Arguably the most wide-open region in the bracket, the South Regional is stacked with storied programs and star players. 10 of the 16 teams have made Final Fours in their respective school histories. All-Americans like Trey Burke and Otto Porter, as well as potential NBA draft picks Ben McLemore and James McAdoo will have national television audiences to impress. Here’s a preview of the action:
Best Opening-Round Matchup: #9 Villanova vs. #8 North Carolina – Everything about this matchup seems transitional. It features two storied programs with championship pedigrees having down seasons and playing as relatively low seeds. There are the impending changes for each school’s conference play; next season, Villanova will be part of the new Big East, while North Carolina will have new ACC members Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame to contend with. So what should we expect on the court? It depends on which North Carolina team shows up. The Tar Heels are one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, but struggle to get to the free throw line and are much less efficient offensively than their scoring would suggest. If North Carolina can get out and run on the Wildcats, they could win easily. If they let Villanova’s above-average defense dictate the pace, they may be too inexperienced to pull out a victory.
Player to Watch: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State – The fourth-leading scorer in Division I, Wolters has made a name for himself on a Jackrabbits team that is in the tournament for the second straight season. But he’s not just the deadly shooter that hung 53 points on IPFW back in February; he averages 5.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.8 steals a game, making him one of the most well-rounded backcourt players in the country. Even if Michigan can shut his scoring down, he’s efficient and can get his teammates involved. His matchup against Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke may be the best one-on-one competition of the entire tournament.
Upset Alert: #11 Minnesota vs. #6 UCLA – This seems to be the popular upset pick, and for good reason; the Bruins lost second-leading scorer Jordan Adams to a broken foot in the Pac-12 tournament, leaving them without their most versatile scoring threat. Though Minnesota has had an up-and-down season defensively, they need only to focus on Shabazz Muhammad, who struggled in the conference tournament, in order to slow UCLA’s attack. Despite their recent struggles, the Golden Gophers are still still a top-five offensive rebounding team, and are 11th in the nation in blocks. Minnesota will make this a half-court game, and UCLA simply won’t have the explosiveness to get past the opening round.
Vocabulary Word: “Havoc” – Trying to stop Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams team is like trying to plug a hole in a dyke with your thumb. Their “havoc” defense is absolutely relentless, forcing more turnovers than anybody else, and leading to the 2nd-most field goal attempts and 3rd-most makes in Division I. Their energy and speed in the full-court press have been the main reason for their tournament success in the last two seasons. They can be just as effective on the offensive glass, and it is when the Rams get second and third looks on offensive possessions that they shine.
Regional Champion: #2 Georgetown – Though the South Regional is chock-full of offensive talents, it is Georgetown that will ride a suffocating defense to the Final Four. They have been as impressive as anybody in the country in February and March, and sophomore forward Otto Porter has emerged as a potential star. Their biggest challenge will be getting by Florida, which is a much more consistent shooting team than others in the region, but if they can keep the Gators in check, they’ll reap the benefit of facing the turnover-prone Kansas Jayhawks in the regional final. Look for the Hoyas to punch a ticket to Atlanta behind the rebounding of Porter and the Iron Curtain that is their defense.