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.
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.