NCAA-What you need to know about the South Region

 

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Kansas is the top seed in the South Region. And for good reason. But the selection committee created a difficult path for the top-ranked Jayhawks. Here’s proof: Seven schools in the South were ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll during this season.

Seven!

That’s nearly half of the schools in the South Region.

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Again, KU is the favorite. But would it really be that crazy to see California or Maryland catch the Jayhawks in the Sweet 16? Honestly, I don’t think so. Because Cal and Maryland are really talented and good. And there are actually nine Top 25 KenPom teams in the South, which is more than any other region. Bottom line, almost no matter how this unfolds, Kansas will be tested multiple times and as early as the Round of 32.

Three initial thoughts on the region

1. The committee scrapped Villanova’s Philadelphia plans

One of the not-so-bad byproducts of losing the Big East tournament title game to Seton Hall, Villanova fans assumed, was that the Wildcats would drop to the 2 line but stay in the East, where the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be played in Philadelphia. Nope! Instead, the Wildcats got shipped to the South, where they’ll start in Brooklyn and be aiming for Louisville. So there will be no homecourt advantage for Jay Wright’s Wildcats.

2. There’s some serious coaching talent in the South

There are five Final Four coaches in the South — namely Bill Self (Kansas), Jay Wright (Villanova), Jim Larranaga (Miami), Kevin Ollie (Connecticut) and Gregg Marshall (Wichita State). Those are some accomplished dudes. And what it suggests is that nobody is going to just out-talent the opposition in this region. Preparation and adjustments will be key.

3. The Shockers!

Yes, Wichita State made it. But it was close. And the truth is that the Shockers were aided by two things. One, some of their losses came when they had a depleted roster. Two, they are ranked 11th at KenPom. Committee chair Joe Castiglione noted the importance of Wichita State’s positive metrics on the selection show. And now we have Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet in the NCAA Tournament one last time.

Five best players in the region

1. Jaylen Brown (California): Brown is averaging 15.0 points and 5.5 rebounds for the Bears. He struggled in the final weeks of the season, finished 9-of-42 from the field in Cal’s last four games. But he’s still incredibly talented and a future top-10 pick in the NBA Draft.

2. Perry Ellis (Kansas): Ellis is averaging 16.7 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Jayhawks. He’s not flashy, and there’s no guarantee he’ll ever play in the NBA. But he’s a fantastic college player who has helped keep Kansas consistently great his entire career.

3. Fred VanVleet (Wichita State): VanVleet is averaging 12.0 points and 5.7 assists for the Shockers. So, no, the stats aren’t record-setting. But it’s possible nobody in college basketball means more to his team than VanVleet means to Wichita State.

4. Melo Trimble (Maryland): Trimble is averaging 14.4 points, 5.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds for the Terrapins. If VanVleet isn’t the most valuable player in the nation to his team, it might be this sophomore. He’s reached double-figures in points in eight straight games.

5. Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa): Uthoff is averaging 18.9 points and 6.4 rebounds for the Hawkeyes. He had 32 points against Iowa State and 29 more in a win over Michigan. Odds are, you’ll see him in the NBA someday, perhaps next season.

Five bold predictions for the region

The biggest Round of 64 upset will be … either Wichita State or Vanderbilt over Arizona. There’s not much difference, according to KenPom, between the Shockers, Commodores and Wildcats. So Arizona will have a tough opener regardless of the opponent — and despite the fact that its opponent will be a team that barely made the field. The guess here is that Arizona loses its opener, then reloads and makes a run at next year’s Final Four.

The lowest-seeded school to make the Sweet 16 will be … Maryland. The No. 5 seeded Terrapins have at least three and maybe four future NBA players on their roster, including one of the best closers in college basketball in Melo Trimble. So while I really like Cal, I think I like Maryland just a little more. And that’s why I’m picking the Terrapins to join Kansas, Villanova and Miami in Louisville.

The player the country doesn’t know now but will know by Saturday is … Quenton DeCosey. the last time Temple made the NCAA Tournament, DeCosey was a barely used player who didn’t even appear in the Owls’ Round of 32 loss to Indiana. Now he’s a 6-foot-5 senior who has averaged double-figures in each of the past three seasons. And he’s among the reasons why Temple might upset Iowa on Friday afternoon.

The Elite Eight showdown will be … No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Miami. I’ve been a fan of the Hurricanes all season because they’re talented, experienced and brilliantly coached by Jim Larranaga. So I’ll take them in a Sweet 16 upset of Villanova, which would setup a game with top-seeded KU. That’ll be Kansas’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham vs. Miami’s Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. So that’ll be fun and entertaining.

The champion of the South Region will be … No. 1 Kansas. I just can’t bring myself to pick against the Jayhawks before Houston. They’re experienced, talented and in possession of 15 top-50 RPI wins. That means they’ve been beating good teams for four months now. And I believe they’ll keep doing it for at least a couple of more weeks.

Perry Ellis and Kansas have their work cut out for them in a tough South Region. (USATSI)
Perry Ellis and Kansas have their work cut out for them in a tough South Region. (USATSI)

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