Monday, March 12, 2012

BIAH Bracket Breakdown: South Region

You can find all of the regional breakdowns I did for CBT here.

Specifically, the South Region is here.

While watching ESPN after the bracket was released last night, I heard Dick Vitale say that Kentucky, in the South Region, had the most difficult path to the Final Four.

Sorry, Dick. That ain't true.

Here's the thing about the South Region: four of the top six seeds in the bracket are teams that I told myself, heading into the tournament, to be wary of picking to win more than a game or two. I expect more out of No. 2 seed Duke than a lot of people do, but the Blue Devils may be without Ryan Kelly and just got waxed by North Carolina at home and dropped in the ACC Tournament by Florida State. Baylor best Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament, but the Bears have proven to be a risky best either way this season. Indiana lost Verdell Jones to the season with a knee injury and have been questionable away from Assembly Hall. UNLV can't win away from home and has struggled to consistently live up to their potential.

In fact, I think that the toughest challenge that the Wildcats will get in the region will be from either UConn in the Round of 32 (I refuse to call the First Four the First Round and the Round of 64 the Second Round. Ain't happening here.) or from Wichita State in the Sweet 16.

It's risky saying this, because Kentucky has a tendency to play down to the level of their opponent, but the Wildcats should get to the Final Four without having a team stay within single digits.

Five story lines to watch:

1. Can Baylor turn it around this year?: They have all the talent that you need to make a run in the tournament. The draw they got in the tournament is quite favorable. There's no reason for me to believe that this team can't make a run to at least the Elite 8, other than the fact that this is Baylor. There is a reason that Scott Drew has been referred to as a talent aggregator. But I liked what I saw out of the Bears against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament. I hope it carries over.

2. What about UConn?: Like Baylor, UConn has enough talent to put together a run to the Final Four. But the Huskies were even more disappointing that the Bears this season, finishing below .500 in Big East play before putting together a bit of a run in the Big East Tournament. With Jim Calhoun back, it will be interesting to see if this team can come together one last time and make a run at the Sweet 16.

3. A homecoming for a former Wildcat: Sean Woods was the guy that hit the shot before Christian Laettner's iconic game-winner in 1992. He's now the coach at Mississippi Valley State. If the Delta Devils can beat Western Kentucky in the play-in game, MVSU will be taking on Kentucky. In Louisville. That will be special.

4. Can John Calipari get his first title?: You'll probably see this question asked enough in the coming days and weeks that you'll quickly get sick of it. Coach Cal is one of the most controversial coaching figures in the country right now. He's widely regarded as the nation's best recruiter, but two of his threes Final Fours have been wiped from the record books and he's never won that national title. This is his best team ever. Can he finally get over the hump?

5. Is VCU this year's VCU?: That's what the thinking was heading into Selection Sunday. that was before the Rams ran into the nation's best mid-major in Wichita State. Can the Fighting Shaka's put together another run this season?

Best first round matchups:

No. 5 Wichita State vs. No. 12 VCU: There aren't many teams in the country that head into the NCAA Tournament playing as well as VCU is. They've won 16 of their last 17 games and are coming off of an impressive run through the CAA Tournament. They still press and they still force a lot of turnovers, but there two things to be wary of here: a) the Rams don't shoot the ball from three nearly as well as they did last season and b) the Shockers are pretty good when it comes to protecting the basketball. Whoever wins this game will likely make the Sweet 16.

No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 9 UConn: UConn is probably the most intriguing team in this bracket simply because they are one of the few teams in the country with the talent to knock off Kentucky. They'll have to beat Iowa State first, and the Cyclones will be no pushover. They have a team that is going to be difficult for UConn to matchup with. Specifically, they have a player in Royce White who will be a nearly impossible cover for the Huskies. He's 6'8", 270 lb, and plays the point. Seriously. He's too good off the dribble to be guarded by Andre Drummond or Alex Oriakhi and he's too strong for Roscoe Smith. Throw in the myriad of shooters that Fred Hoiberg's team has surrounding White, and ISU looks like a really dangerous matchup for UConn.

Matchups you should hope happen:

No. 9 UConn vs. No. 1 Kentucky: Like I said, UConn is one of the only teams in the country that has the talent to potentially knock off the Wildcats. They played much better down the stretch of the season and in the Big East Tournament, which should give UConn a fans a reason to have confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament. I have little confidence that UConn would show up to play Kentucky in Louisville, but if it were to happen it could end up being the most exciting games in the region.

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 1 Kentucky: 20 years ago this month, this happened. It happened in a game between Duke and Kentucky for the right to go to the Final Four. It is widely regarded as the best game in college basketball history. A rematch on the 20th anniversary would send sportswriters into a tizzy.

No. 5 Wichita State vs. a high major: The Shockers have been touted by many -- me included -- as one of the best teams in the country for quite a while now. And while they've taken care of business against the likes of Creighton and Davidson on the road (notice I didn't mention Illinois State?) the only time that we've seen the Shockers get a chance to prove themselves against a high-major team came early in the season when this group was still coming together. I just want them to get a shot, whether it is against Indiana or Kentucky or UConn or Iowa State. I want you to see why I've been saying what I've been saying about them.

Upsets to watch for:

No. 14 South Dakota State over No. 3 Baylor: The Jackrabbits shouldn't have a chance to win this game. But that doesn't mean that Baylor is actually going to show up to play. SDSU is led by a terrific point guard in Nate Wolters, who can score just as well as he can break down a defense and kick the ball out. SDSU always as four three-point shooters on the floor with him. I'd expect Baylor to get out of their zone and play man-to-man in this game, but even then I think that the Jacks will have a shot at this game if their threes are dropping. Baylor will have a massive size advantage, but I don't expect them to try to take advantage of it.

No. 10 Xavier over No. 2 Duke: Predicting this matchup would be assuming a lot. There is no guarantee that Xavier can beat Notre Dame -- and, for that matter, Duke beating Lehigh is not a sure thing, either. But if they do end up playing, I like the Musketeers. Duke has trouble defending the perimeter, and Xavier has two dynamic playmakers in the back court. Duke also has no one to match up with the physicality and athleticism of Dez Wells at the three. I know Xavier has been inconsistent this season, but after a disappointing performance in the NCAA Tournament last year, I have a feeling that Xavier wants to make a statement this year.

No. 13 New Mexico State over No. 4 Indiana: The Aggies will have a real chance in this game, especially when you consider the fact that Verdell Jones is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. NMSU has a player named Wendell McKines, a 6'6" combo-forward that can score in the paint just as well as he can step out and knock down a three. He'll be a matchup nightmare for Christian Watford, a guy who has never really seemed all that inclined to defend.

Upsets to avoid:

No. 9 UConn over No. 1 Kentucky: The game is in Louisville. UConn has done nothing to make us believe they can turn their season around in the tournament. The last time UConn was in Kentucky, the Huskies did this. This upset, its not going happen.

No. 11 Colorado over No. 6 UNLV: The way to beat UNLV is to control the tempo of the game. You cannot let them get things going up and down. The more frenetic the play, the better off UNLV is. I just don't think that Colorado has the point guard play or the difference to keep this from turning into a track meet.

No. 12 VCU over No. 5 Wichita State: I really want to do it. I really want to pick the Rams. I love VCU. I have them listed as a sleeper right here. I just don't see it happening. VCU thrives on their "havoc" defense, something similar to "40 minutes of hell". They press and they run and they try to force turnovers and turn them into threes. But the Shockers are not the kind of team that turns the ball over easily; they are all upperclassmen, which means a press isn't going to scare them. Wichita State also plays at a faster pace this year than they ever have in the past. It will be a tall task for VCU to advance. And we all said the same thing last year.

Five players you should know:
  1. Perry Jones III, Baylor: Odds are pretty good you already know about PJ3, and if you do, than you know that he is the most important player on this Baylor team. If he is aggressive and playing in the paint, Baylor has a bracket laid out for them to get to the Final Four.
  2. CJ McCollum, Lehigh: Since we already discussed Nate Wolters of South Dakota State, McCollum gets the mention here. He's a dynamic, high-scoring guard that is good enough to put a scare into Duke.
  3. Wendell McKines, New Mexico State: After sitting out last season with an injury, McKines has come back with a vengeance this season, averaging 18.8 ppg and 10.8 while shooting 35.2% from three.
  4. Mike Moser, UNLV: Moser is a UCLA-transfer that thrived in his first season in Vegas. He's a 6'8" combo-forward that cleans the defensive glass, is a pest defensively and hits threes. His versatility is a huge reason for their play this season.
  5. Garrett Stutz, Wichita State: He's not the most entertaining player, but his presence at 7'0" in the paint is one of the biggest reasons that Wichita State has had success this season.

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