SOUTH REGION PREVIEW
With only one conference tournament champion among the top 12 seeds, the South Region might not be seen as powerful as other regions. However, don't dwell on the recent past too much: this region will not be a cakewalk for the Jayhawks, who play the first two games in friendly Kansas City. Kansas likely would defeat Western Kentucky (Sun Belt, represent!) and either North Carolina or Villanova no matter where the games took place. Georgetown and Florida, at two and three, are excellent defensive teams who may hold up to their seedings.
No. 1 Kansas - Other than a strange three-game losing streak at the beginning of February and a disinterested loss at Baylor in the regular-season finale, the Jayhawks had a very smooth season. Like all teams coached by Bill Self, this year's Jayhawks play excellent defense and share the ball on offense. Freshman Ben McLemore is the breakout star with 16.4 points, including 2.0 3-pointers per game, and 5.3 rebounds. Center Jeff Withey is third in the nation in shot blocking (and first among players in the tournament) and has improved on offense in his senior season. The Sweet 16 game likely against Michigan or VCU (who knocked the Jayhawks out of the 2011 tournament) could be interesting, and a game against the Hoyas (if the seeds hold) in the Elite Eight would be epic, if rather low scoring.
No. 2 Georgetown - The Hoyas' season seemed to gain steam when sophomore forward Greg Whittington was suspended for academics. Otto Porter took a larger scoring role, and freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera got more playing time. The Hoyas had an 11-game winning streak, but were beaten by Villanova then Syracuse in the Big East tournament. They are a tough defensive squad and, like Kansas, share the ball because of their use of the Princeton offense. Georgetown has not advanced past the second round since 2007 and a potential match-up against Florida in the Elite Eight will be very intriguing.
No. 3 Florida - Florida became the sabrematicians' darling because it routinely crushed opponents and had a large average winning margin. The big winning margin and love from Ken Pomeroy did not help the Gators win the SEC tournament as they lost to Ole Miss in the final. Coach Billy Donovan likes to spring his team's full-court press on opponents, which should make things interesting for the pressing Northwestern State Demons in the first round. The team has four scorers between 12.7 and 9.1 points, making it tough to defend. Maybe Kenny Boynton Jr. will break out of his season-long shooting slump in the Big Dance.
No. 4 Michigan - Teams coached by John Beilein rely a great deal on 3-pointers. This year's Wolverine squad is no different, but it is led by one of the finest scoring point guards in the nation: Trey Burke. The 6-0 sophomore has scored at least 15 points in every game against Big Ten competition and will not be slowed by South Dakota State. In the next round, VCU likely awaits, which will be one of the most interesting contrasts in style between two teams. Burke's ball handling might be good enough to handle the Rams defense. Michigan will have to play a solid game just to hold seed and make it to the Sweet 16.
No. 11 Minnesota - If you believe in conference strength helping a team, then you might want to take a look at the Golden Gophers. They finished 8-10 in Big Ten play and lost seven of their last 10 games, including the low-scoring loss against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament. Trevor Mbakwe is significantly older than the UCLA Bruins he will face in the first round and could be a force on the boards. Rodney Williams also will be able to fly with the young Bruins. If Minnesota can get past UCLA, it likely will meet Florida for another interesting senior-laden match-up.
No. 14 South Dakota State - Nate Wolters. Do I need to write more? Oh, I do? OK, the Jackrabbits represent the Summit League for the second consecutive year behind the 6-4 all-everything guard from Minnesota. Wolters scored 19 points in the loss to Baylor in last year's tournament and could be the kind of player to cause Michigan headaches. Junior forward Jordan Dykstra is also a nice 3-point shooter (43 percent). If the threes fall in bunches, South Dakota State could pull the big upset and set up a dream match-up with San Diego State down the road.
No. 3 Florida - I did not learn my lesson last year. I thought Florida would be terrible and the Gators proved me wrong by making it to the Elite Eight and generally being all too successful. This year, Florida suffered some rough losses on the road to fairly marginal teams (Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Alabama) down the stretch. Florida struggled from the field against Ole Miss in the SEC finals. The team is not deep and plays a fast style. I respect coach Billy Donovan, but I could see either UCLA or Minnesota sending the Gators back to the swamp.
No. 10 Oklahoma over No. 7 San Diego State - OK, this won't be the biggest upset in the tournament, but the Aztecs lost five of their last nine games and star guard Jamaal Franklin finished with a quiet eight points in the loss to New Mexico in the Mountain West tournament. Oklahoma has big enough bodies to cause the perimeter-oriented Aztecs problems. Forward Romero Osby scored at least 17 points in his last eight games and could help the Sooners roll in the Round of 32.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Otto Porter, forward, Georgetown - No team in the region depends on a single player more than the Hoyas lean on their 6-8 sophomore. Porter had a breakout game on Feb. 23 in a win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. He has cooled off in his last four games, but still managed to hit double digits in his last 18 games. Beyond scoring, Porter provides rebounds, 3-pointers, assists, steals and blocks. If the Hoyas and Jayhawks advance, two of the top NBA prospect in Porter and McLemore could face off.
SWEET 16 PICKS
No. 1 Kansas - A game against North Carolina and former Jayhawk coach Roy Williams would make for great copy, but the Tar Heels have not beaten anyone of consequence. The Jayhawks should be able to handle Villanova if the Wildcats make it through as well.
No. 5 VCU - The Rams play a style that has proven successful in the NCAA tournament. They will have to control Michigan's Trey Burke in the second round, but the pro-Michigan crowd at Auburn Hills should not be a problem.
No. 6 UCLA - Talent wins in the Big Dance and the Bruins, even without freshman scorer Jordan Adams who broke his foot in the Pac-12 tournament, are a talented squad. Shabazz Muhammad could will UCLA into the second round past Florida. The Gators beat UCLA in the finals in 2006 and 2007 – it may be time for a small bit of revenge.
No. 2 Georgetown - A second-round game against San Diego State would be interesting, but the Hoyas play together and are one of the strongest defensive teams in the nation. The South Region is all about stopping points, and the Hoyas can do that as well as any team.
FINAL FOUR PICK
No. 1 Kansas - Going with the chalk is boring, I know, but I think the Jayhawks are one of the two best teams in the nation (Indiana being the other). It's just a shame they can't meet in the NCAA Finals. In addition to Withey and McLemore, the Jayhawks have solid veteran players in Travis Releford (who hit 56.4 percent of his field goals) and Elijah Johnson (who can play out of control, but has speed to spare). The Jayhawks are deep and have tournament experience since they went to the Final Four last year. The ghost of Farokhmanesh may still haunt the Jayhawks and they will likely hold seed and advance to the Final Four.