NCAA Regional Reset: Southeast RegionPosted by Brian Otskey on March 22nd, 2011
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
We’re down to sixteen teams, so it’s time to visit with each of our regional experts and analyze what happened in each of the four regions and what should be expected this coming weekend. Every one of these predictions is guaranteed to be absolutely and totally correct.
New Favorite: #2 Florida (28-7, 13-3 SEC). After Pittsburgh’s loss to Butler, the Gators move to the front of the Southeast pecking order. They’re playing very well but did struggle at times against UCLA. To tell you the truth, I feel any of the four teams left in this region can make it to Houston but I’ll give Florida a slight edge.
Horse of Darkness: #8 Butler (25-9, 13-5 Horizon). They shouldn’t be creeping up on anyone this year but the lowest seed in this region is still a nine-loss team out of a mid-major league and must be considered the dark horse. Butler is playing its best basketball of the season and has a chance to beat Wisconsin and then Florida/BYU to reach the Final Four for the second straight season. I wouldn’t put it past them.
Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #8 Butler (25-9, 13-5 Horizon). As I said, they shouldn’t be creeping up on anyone but the way they got to New Orleans was surprising. The Bulldogs had to knock off two incredibly physical and well-coached clubs to get to the Sweet Sixteen, winning by a combined three points. The good news for Butler? They were just as physical and well-coached as Old Dominion and Pittsburgh, plus the same applies to matchups with Wisconsin and whoever they would get should they make the regional final.
Completely Expected (1st Weekend): #2 Florida (28-7, 13-3 SEC). In a region where the #1 seed was knocked off early, the #3 was expected (by quite a few people, including yours truly) to lose to Gonzaga and the #4 was the trendy first round upset victim, the #2 Gators held serve and won two games. Florida had no trouble with UC Santa Barbara, trouncing the Gauchos in the first round. A tougher than expected game against UCLA was next but Florida survived and advanced to New Orleans where many folks figured they’d be when the brackets came out last week.
I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: My “Lock of the Year” in the Southeast Bracket Prep last week said Pittsburgh wouldn’t make the Final Four despite what some perceived as an easy draw for the Panthers. Viola! Jamie Dixon and company made an early exit after the bizarre finish to their game against Butler. Dixon’s teams are too physical to win in March (called for lots of fouls), plus they don’t score with enough consistency to be a Final Four threat. We’ve seen this movie before and the sequels keep coming year after year. I even warned the readers their second game wouldn’t be easy, saying the Panthers “may be shocked by Butler or Old Dominion.”
Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: I filled out multiple brackets but I failed to follow my own gut and picked Pitt to make it to Houston in my “main” bracket. I’m also kicking myself for doubting Bo Ryan and Wisconsin. I foolishly went with Belmont, thinking the Bruins’ quick pace would disrupt the Badgers. Silly me, slow and steady usually wins the race. That team is tough as nails and proved they could fight through adversity and win. Jordan Taylor struggled mightily against Kansas State before redeeming himself with two big free throws and a block towards the end of that game.
First Weekend MVP: Jimmer Fredette, BYU. The Jimmer averaged 33 PPG and 6.5 APG over two games in Denver, leading his team past Wofford before throttling Gonzaga on Saturday. Quite simply, BYU isn’t a #3 seed and isn’t in the Sweet Sixteen without Fredette. Honorable mention goes to Jon Leuer, Erving Walker, Shelvin Mack and Jacob Pullen.
Breakout Star: Shelvin Mack, Butler. I would hope most college basketball fans know about him but I’ll list him here because the casual fan may not recognize him. Mack scored 30 points in the Bulldogs’ upset of Pitt on Saturday but was nearly the goat after fouling Gilbert Brown in the final seconds with Butler up by one point. Brown hit one of two free throws to tie the game but Mack was bailed out when Pitt’s Nasir Robinson fouled Matt Howard on the rebounding action with less than a second remaining. Howard hit one of two to propel Butler into the Sweet Sixteen. Mack averaged 22.5 PPG on 10-22 (45.5%) three point shooting over two games in Washington, D.C., and his play is the main reason why Butler is where it is now.
More Home Cooking: #2 Florida, 530 miles from New Orleans. I’m not sure this helps the Gators all that much but they still have approximately a 300-mile edge on the second-closest team, Butler. I have a feeling all four schools will be well-represented in New Orleans.
Best Regional Semifinal Game: #2 Florida vs. #3 BYU (Thursday, March 24 at 7:27 pm ET). This was a close call because you can make a great argument for Wisconsin vs. Butler but Florida vs. BYU features a rematch of last year’s first round thriller, a double-OT BYU victory behind 37 points from Jimmer. This game has the best player going up against the regional favorite and has all the makings of a classic with Gus Johnson on the call.
Best Regional Final Game (projected): #3 BYU vs. #8 Butler (Saturday, March 26, time TBD). Two major storylines would obviously take hold in this game, should it occur, with Jimmer trying to lead his team to their first Final Four in school history and Butler trying to get back there for the second straight season, this time without Gordon Hayward. BYU would have the best player on the floor but Butler may be a more complete team. Without Brandon Davies to contend with, Matt Howard shouldn’t have much difficulty inside while Mack can drain shots from deep. This game would likely be determined by which team imposes their will on the game as BYU loves to play fast while Butler prefers a half court game.
Top Storyline: The focus will be on BYU and Butler. Each team brings different stories to the table, whether it is how far the Cougars can go without Davies or what Butler’s ceiling is after their thrilling win after slaying #1 Pitt. Expect these teams to get a lot of buzz this week while the Brad Stevens speculation heats up again as some big jobs open up across the country.
Top Storyline for Contrarians: How will Florida react as the new favorite? The experienced Gators have their best chance to reach their first Final Four since the back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. Another story to keep an eye on involves Bo Ryan and Wisconsin. The Badgers haven’t been to the Final Four since their magical run as a #8 seed behind Jon Bryant in 2000 (under Dick Bennett), only their second in school history. Ryan has never missed the NCAA Tournament with Wisconsin but this is just his fourth Sweet Sixteen in 10 years at the helm. The Badgers made the Elite Eight in 2005 and came close against eventual champion North Carolina (a game I had the pleasure of attending) but haven’t been that close since. They have a good chance this year in the wide open Southeast.
My Pick: I’m going to go with Butler. This region is so wide open that any of the four teams could realistically win it. I think the Bulldogs have all the momentum in the world and possess the toughness to get past Wisconsin and take down BYU or Florida on Saturday. The potential game with BYU would be fantastic but a game with Florida would feature two teams that played a memorable first round game in 2000, won in overtime by the Gators. You could make a solid case for any team in New Orleans but why not go with a team that has been in this position before and fears no one?
Revised Vegas Odds to Win Region: