NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region
No disrespect to the East, but it will be the last region I inevitably predict wrong. To me, the South region is the toughest in this year’s tournament despite what you heard from Jay Bilas, Jay Williams, Seth Greenburg, Doug Gottlieb, and the rest of their NCAA cronies. From 1-11, the region houses teams from power conferences and San Diego State hailing from the Mountain West which led the country in Conference RPI. Whatevs.
The Favorite: #4 Michigan
The Wolverines are the most talented team in this region. I know some point to Kansas and Georgetown and Florida…because they are seeded higher…but the Wolverines have three NBA lottery picks, the Big Ten Player of the Year (who also happens to be the nation’s best point guard), and a coach who has won in the tournament in the past with West Virginia. If they played up to their potential, Michigan would have been a 1-seed and possibly the best team in the country. As we stand now, they appear more ready to beat themselves than the opponent. Nothing like the bright lights and aura of the NCAA tournament to wake them up.
The Dark Horse: #11 Minnesota
A second #11 gets the dark horse? I wanted to put Virginia Commonwealth here, but I think the Gophers might have an easier road in the bottom half dealing with UCLA before possible matchups with Florida and Georgetown. Minnesota has NBA level athletes and wondering how this team faltered down the stretch is menacing. The matchup extremely well with both UCLA and Florida. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Minnesota beat them both. The Gophers biggest struggle would be if they have to play the physical Hoyas in the sweet sixteen…but by then they would have already overachieved.
The Cinderella: #13 South Dakota State
Nate Wolters is one of the finest players in the country. It will be interesting to see what he does against a Michigan team which is abnormally apathetic on the defensive end. The top of this region is honestly stacked at every seed except the #16.
#1 Kansas faces #9 Nova in the third round. #8 North Carolina is one of the weaker teams in the field (using master Jay Bilas’s theory of RPI top 50 wins) so the Wildcats advance over the Tar Heels despite the anticipation of Roy Williams facing the team he abandoned at Kansas. The Jayhawks battle by a physical (Big East…duh) Nova team. #5 Virginia Commonwealth and #4 Michigan meet up in the third round in an absolute track meet. The Michigan outscores the Rams to the sweet sixteen where they also upset Kansas for the second time in three years. #2 Georgetown inches by a tough #15 Florida Gulf Coast. The Hoyas refocus and beat #7 San Diego State in the third round. #3 Florida gets by the athletic #11 Gophers from Minnesota who easily beat a stunned #6 UCLA. The Gators are not ready for the physical play of the Hoyas and Georgetown faces Michigan in the Elite Eight. The trio of guards for Georgetown goes ice cold for Georgetown, but my Player of the Year and new pick for #1 overall in the NBA draft Otto Porter plays out of his mind (scoring 30+) and the Wolvs cannot muster enough offensive against the ball-controlling, physical Hoyas.
In other words: Georgetown staggers out of the toughest region thanks to Otto Porter and John Thompson III finally figuring out what it takes to win come tourney time.