NCAA Regional Reset: South RegionPosted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2013
Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent.
The South Regional begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with Kansas vs. Michigan followed by Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast. The East Region Reset, West Region Reset and Midwest Region Reset published earlier today. Also make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Texas throughout the week.
New Favorite: #3 Florida. It hasn’t been an arduous road to the Sweet Sixteen as Florida dismantled #14 Northwestern State and #11 Minnesota to advance to Arlington. Although the Golden Gophers cut a 21-point halftime deficit down to eight midway through the second half, they never truly challenged Florida and the Gators coasted to an easy win. Did we learn anything that we already didn’t know about Florida in the process? Probably not. Billy Donovan’s team is as good as anyone at blowing out inferior competition, but it was impressive to see their resolve demonstrated against Minnesota. The common belief is that the Gators crumble down the stretch in close games — amazingly, they have not won a game by single digits this year — but there was no need for late-game drama this weekend. To reach the Elite Eight, Florida will have to next beat #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Not exactly murderer’s row to get to the South Region final by having to play against all double-digit seeds, but FGCU has already proven that it is far from a traditional #15 seed. After posting big wins over Georgetown and San Diego State, the Eagles have shown they can more than hang with any team in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, I projected Florida to win the region when the bracket was initially released and they’ve only confirmed that belief after the first weekend.
Horse of Darkness: #4 Michigan. So much for Shaka Smart’s vaunted havoc defense. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had little problem dealing with Virginia Commonwealth’s pressing defense en route to a convincing 25-point victory. The Rams’ 71 point swing— a 46-point win against Akron and 25-point loss to Michigan — is by far the greatest two-game switcheroo in NCAA Tournament history, as the Wolverines demonstrated that all a team needs to foil Smart’s plan is a backcourt consisting of two NBA-level players. Michigan is grossly underseeded and is probably closer to a #2 seed than #4. This is a team that was ranked in the Top 10 for virtually the entire season, but limped into the NCAA Tournament after going 6-6 in its final 12 Big Ten games. It has been evident that Michigan’s style of play has kicked up a notch against non-Big Ten teams; South Dakota State and VCU’s urge to speed up the pace of the action seemed to play right into Michigan’s hands. With Trey Burke running the show, John Beilein has the best point guard in the South Region going up against a Kansas team that clearly lacks a steady one of its own. Kansas played one good half in the first two rounds — albeit an extremely good second half against North Carolina — but is ripe for the taking.
Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68. What, like you thought there could possibly be a surprise that trumps what Florida Gulf Coast did in Philadelphia on Friday and Sunday? Not only did the Eagles make history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they did so with flying colors — quite literally — in beating Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points each. FGCU’s win over Georgetown was certainly a major surprise, as a 24-10 team that finished in second place in the Atlantic Sun and had been swept by Lipscomb soundly beat a 25-6 Big East team with a slew of wins over top teams. Yet after its resounding win over the Hoyas, was anyone that surprised with its victory over a San Diego State team that proved to be mostly average in a Mountain West Conference that went 2-5 in this year’s Dance? Neither win was a fluke for Andy Enfield’s squad; the Eagles flat out beat these two teams that spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. From Andy Enfield’s story — a former NBA assistant with Rick Pitino, owning his own company called “Tract Manager,” and marrying a supermodel — to the fact that FGCU has been a Division I program for less than a decade, the endless stream of alley-oops and ridiculous dunks thrown down by high-flying no-name players, the swagger and jovial attitude of Sherwood Brown, and the heartwarming story of Brett Comer, among many other things… words simply cannot do justice to what Florida Gulf Coast accomplished over the weekend.
Completely Expected (1st Weekend): Upsets are often difficult to project, but Minnesota’s victory over UCLA was as easy as they come. This was an upset in seed only, actually, as Vegas had Minnesota favored to win the game. It was plainly obvious that the Bruins were sidetracked heading into their opening round game and, unfortunately, seemed like they didn’t even want to be playing the game during spurts. With speculation about Ben Howland’s job security leading up to the game — Howland has since been fired at UCLA — and a Los Angeles Times story breaking regarding Shabazz Muhammad’s upbringing, recruiting, and incorrect age, it was a tall task for the Bruins to remain focused on the matter at hand. Combine all of this with Jordan Adams’ broken right foot and a match-up with the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and UCLA was destined for a loss.
I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: When I stated Florida was the favorite to emerge from the region. Whether smart or not, I believed Florida’s losses in the SEC were in aberration and the watered-down league caused the Gators to play down to their competition on many nights. A change of scenery in the form of the NCAA Tournament was just the trick for Florida to get back on track, and they have looked every bit the part of a legitimate National Championship contender as a result. Granted, the Gators have had an easy road to the Sweet Sixteen, but Billy Donovan’s team is clearly playing with a greater sense of focus and purpose compared to their previously erratic play. In order to emerge from the South Region, Florida will have to beat Florida Gulf Coast and then the winner of Kansas – Michigan; I still like Florida to get over the Elite Eight hump and advance to Atlanta.
Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: That Georgetown had a good chance to win the region if Florida had slipped up. I thought this was a different Georgetown team. With Otto Porter leading the way and one of the stingiest defenses in the NCAA Tournament, I believed John Thompson III would prove his doubters wrong. Yet, in the end, Georgetown’s annual collapse in March held true as it has in many other recent years. Since 2008, the Hoyas have lost to five double-digit seeded teams: #10 Davidson (2008), #14 Ohio (2010), #11 Virginia Commonwealth (2011), #11 North Carolina State (2012), and now #15 Florida Gulf Coast (2013). Georgetown allowed FGCU to dictate the tempo of the game and were completely flustered by the Eagles’ up-tempo play. If we are to learn anything from Georgetown’s lack of success, it is that teams who struggle to score the ball — no matter how great its defense may be — are vulnerable in the NCAA Tournament.
First Weekend MVP: Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast (22 points and 24 assists versus five turnovers). In order to orchestrate an offense like Florida Gulf Coast’s fast-breaking, high-flying dunk show, Brett Comer needed to be a smooth operator, and he certainly was over the weekend. Entering the NCAA Tournament, Comer averaged 7.9 PPG and had a 1.75 A/TO ratio. Against Georgetown and San Diego State, Comer elevated his game to the tune of 11 PPG and a savvy 4.8 A/TO. He showed himself to be the prototypical point guard: reliable and steady with the ball in his hands, an effective distributor, a scorer when the opportunity presented itself, and a fearless leader. Comer did it all against two of the better defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament, and is an integral reason why FGCU is still playing in Arlington.
Breakout Star: Mitch McGary, Michigan (34 points on 16-of-20 FG and 23 rebounds). There is no shortage of star power on Michigan with Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and the rest gracing the starting lineup every night. With Jordan Morgan inhibited due to a bum ankle, much of the onus inside has been placed on McGary’s shoulders inside and the freshman has relished the opportunity. Averaging a workmanlike 6.2 PPG and 5.5 RPG entering the NCAA Tournament, McGary erupted for 17 PPG and 11.5 RPG in Michigan’s first two games. He made his presence most felt against Virginia Commonwealth by often beating the quick and aggressive Rams to rebounds and loose balls — not an easy thing to do. A reliable big man in the frontcourt is just what Michigan needed to make an extended run in the Dance, and McGary is developing into that man. However, South Dakota State and VCU’s frontcourts cannot even be compared to what Jeff Withey and Kansas will throw at McGary on Friday evening.
More Home Cooking: #1 Kansas, 702 miles from Arlington. The short drive from Lawrence to Kansas City certainly is more convenient than the long trek south to Arlington, but Kansas is closer to the Lone Star State than any of the three other schools. And, if history proves true, Kansas fans travel extraordinarily well. They’ll be the largest contingent in North Texas.
Best Regional Semifinal Game: #3 Florida vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast (Friday, March 29). Kansas vs. Michigan has the history and big names on their side, but how can Florida Gulf Coast’s up-tempo dunking offense vs. intrastate rival — well, not exactly rival quite yet — Florida, seeking to get back to the Final Four for the first time since its back-to-back championships, not be the best game? On paper, Florida should win in a romp. Pomeroy projects the Gators to win by a score of 76-57, while the early line in the game favors Florida by double-digits. But, on paper, FGCU should also have lost to Georgetown and San Diego State, too. The nation’s eyes will be locked on the small school located in Fort Myers against one of the nation’s most recognizable and dominant athletic programs. One thing is certain, Florida Gulf Coast will not shy away from the Gators one bit.
Best Regional Final Game (projected): #3 Florida vs. #4 Michigan (Sunday, March 31). I have predicted since the brackets were released on Selection Sunday that Kansas would not win the South Region, and I believe its season comes to an end against Michigan thanks in large part to the Wolverines’ superior guard play. As for Florida, they have in my eyes the most talent in the region and are the favorite. Assuming they defeat FGCU—they have to, right?—that sets up a date between Michigan and Florida for the right to advance to Atlanta. Both teams operate primarily on the perimeter and center their offenses around the three-point shot; Florida is shooting 38.3% from three, while Michigan is at 37.5%. According to Pomeroy, this game would feature the #2 and #3 ranked offenses in the country. College basketball has been much maligned this year due to its lack of scoring, but that certainly wouldn’t been an issue in this one.
Top Storyline: Will Florida Gulf Coast Do the Unthinkable? They’ve already made history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, but will they keep the Cinderella story going for at least another game and advance to the Elite Eight or — gulp — the Final Four? If the Eagles indeed do the unthinkable, I will have no qualms in calling it one of the greatest upsets and stories in the history of sports. It is unprecedented.
Top Storyline for Contrarians: Will Kansas regain the spotlight and prove doubters wrong? The spotlight is on Florida Gulf Coast, and the Jayhawks were very unimpressive for 60 of 80 minutes in their opening two games against Western Kentucky and North Carolina. They trailed at halftime in both games, and if they were to get out to a slow start against Michigan they may not be able to rebound like they did this past weekend. However, Kansas is the #1 seed in the region for a reason despite its flaws — the Fighting Bill Selfs are not likely to go out easily.