Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lookin' For Some Peace of Mind: South Region Preview

Yesterday I briefly surveyed the landscape of the East region. Of course, since then, Fab Melo was ruled ineligible, which only further emphasizes the negative slant I took when looking at the Orangemen. I still feel incredibly uncomfortable with picking Vanderbilt and FSU to make a deep run, but that was yesterday...this is today. Onward, to the South.

You shall not pass. (via Kentucky Basketball
Kings of the Hill
This region features the Kentucky Wildcats, who have been by and large invincible this season save for a last-second three at Indiana--a game that feels like it was played years ago at this point--and a slip up against the 'Dores last weekend. Such is life. Still, the Wildcats are the favorites to go all the way, and for good reason. There's not a team in the nation that can match up with Kentucky's balanced scoring (4 players averaging double digit points, with Miller and Teague averaging 9.6 and 9.4 ppg respectively), and Anthony Davis is simply a terror on both ends of the floor. I hope he gets to enjoy a successful tourney run, because odds are he's not going to do much winning with whatever NBA team drafts him first overall in the upcoming draft (I'm looking at you, Charlotte Bobcats).

The only real concern is youth, as an experienced Vanderbilt squad gave UK some of its toughest games this season (including the Cats' second loss, obviously). Still, it's obviously not impossible to win with a young team.

Otherwise, the in my opinion weakest 2-seed in the tournament resides here in the form of Duke, with Baylor being the 3 (another team I'm not really waxing poetic about). If a 2 or a 3 seed goes down in the opening round, these two teams have a pretty good chance of being that team.

Teams That Will Somewhat Inexplicably Make Me Look Stupid
The two obvious candidates here are Indiana and UNLV, whom I have making it to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, respectively. That's right, I have the Runnin' Rebs going to the Elite 8.

The tale of the tape vis-a-vis Indiana is that they don't play much defense, which also happens to be the reason why I believe Duke is not a legitimate contender (the fact that they were in contention for a 1-seed not too long ago is ridiculous). Indiana has the firepower to keep up with a lot of teams, but if the 3s don't fall then you can expect the same sort of thing as when Michigan's don't fall--namely, PAIN. I have IU eeking out a close one against New Mexico State before beating VCU in the second round, though, FWIW.

I like UNLV because they can score the ball (76.7 ppg), their assist to turnover ratio is pretty good (1.34, good for 13th in the country), and they shoot the 3 as a team about as well as Duke. Chace Stanback is a 6'8'' G-F that shoots the three at a 46.4% clip; I think he could be a big mismatch for whomever Duke or Baylor decides to throw at him. In any case, UNLV is my sort of Cinderella team of the 2012 go out and make me look stupid, you guys!

Double Digit Seeds of Note
VCU is an obvious one to watch out for here as far as the 12-seeds go because, uh, last year. I have them picking off Wichita State in the first round and no I will not be providing you with any cheap Shaka/Shocker puns.

Otherwise, I think Xavier could be a team to watch, as much as The Brawl still might be imprinted on your mind as the lasting image of 2011-12 Xavier basketball. They have been very up and down but there's no doubt that they could pull it together to beat a Notre Dame that I'm quite frankly not sure deserved a 7-seed and a very flawed Duke team in the Round of 32. Or, you know, they could completely flame out in the first round and go quietly into the night.

Goliath's Fatal Flaws 
Despite last weekend's loss, I don't believe UK has any serious flaws. Duke and Baylor, on the other hand, are different stories. Duke has struggled on the defensive end, and they of course do lean on their 3-point shooting more than a true big name contender probably should. Ryan Kelly's foot injury is also an issue going forward, which isn't really fair to call a "flaw" but is something to watch out for.

Of Baylor's 7 losses, 5 were against the top two teams in their conference (3 against Missouri, 2 against Kansas). Their two other losses were against the next two Big 12 teams in the standings, ISU and KSU. Is this significant come tourney time? The answer is admittedly "maybe not," but being unable to take it to the top half of the conference doesn't exactly inspire confidence in a team that is supposed to go far in this tournament.

Intriguing First Round Matchup 
The 8/9 matchup here is the best of its kind in this tournament, pitting two interesting teams in UCONN and Iowa State against each other. UCONN's struggles are well-documented, with the narrative from many coaches (namely Jim Boeheim) and some analyst types being that they would be far from surprised if UCONN played to their talent and made a run. I for one am more than skeptical, but there's no doubt that they do have the talent to make a run, and far stranger things have happened in March. The good thing about having a relatively meaningless regular season (again, I say relatively) is that you can suddenly turn it on in mid-March and vindicate yourself. Unfortunately for UCONN, UK awaits in the next round, which could make any sort of second wind the Huskies may have somewhat irrelevant.

Iowa State is a team that we all familiar with, having played them earlier in the season in the non-conference schedule. Royce White is obviously the headliner of this ISU squad, and he's a guy who definitely has an NBA future ahead of him. The Cyclones also have an array of eager and capable 3-point gunners to complement the versatile White, making them a team that you would rather not have to face at this point in the season. I'm not sure that UCONN will be ready to check ISU's shooters, allowing the Cyclones to advance to the next round with the unenviable task of facing Kentucky.

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