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The South Region is the weakest bracket in the field. It features arguably the worst No. 1 seed (Duke) and No. 2 seed (Villanova). However, on the positive side, it has a litany of mid-major teams that can make a run, namely Richmond, Saint Mary’s, Old Dominion, Utah State and Siena. Throw in a few hot teams in Baylor, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, and this region could see all hell break loose in the next two weekends. Despite the weak bracket, this region has a ton of potholes for Duke.
Favorite: Duke. The Blue Devils rank No. 1 at Kenpom.com and are one of the most efficient teams in the country at both ends of the floor. They stroke the three well and crash the offensive glass (mainly due to Brian Zoubek). Defensively, they guard the perimeter and contest shots. Jon Scheyer has been one of the best guards in the country, while Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler complete one of the better trios in America. Zoubek needs to be a steady contributor down low, though. The primary weaknesses for this team are backcourt depth and an inability to stop dribble penetration.
Contenders: Villanova, Baylor. Villanova struggled mightily down the stretch, losing four of its final six regular-season games and then dropping its opening game in the conference tournament. The Wildcats have struggled defensively for much of the season, especially when it comes to committing too many fouls. On the positive side, Villanova has one of the best perimeter groups in the country, led by All-American Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Reggie Redding. Antonio Pena needs to be a force down low in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor did not get much attention throughout the season, but the Bears have what it takes to make a deep run in the tourney. The Bears won eight of their last 10 game, and haven’t lost a game by more than seven points this season. They are phenomenal offensively, with the ability to score from anywhere. Defensively, they guard the rim and lead the nation in blocked shots percentage. Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn are one of the best backcourts in the country, and Ekpe Udoh has made an enormous impact down low. This team has size, athleticism and playmakers.
Sleepers: Texas A&M, California. With the top couple of teams vulnerable to a variety of teams, there is room for teams to get hot and win a couple of games. Texas A&M played well down the stretch, and has proven that it can hang with anyone in the country. The Aggies are an excellent defensive team, controlling the glass and forcing tough shots. Offensively, they get to the free-throw line as well as anyone in the country. Donald Sloan shoulders the load offensively, Bryan Davis and David Loubeau need to come up big down low. California was highly overseeded at a No. 8, but the Golden Bears do have the potential to win a couple of games. They are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, taking care of the ball and crashing the glass. Moreover, the Golden Bears are highly-effective from both inside and outside the arc. Defensively, they guard the perimeter and don’t allow second chances. Jerome Randle is one of the most exciting guards in the country, and Patrick Christopher is a great second option. When healthy, Theo Robertson can flat-out shoot, and Jamal Boykin provides a frontcourt presence. Jorge Gutierrez is a defensive pest. Notre Dame, with its fantastic finish, could be a potential sleeper, too. With Luke Harangody back in action, and Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough hitting from the perimeter, this team is tough.
Non-BCS Teams to Watch: Richmond, Saint Mary’s. The committee did a disservice to both of these teams by pitting them against each other in the first round. Richmond nearly won the Atlantic-10 regular-season and conference tournament titles, falling just short in each. Because of their defense, the Spiders are a threat. They guard both the two and three tightly, and force turnovers very well. Offensively, they are led by the explosive backcourt of quick point guard Kevin Anderson and scoring guard David Gonzalvez. When they are getting points from secondary options, they’re tough to beat. Saint Mary’s finally broke through against Gonzaga in the West Coast title game, defeating the Bulldogs to win the automatic bid. The Gaels are a fantastic offensive team, taking care of the ball and showing great balance. Defensively, they guard the three-point line closely and don’t foul. Omar Samhan is one of the best big men in the country, and Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova are both productive guards who can stroke the three and create shots for themselves and teammates. Ben Allen is a versatile big man.
Upset Pick: Siena over Purdue. This game is almost too obvious to pick. Siena has won games in the past two NCAA Tournaments, and the Saints are experienced and balanced. Furthermore, Purdue lost its best player, Robbie Hummel, for the season in February and has not looked the same since the injury. Siena has terrific guards in Ronald Moore and Clarence Jackson and one of the best frontcourts in the country. Unless Purdue finds a way to get points from someone other than E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, the Boilermakers are headed home early. Don’t forget about Old Dominion or Utah State, either.
Top Five Players (only one per team):
- 1. Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
- 2. Jon Scheyer, Duke
- 3. LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor
- 4. Omar Samhan, Saint Mary’s
- 5. JaJuan Johnson, Purdue