NCAA South Region preview

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Sports,College,Craig Stouffer

Rick Snider: Chalk this NCAA tournament up to Kentucky
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Did you know ...

Duke and North Carolina are home again?

With both sent to Greensboro, Duke and North Carolina will open the tournament at the same site in their home state for the third time in four years. Since 2004, neither has advanced past the first weekend when it has played first- and second-round games outside of North Carolina. The Tar Heels lost to Texas in Denver in 2004 and to George Mason in Dayton, Ohio, in 2006. Duke lost to VCU in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2007 and to West Virginia at Verizon Center in 2008.

Key Opening matchup

No. 5 Wichita State vs. No. 12 VCU

Facing the Rams, who have won 17 of their last 18 games and are playing as well as they did last year en route to the Final Four, was never going to be easy for any team. But it's almost unfair that the Shockers, who had won 17 of 18 and had a nine-game winning streak snapped in the Missouri Valley semifinals, have to face them in the 5-12 game, which has become synonymous with first-round upsets.

The favorite

No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats

Despite Sunday's SEC final loss to Vanderbilt, it's not a matter of whether the Wildcats can live up to their status as the favorites and earn coach John Calipari his first national title but whether Kentucky can finish the season as one of the greatest teams in college basketball history. To do so, player of the year front-runner Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague must play like champions, not freshmen.

The contender

No. 3 Baylor Bears

Even though Indiana was the only team to beat Kentucky before to the SEC tournament final, the Bears will welcome the pressure of the NCAAs. All seven of their losses this season are to four Big 12 teams that are also in the NCAAs, including three to Missouri and two to Kansas. South Dakota State isn't built for a first-round upset, and both UNLV and Colorado are beatable to get to the Sweet 16.

One and done

No. 8 Iowa State Cyclones

Don't get fooled into believing the Cyclones and Connecticut are an even matchup in the 8-9 game. Led by Jeremy Lamb (17.7 ppg), the Huskies improved in each of their Big East tournament games before losing a squeaker to Syracuse. Under second-year coach Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State did well to earn its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, but it is undersized and doesn't have a single notable victory on the road all season.

Cinderella

No. 7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

No team that finished in third place in the Big East really should be called a Cinderella, but the Fighting Irish still deserve to be noted for what they've accomplished this season after losing conference preseason player of the year Tim Abromaitis to a season-ending knee injury in November. A first-round win over Xavier would set up a likely second-round showdown against Duke, where Irish coach Mike Brey spent eight years as an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski.

The Examiner predicts ...

No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats

The Wildcats' road to a title gets extremely difficult as soon as they find themselves in a dogfight with Connecticut in the second round, but they will outlast the Huskies and VCU to make the Elite Eight. Notre Dame will lead at halftime against the Blue Devils, who will ride hot shooting into the Sweet 16 and past Baylor in a rematch of the 2010 South Region final. But Kentucky's too good and won't lose focus the way it did against Vanderbilt in the SEC final.

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner