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SOUTH REGION BREAKDOWN
North Texas, TX
The South region features two first-team All-Americans Trey Burke (Michigan) and Otto Porter Jr. (Georgetown). Kansas and Michigan were at one time the No. 1 team in the country and Florida statistically was the “best” team all season. What this means is if you want to throw VCU and Georgetown into the mix, that there are five legitimate contenders that can make it out of this bracket.
FINAL FOUR TEAM
No. 3 Florida
The Gators have made the Elite 8 the past two seasons, and in theory are due for a Final Four appearance. This current team has the balance and athletic ability to go along with a solid bracket draw.
Talent: They scored 74 points on Wisconsin and beat them by 18, beat Marquette by 33, beat Missouri by 21 and beat Kentucky by 17. All 26 of their wins have come by double-digits. The Gators are ranked No. 1 overall by Kenpom. Michael Frazier shoots 48 percent from downtown while Erik Murphy 46 percent. Mike Rosario is a former McDonald’s All-American who adds another offensive layer averaging 12.3 points per game.
Defense: SEC opponents shot 27 percent against them from three but it is worth noting the defense has been better in home games.
Experience: Leading scorers Erik Murphy and Kenny Boyton have played in nine tournament games. Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin have played in eight.
Why they may not: What’s scary about this team is how they can struggle in close games (0-6 in games decided by single digits). Also, championship caliber teams do not lose five SEC games since Feb. 5.
No. 4 Michigan
Michigan is the better team based on talent compared with No. 5 VCU, but they have struggled, losing six of their past 12 games. Think about this, the Wolverines were ranked No. 1 in the AP last month, but were the fifth seed in Big Ten postseason play. That being said, VCU has the recent pedigree of making a Final Four with their havoc style of play that is tough to prepare for on short time. Bill Self won’t forget losing to VCU in the 2011 Elite 8 round and it will be an interesting matchup again if it happens.
The Rams style of play is fast considering they can score and play defense. Michigan has the ability to score 80-plus points in any given game and the idea of coach Shaka Smart sneaking up on people again could be an afterthought.
VCU is going to be a popular pick, but the depth and offensive punch from the Wolverines may be too much. If you’re stuck between two teams in your bracket, one tip to share is that sometimes going against the grain and taking the team with the better talent is the best route.
With players like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan has the better talent than a lot of teams they will be facing.
DARK HORSE TEAM
No. 8 North Carolina
First off, no one wants to see North Carolina in the Round of 32, it’s just simple logic. Even though they had a rough start to the season, the Tar Heels are playing better basketball as of late with a new, smaller lineup.
If they can get past Villanova (see below) in their opening-round game, a likely matchup with Kansas is set to take place. While UNC doesn’t really have anyone that can handle Jeff Withey, the Jayhawks have been a team prone to falling apart at times this year, including losses to TCU and Baylor.
Because of that vulnerability on the Jayhawks end, North Carolina becomes a popular pick to upset a No. 1 team. If the Tar Heels win their first game, it can give them the confidence to take down a No. 1 seed. This is a team that forces 9.2 steals and 16.2 turnovers per game while only giving up 10.4 themselves.
Of course, it can’t be forgotten that UNC hasn’t done well against higher echelon teams this season. But alas, there’s always hope in March.
BEST OPENING-ROUND GAME
Friday in Kansas City: No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Villanova
If the Tar Heels win, it sets up a Roy Williams vs. Kansas matchup. Since inserting P.J Hairston into the starting lineup, this team has been a lot more successful. It’s been a different look from UNC who doesn’t typically play small ball. With the ever-athletic James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock, Nova is going to have a hard time defending the two.
As for the Wildcats, they have been an enigma losing to Columbia and Seton Hall, but beating Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette and Georgetown. While that makes no sense, this isn’t a team you can overlook. They have the ability to shoot from the outside with Ryan Arcidiacono and James Bell, but also a presence down low with Mouphtaou Yarou. Of course, it’s hard to leave out their best player this season in JayVaughn Pinkston.
The percentages lean heavily on North Carolina, but like most 8-9 matchups, it’d be wise not to forget about the underdog.
Friday in Austin: No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Minnesota
The Gophers have size and playing in the Big Ten prepares them in this matchup. UCLA is missing freshman Jordan Adams who was their second-leading scorer for the season at 15.3 points per game. It’s hard to overcome that, especially without a deep bench.
This game is no longer being labeled an upset as everyone is now on the Minnesota bandwagon. Look for the Gophers to utilize Trevor Mbakwe as much as possible down low while hoping Andre and Austin Hollins can hit some shots. This is a shaky team coming off three straight losses (including at Nebraska) so don’t be overconfident.
THE CRYSTAL BALL
Sweet 16 in North Texas: No. 3 Florida vs. No. 2 Georgetown
Remember when these two teams played on a carrier ship in Jacksonville to open the season? The Gators were up at half 27-23 before the game was cancelled due to rain and never made up. The Big East co-champ will put up more of a fight this time around.
Since Greg Whittington was suspended, the Hoyas have taken on a new look as Otto Porter has turned into Mr. Do-it-all. The thing about the Gators is that they haven’t looked good away from home and haven’t won a game by less than 10 points. This one will surely come down to the wire.
The winner of this could easily make the Final Four, so make your choice wisely.
PLAYERS ON THE RADAR
G Markel Starks (Georgetown)
Guard play can you get you far this time of year and that’s what the Hoyas have in Starks. The junior point guard sets the tone for this offense while the team has looked stale at times when he is off the court. Starks averaged 12.5 shots and shot close to 42 percent from three. Porter is the big name, but Starks may be more important.
G Nate Wolters (South Dakota State)
The senior guard is averaging 22.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, two threes and 1.8 steals per game. The matchup against Trey Burke will be one of the best of the opening rounds. He went for 19 points last year against Baylor, but came up short. In his senior season, expect Wolters to go all out and possibly hit the 30-point barrier.
G Trey Burke (Michigan)
Offensively, he’s the only player you can trust for the Wolverines. Hardaway Jr. is playing well, but he’s not a constant and Nik Stauskas is still a freshman that hasn’t been great on bigger stages. For Michigan to go far, it will be on the shoulders of the man that averaged 19.2 points and 6.7 assists per game.
C Jeff Withey (Kansas)
While Ben McLemore is probably their best player, Withey will be more important for the tourney run. They will face a lot of smaller squads en route to the Elite 8 which means Withey has to dominate those teams. He averages a ridiculous 3.8 blocks per game and needs to surpass that total, closing the paint on players like Trey Burke.