NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2012

Kevin Doyle is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. 

The South Regional begins Friday night in Atlanta with with Baylor vs. Xavier followed by Kentucky vs. Indiana. Our East Regional Reset and West Regional Reset published Tuesday, while our Midwest Regional Reset published earlier today.Make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Atlanta throughout the weekend.

New Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-2, 16-0 SEC). Nothing new here as Kentucky remains the clear-cut favorite to advance to New Orleans. Big Blue had nothing more than a mere tune-up in its first two games of the Dance getting by Western Kentucky and Iowa State with ease. Although the Cyclones actually were tied with Kentucky in the second half, the game was never in doubt and the Wildcats rolled to a 16-point victory. Next on tap for Cal and his kids: A rematch with the Indiana Hoosiers who handed them their only loss of the regular season. In that game back in December, however, Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones combined for just 10 points — expect a different outcome in round two.

Cat-lanta Will Be Overrun With Blue This Weekend

Horse of Darkness: #10 Xavier (23-12, 10-6 Atlantic 10). X looked down for the count just weeks ago. They never seemed to recover after their brawl against cross-town rival Cincinnati, and limped to a rather pedestrian 10-6 record in the Atlantic 10. Don’t look now, but the Musketeers are getting it together at just the right time. Lest we forget that this was a Top 10 team in December with wins against Vanderbilt, Purdue, and Cincinnati, but Xavier is returning to that early season form. Tu Holloway is playing like the future NBA’er that he is — his miraculous bank shot to propel Xavier to a comeback win against Notre Dame and then his 21 points against Lehigh are telltale signs that his squad is a legitimate threat. It will be no easy task to get past Baylor, but the three-headed monster of Holloway-Lyons-Frease is capable of putting up quite the fight. If Xavier is able to stay within a few possessions down the stretch, there may not be another player in the Tournament whose hands I would want the ball in other than Holloway’s.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Lehigh 75, #2 Duke 70. Truth be told, there were probably four teams worthy of consideration for this spot as the South Region witnessed four double digit seeds win its first round game — only six other upsets occurred in the entire second round. However, it really is a no-brainer that Lehigh was the biggest shock of the opening weekend. It was common knowledge that Duke’s defense was subpar — especially with the absence of Ryan Kelly from the lineup — and that C.J. McCollum would for all intents and purposes have his standard 20+ point night. But, would this really all add up to the #15 seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks knocking out the Dukies? Yes, it did. As Coach K said in his postgame presser, C.J. McCollum was the best player on the floor last Friday night, and that was enough to send the Blue Devil faithful that packed the Greensboro Coliseum home shaking their collective heads. Just two nights later, Lehigh jumped out to a 35-20 lead over Xavier and seemed destined to earn a spot in the Sweet Sixteen mind you, this is a school that had never won an NCAA Tournament game in its schools history prior to this year — but they could not close the door against the Musketeers.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): Top seed Kentucky would advance to the second weekend with relative ease. Many thought that Connecticut, due to their talent level and big name coach, would be able to give Kentucky a run for their money. The only problem was that the Huskies did not hold up their end of the bargain as Iowa State ousted them from the Tournament in the second round. When the brackets were released on Sunday, March 11, some analysts believed that Kentucky had the most difficult road to New Orleans of any of the #1 seeds. Thus far, this has not been the case. Their next opponent, Indiana, will put up a much greater test, especially if they are connecting on their outside shots. Cal will have his squad ready for this one though, especially considering the Hoosiers handed Kentucky their only loss of the regular season.

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: When I claimed that Wichita State vs. Virginia Commonwealth would be one heck of a game. Two of the top mid-majors in the country going head-to-head; an exceptional offense lining up across a staunch defense; proven winning coaches — Shaka Smart and Gregg Marshall — putting it all on the line. This one really had the makings of a classic, and it just about lived up to that hype. Although it was not the prettiest game to watch at times, thanks in large part to VCU’s suffocating defense, what it lacked in clean basketball it made up for in drama. It was just a shame that each of these powerful mid-majors were paired with one another as both had the potential to make a run to the second weekend.

Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: That Baylor wouldn’t see the second weekend. It was an extremely bold prediction, but I thought that the Bears’ defense was vulnerable and ripe for the taking. A team like UNLV — if they had decided to show up against Colorado — would have posed serious problems for Baylor, but it was not to be. Scott Drew’s club will have had the most fortuitous road to the Elite Eight, assuming they make it that far, as they would have beaten a #14, #11, and #10 seeds all in that order.

First Weekend MVP: Tu Holloway, Xavier (46 points and one big shot). If Holloway does not kiss a shot off the glass over the outstretched arms of Jack Cooley with 21.3 seconds remaining in regulation, either Notre Dame or Lehigh is playing in the Sweet Sixteen. It was not just this shot, but his scoring down the stretch that put Xavier in position to win the game in the waning moments, as Holloway scored 13 of Xavier’s final 25 points.

When Holloway is Focused, He's One of the Best in the Country

Breakout Star: Brady Heslip, Baylor (44 points, 14-22 3FG). One of the most lethal shooters in the Tournament that often times goes overlooked on a Bears team filled with stars, Heslip lit up the opposition hitting a ridiculous 14 shots in 22 attempts from beyond the arc. Against Colorado, Heslip carried Baylor in the first half by drilling six threes, and then help to fend off the Buffaloes in the second half by connecting on three more. If Baylor is to make a run to N’awlins, Heslip will need to keep his hand hot.

More Home Cooking: #1 Kentucky, 382 miles from Atlanta. It is called “Catlanta” for a reason as Big Blue Nation always represents themselves very well down in the Peach state. With Duke no longer in the Tournament — the Blue Devils’ campus is, crazy enough, also 382 miles from the Georgia Dome — Kentucky fans will dominate the city of Atlanta for the weekend.

Best Regional Semifinal Game: #1 Kentucky vs. #4 Indiana (Friday, March 23, 9:45 PM ET on CBS). The media couldn’t get Kentucky-Connecticut, so Kentucky-Indiana will have to do. Tom Crean has the Hoosiers in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 10 years — the last time Indiana made it this far they went to the National Championship — and in order to live to see another day they will have to knock off Kentucky for the second time this year. What makes this game so intriguing is Indiana’s potent offense that can rack up a dozen points in seemingly a minute via the long ball against Kentucky’s lock-down defense. The entire nation knows what an imposing presence Anthony Davis is in the frontcourt, but he may be negated, to an extent, thanks to Indiana’s perimeter-oriented offense.

Best Regional Final Game (projected): #1 Kentucky vs. #3 Baylor (Sunday, March 25, time TBD on CBS). An explosion of athleticism, offensive ability, and future NBA draft picks would grace the Georgia Dome floor if this matchup comes to fruition. Although Baylor has built a reputation of having one of the weaker zone defenses in the Tournament, it is widely recognized that the most effective way of hindering Kentucky on offense is through a zone defense. Denying Davis and Jones touches on the inside, and forcing the Wildcats to hit shots from the perimeter is an opponent’s best bet to beat them.

Top Storyline: Will someone challenge Kentucky? If a team is to challenge Kentucky, it will most likely be because the Wildcats did not have their ‘A’ game and their opponent capitalized upon their opportunities. Baylor, from a pure athletic perspective, is a team that can run up and down the floor and hang with the Wildcats. Whether they can defend Kentucky is an entirely different story.

Top Storyline for ContrariansWill the basketballs Gods’ disdain for Cal and Kentucky’s youth prove too much for the Cats to overcome? John Calipari took Massachusetts to the Final Four with Marcus Camby back in 1996; he then took Memphis to the Final Four in 2008, and then the Wildcats to the same stage last year. While coaching UMass and Memphis, Cal had these Final Fours stripped due to violating NCAA rules. Will the basketball God’s look favorably upon this talented Kentucky team, or are they destined to falter at some point along the line?

Revised Vegas Odds to Win Region:

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