Midwest Region Preview
West Region Preview
South Region Preview
East Region Preview
SOUTH REGION SWEET 16 PREVIEW
Site: Arlington, Texas
It is a well known fact that Cinderella is a southern belle, so it was no surprise to see a bracket buster come from the South Region. Some thought it would be South Dakota State or Akron (playing close to home). The Jackrabbits and Zips fell in the Round of 64. The story of the tournament so far is the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. The team had never won 15 games in its six previous seasons of Division I play, but after making the Atlantic Sun tournament final in 2011-12, the Eagles have broken through to the mainstream with wins over second-seeded Georgetown and No. 7-seed San Diego State. In the rest of the bracket, the chalk held with Kansas, Florida and Michigan taking their respective places in the Sweet 16.
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 1 Kansas
Key Matchup: Kansas' Ben McLemore VS. Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. McLemore is a singularly frustrating player to watch. He has an immense array of basketball skills, including the ability to bury 3-pointers from the wing, but he has really struggled with his shot. So much so that the Wolverines could probably put Hardaway (who is not known for his defense) on him, if they were go to away from their zone. Meanwhile, McLemore (who is known for his defense) will need to pester Hardaway, who averaged 17.5 points in the two Wolverine wins.
Kansas will Win IF: it gets more production from its guards. In addition to McLemore, the Jayhawks have seniors Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford. Johnson is nominally the team's point guard and is leading the squad with 4.7 assists. However, he has only averaged 7.4 points and hit 23.6 percent of his 3-pointers (4-of-17) in his last five games. Johnson likely will be tasked with slowing Trey Burke, so his offense may remain secondary. Releford had 22 points in the win over North Carolina, but he was very quiet in his previous five games. During the Jayhawks' three-game losing streak in early February, Releford did very little. The 6-foot-6 senior will need to remain aggressive and continue his incredible shooting season (57.3 percent from the field, 41.5 percent on threes).
Michigan will Win IF: it finds a tertiary scorer. We know that Trey Burke will get his. Despite being limited to six points in the opening win against South Dakota State, Burke bounced back with 18 points in the win over the turnover-minded VCU Rams. Hardaway likely will get his. So who will be that third scorer? Glenn Robinson III broke out of a late-season funk with 35 points in the two tournament games, including 16-of-19 from the field (84.2 percent). It will likely be Son of Big Dog, but don't sleep on the other two Wolverine freshmen. Nik Stauskas was a consistent marksman prior to going 1-of-12 on 3-pointers in his last three games. Mitch McGary is coming off a career game against the Rams with 21 points and 14 boards. He will need to play big again against Kansas.
Player to Watch: Kansas' Jeff Withey. Both teams are stocked with guards, but the biggest different between the two squads is the 7-0 senior center for Kansas. Withey has swatted 12 shots in the two tournament wins and has been strong on the boards (16 rebounds in the win over UNC). He has not been shy on offense with a combined 33 points. Michigan generally plays a zone, which should keep the ball out of Withey's hands as a primary offensive threat. If Withey can grab some offensive rebounds and get easy baskets, it could pave the way to a Jayhawk win.
Prediction: Experience is often an overrated factor. Talent trumps experience in most cases. When the two squads are relatively equal - as Kansas and Michigan are - then the fact that most of the Jayhawks' contributors are seniors, while the Wolverines are first- and second-year players, could prove the difference. Kansas made a run to the Final Four last year, while Michigan lost in the first round. The Jayhawks did not look dominant in the first weekend of the tournament, but they have enough clear advantages to win a close one and return to the Elite Eight.
No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 3 Florida
Key Matchup: Florida's Will Yeguete vs. Florida Gulf Coast's Sherwood Brown: Brown has provided a lot of the Eagles' moxie, on which the media like to focus. Beyond moxie, he is scoring and rebounding menace who uses his 6-4 frame to his advantage. However, the Gators may counter with their defensive ace in the 6-6 Yeguete. The Florida sixth man from France is on the court to be an athletic stopper and will cause Brown plenty of issues.
Florida will Win IF: nothing crazy happens. The Gators only lost once on a home or neutral court this season (the SEC final against Ole Miss) and were able to dispatch teams from smaller conferences with relative ease. The team will have size advantages in the frontcourt, so that the Gator guards can gamble a bit on defense and know that Patric Young is behind them to clean up mistakes. The Eagles' first two victims (Georgetown and San Diego State) did not have an extreme amount of size, and Florida should take advantage of Young and Erik Murphy
Florida Gulf Coast will Win IF: the Gators underestimate the Eagles. The Eagles were helped by a poor performance by Georgetown's Otto Porter in the opener. They matched up well against the Aztecs in their secong game with big guards all around. Both the Hoyas and Aztecs may have been overconfident (that comes with youth). Coach Billy Donovan will have the Gators well prepared. It will also help the Eagles' cause if they can continue to knock down threes. In the first two tournament games, they have gone 15-of-33 (45.5 percent) from long range.
Player to Watch: Florida's Kenny Boynton. As a high school player, Boynton was mentioned with the same reverence as players such as John Wall and Avery Bradley. According to Athlon magazine, Boynton was the 12th overall recruit in the 2009-10 freshman class, but his career took an odd downturn in his senior season. After averaging at least 14.0 points in his first three seasons, Boynton is only providing 12.1 points on 39.3 percent from the field this season. The 6-2 guard did have some early season success against smaller schools such as Alabama State, Middle Tennessee State and Yale. The Gators could use some offensive support from the perimeter and maybe Boynton will come through.
Prediction: The Gators have advanced to the Elite Eight the last two seasons. Last year, they knocked off upstart Norfolk State (themselves a 15-seed upset winner) in the Round of 32. Florida Gulf Coast is a great story and has more size than most schools of its ilk. However, the Eagels will have to convert an incredible rate of 3-pointers, and the Gators will have to a rough game from the perimeter. Florida likes to spring its trap midway through the first half, which may lead to some easy baskets and a comfortable lead for the SEC regular-season champion. Midnight tolls for this Cinderella.