defense that can wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Florida State ended the season ranked second in defensive efficiency. The x-factor for the Seminoles will be forward Chris Singleton, who missed the last six games with a foot injury. When healthy, he's arguably one of the best defenders in the nation. He's tentatively expected to play in this game. For Texas A&M, expect forward Khris Middleton, the team's top scorer, to lead the way on both ends of the court. Neither team has an explosive offense, thus making the rebounding battle that much more important. Expect a tight, physical game that could come down to free-throws, something that FSU isn't particularly good at, ranking 264th in the nation in free-throw percentage.
Best Potential Second Round Matchup: No. 2 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Florida State
If Chris Singleton is healthy and can lead the Seminoles past Texas A&M in the first round, a matchup against Notre Dame would pit the second-best team in defensive efficiency in FSU against the third-best team in offensive efficiency in Notre Dame. Notre Dame runs a "burn" offense at times, holding the ball and limiting possessions, which would be interesting to watch against a Florida State team that plays smothering man-to-man defense. The matchup of Ben Hansbrough, the Big East Player of the Year, against Singleton would be reason enough to tune in.
First Round Upset: No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Richmond
In a 12-5 matchup, which have been known to produce upsets, the Richmond Spiders have a good shot at upsetting Vanderbilt because of their perimeter play on both ends of the court. Vandy has a great three-point shooter in John Jenkins, but he should have trouble shooting against a Richmond team that ranks 12th in three-point defense. On the flip side, the Spiders shoot the three extremely well with Kevin Anderson and Darien Brothers. As a team they rank 11th in offensive three-point percentage. They also have NBA prospect Justin Harper (6-foot-10) who can beat defenders down low or from the outside. In 2008 and 2010 the Commodores were upset in the first round, so an early exit would be nothing new for coach Kevin Stallings. Toss in the fact that the Spiders run a Princeton-style offense that Vandy doesn't see in the SEC and you have all the makings of a potential 12-5 upset.
If the Spiders can win their 12-5 matchup with Vanderbilt, they'd potentially match up with a Louisville team that likes to shoot the three (40.5 percent of their field-goal attempts are from long range), something Richmond is good at defending (12th in three-point defense). The Spiders rank 16th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage, which bodes well against a Louisville zone defense that likes to force turnovers. Also encouraging is the fact that the Cardinals lack the size to match up with the likes of Justin Harper (6-10), who leads the Spiders in scoring with 18.0 points per game. Mix in the fact that this is a road-tested Richmond team (see below) that already has one major pelt on its wall (Purdue) and the Spiders have the potential to make it to the Sweet 16 as a 12 seed.
Bust: No. 6 Georgetown
If Chris Wright (wrist) can't play, the Hoyas are going to have a very tough time making it out of the first weekend. Without him, Georgetown lost its last three games by an average of 15.3 points. It wouldn't be that surprising to see USC (assuming it survies its play-in game vs. Virgina Commonwealth) pull the upset in the first round, considering the advantage the Trojans would have in the low post with Nikola Vucevic (6-10) and Alex Stephenson (6-10). If Wright is plays, he'll still be at less than 100 percent, which isn't a good sign as the offense runs through him. Assuming his wrist is 100 percent healthy, there's still Purdue to deal with in the second round, a team that finished second in the Big Ten. It's too bad because before Wright's injury, the Hoyas looked poised to get a much better seed and make a tournament run.
Team to Knock Off the No. 1 Seed: Louisville
The Cardinals don't have the size to bang with Kansas in the low post, but that's not their style as they like to run a perimeter-oriented offense. If they can light it up from outside and force Kanas to run with them, the Jayhawks may be in for an upset. The full-court pressure that Louisville employs is something Kansas sees at least twice a year with Missouri, but the guards of Louisville are more disciplined than those of the Tigers. Louisville is well coached by Rick Pitino, who is 9-0 in Sweet 16 games. The Cardinals knocked off UConn (twice), Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame this season, so it's not like they haven't faced a big-time opponent and came away the victors.
Who's Hot: Morehead State
The 13th-seeded Eagles went 12-1 down the stretch with their only loss coming against Murray State. Of those 12 wins, eight came either on the road or at a neutral location. And they finished the season by winning the Ohio Valley conference tournament.
Who's Not: Illinois
The Illini limped into the field losing 10 of their last 16. They haven't won back-to-back games since Jan. 6. Much of their erratic play can be attributed to guard Demetri McCamey, who plays like an All-American in one game and someone who'd rather be elsewhere the next.
Road Warriors: Richmond
The 12th-seeded Spiders won 10 games on the road this season and lost only three. Seven of those wins came in the Atlantic 10. Their best road win is a 69-61 victory at Seton Hall. In non-conference games at a neutral location, they went 2-1 with a huge 65-54 win over Purdue. They ended the season by winning the conference tournament in Atlantic City with victories over Temple and Dayton.
Road Weary: Illinois
The eighth-seeded Illini won only three games on the road this season. They beat Western Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota ... not exactly murderer's row. In non-conference games at a neutral location, they went 2-4 with wins over Maryland and Gonzaga. The Gonzaga win was a convincing 73-61 victory. To their credit, they did lose to Texas in overtime in the Coaches vs Cancer tournament. In the Big Ten tournament they lost in their first game to Michigan, 60-55.
Toughest Road to the Final Four: Notre Dame
To start, the Irish shoota lot of three-pointers, and as the saying goes, you live by the three, you die by the three. So any game in which they aren't hitting their long-range shots could be a recipe for disaster. In the second round they could face Florida State, a team that knows how to play defense and has an answer for Ben Hansbrough in Chris Singleton. If they survive that game, they'd likely play Purdue, who is arguably the best No. 3 seed in the tournament. Then they'd potentially get to face Kansas, a red-hot Richmond team or a Louisville squad that they just lost to in the Big East tournament.
Player to Watch: Kenneth Faried, Morehead State
Often compared to Dennis Rodman, Faried is easily the nation's best rebounder, averaging 14.3 boards a game. With a motor that scouts rave about, he also leads the nation in double-doubles with 27. Against Louisville in the first round, he should be a one-man wrecking crew who exploits Louisville's undersized front line. Check him out if you can because his next game could be for your favorite NBA team -- he's that good.
Sweet 16 Teams:
Kansas -- Neither UNLV, nor Illinois has the depth or firepower to knock off the Jayhawks.
Richmond -- The Spiders have four seniors in their starting lineup, pros in Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson, road wins and are peaking at the right time after winning the A-10 tournament.
Purdue -- The Boilermakers have NBA-level talents in JuJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, and that should be enough to carry them.
Notre Dame -- Teams with the Big East Player of the Year (Ben Hansbrough) and the conference's Coach of the Year (Mike Brey) don't lose in the first weekend.
Final Four Pick: Kansas
This team is out to finish what it started last season, when the Jayhawks were upset by Northern Iowa. They have great size in the post with the Morris twins, which allows them to out rebound teams and jumpstart their transition offense. At the guard spot, Tyrell Reed is about as steady as they come, and we still haven't seen the best from Josh Selby yet. Bill Self has been down this road before, and with him at the helm, this team should be humble and hungry for a shot at the national title.