NCAA South Region preview

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Sports,College,John Keim,Kevin Dunleavy

THE FAVORITE

No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks

The Big 12 champion Jayhawks have rebounded from a mystifying free-fall in which they lost three straight. Kansas has gone 10-1 since, with the loss coming in a meaningless regular-season finale at Baylor. The Jayhawks have the best shot blocker in the tournament in 7-foot Jeff Withey (13.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.8 bpg) and the nation's most dynamic freshman in Ben McLemore (16.4 ppg) and lead the nation in field goal defense (36 percent).

The contender

No. 4 Michigan Wolverines

In six NCAA appearances since the days of the Fab Five, the Wolverines have not made it past the round of 32, going 3-6. Last year, Michigan was stunned by Ohio in the opening round. But this year, Michigan has the backcourt to control games and fend off upsets. Trey Burke is a national player of the year candidate, leading the Wolverines to the best assist-turnover ratio in the nation -- 1.55-to-1.

One and done

No. 7 San Diego State Aztecs

The Aztecs have been to the tournament eight times and advanced to the second round only once. Last year as a No. 6 seed, Steve Fisher's team fell to No. 11 N.C. State. San Diego State does not enter in good form, losing five of its last nine. The Aztecs have been two different teams, going 14-1 at home but losing their last five road games in the rugged Mountain West.

Cinderella

No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth Rams

After going to the Final Four in 2011, can the Rams still be considered a Cinderella? Shaka Smart's team leads the nation in steals (11.8 pg) for the second straight year behind its scrambling Havoc defense. The Rams have proved their ability to play with anyone, toppling No. 5 Wichita State last year in the tournament and No. 6 Georgetown, No. 3 Purdue and No. 1 Kansas on their way to the Final Four in 2011.

The Examiner predicts ...

No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks

Georgetown is a soft No. 2 seed, and Michigan is too mercurial (the Wolverines went 10-7 after a 16-0 start). And while Kansas hit a rough patch during the middle of the season, the Jayhawks' experience and talent will make the difference. A lot will depend on leading scorer Ben McLemore, whose numbers in neutral court games are much different than they were at home. Center Jeff Withey's size and shooting touch create issues.

Did you know ...

Northwestern State has the nation's highest-scoring offense?

The Demons average 81.0 points per game and toppled the team with the nation's stingiest defense, Stephen F. Austin (51.0 ppg), in the Southland title game. In its last NCAA appearance (2006), Northwestern State toppled No. 3 Iowa in the opening round. Coach Mike McConathy employs a 10-man rotation, led by 6-7 DaQuan Hicks who averages only 20.1 minutes but ranks second in the nation in points per 40 minutes (28.0).

Key opening matchup

No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Minnesota

The Golden Gophers won 15 of their first 16 games but lost 11 of their last 16. But they also beat Indiana in that stretch. Minnesota is athletic and can pound the offensive boards, which will give the smallish Bruins lots of problems. And when UCLA's best defender and second-leading scorer, freshman Jordan Adams, broke a bone in his foot this past weekend, the Bruins became more beatable. They still have Shabazz Muhammad and point guard Larry Drew II.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com, jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

 

AP capsules for South Region teams

Kansas

Lawrence, 29-5.

Nickname: Jayhawks. Coach: Bill Self.

Conference: Big 12. Bid: Big 12 champion.

Region: South. Seed: No. 1.

Tournament Record: 93-40, 41 years. Last appearance: 2012.

Scoring: Team (75.4); Ben McLemore 16.4; Jeff Withey 13.6; Travis Releford 11.5; Elijah Johnson 10.1.

Rebounds: Team (39.1); Jeff Withey 8.4; Kelvin Young 6.6; Ben McLemore 5.3.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (15.6/13.7); Elijah Johnson 4.8/3.1; Naadir Tharpe 3.0/1.3; Travis Releford 2.6/1.6.

3-pointers: Team (.367); Ben McLemore 69; Elijah Johnson 49; Travis Releford 38; Naadir Tharpe 32.

Last Ten: 9-1.

The Skinny: Nine straight Big 12 titles, a Final Four team a year ago, playing as a No. 1 seed near home at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Have to like the Jayhawks' chances of going far.

 

Western Kentucky

Bowling Green, Ky., 20-15.

Nickname: Hilltoppers. Coach: Ray Harper.

Conference: Sun Belt. Bid: Sun Belt champion.

Region: South. Seed: No. 16.

Tournament Record: 19-23, 22 years. Last NCAA Appearance: 2012.

Scoring: Team (67.2); T.J. Price 15.3; George Fant 12.9; Jamal Crook 12.0.

Rebounds: Team (36.2); George Fant 6.8; Brandon Harris 5.7; T.J. Price 4.4.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (11.2/15.1); Jamal Crook 4.0/2.3; T.J. Price 2.4/2.7.

3-pointers: Team (.324); T.J. Price 79; Brandon Harris 64; Kavein Kaspar 36.

Last Ten: 7-3.

The Skinny: The Hilltoppers recovered from a rough stretch in the middle of the season by winning four games in four days to take the Sun Belt tourney title — for the second straight season.

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North Carolina

Chapel Hill, 24-10.

Nickname: Tar Heels. Coach: Roy Williams.

Conference: Atlantic Coast. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 8.

Tournament Record: 108-41, 43 years. Last NCAA Appearance: 2012.

Scoring: Team (77.2); James Michael McAdoo 14.4; P.J. Hairston 14.3; Reggie Bullock 14.2.

Rebounds: Team (38.9); James Michael McAdoo 7.4; Reggie Bullock 6.6; P.J. Hairston 4.2.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (17.3/12.2); Marcus Paige 4.7/2.4; Dexter Strickland 4.2/1.3; Reggie Bullock 2.9/1.1.

3-pointers: Team (.374); Reggie Bullock 84; P.J. Hairston 81; Leslie McDonald 41; Marcus Paige 41.

Last Ten: 8-2.

The Skinny: Reaching the ACC final did the Tar Heels a world of good, even if they lost to Miami. Coach Roy Williams one win from 700.

 

Villanova

Philadelphia, 20-13.

Nickname: Wildcats. Coach: Jay Wright.

Conference: Big East. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 9.

Tournament Record: 49-32, 32 years. Last NCAA Appearance: 2011.

Scoring: Team (67.8); JayVaughn Pinkston 13.1; Ryan Arcidiacono 12.0; Darrun Hilliard 11.2; Mouphtaou Yarou 9.7.

Rebounds: Team (36.3); Mouphtaou Yarou 7.8; JayVaughn Pinkston 4.9; James Bell 4.2; Daniel Ochefu 4.1.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (12.3/15.7); Ryan Arcidiacono 3.5/2.8; JayVaughn Pinkston 1.8/2.5.

3-pointers: Team (.336); Ryan Arcidiacono 70; James Bell 55; Darrun Hilliard 37.

Last Ten: 6-4.

The Skinny: Average run in Big East season and a loss in tournament quarterfinals were outweighed by strong schedule and solid RPI.

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Virginia Commonwealth

Richmond, 26-8.

Nickname: Rams. Coach: Shaka Smart.

Conference: Atlantic 10. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 5.

Tournament Record: 11-11, 11 years. Last appearance: 2012.

Scoring: Team (77.3); Treveon Graham 15.5; Juvonte Reddic 14.4; Troy Daniels 12.1; Rob Brandenberg 10.4.

Rebounds: Team (34.8); Juvonte Reddic 8.3; Treveon Graham 6.0.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (14.7/11.8); Darrius Theus 4.9/1.9; Briante Weber 2.8/1.2.

3-pointers: Team (.352); Troy Daniels 117; Treveon Graham 51; Rob Brandenberg 46.

Last Ten: 7-3.

The Skinny: Shaka Smart and the Rams were a surprise Final Four team two years ago. Could another mid-major run be in the works for the A-10 champs?

 

Akron

Akron, Ohio, 26-6.

Nickname: Zips. Coach: Keith Dambrot.

Conference: Mid-American. Bid: MAC champion.

Region: South. Seed: No. 12.

Tournament Record: 0-3, 3 years. Last appearance: 2011.

Scoring: Team (72.7); Zeke Marshall 13.0; Demetrius Treadwell 11.4; Alex Abreu 10.3; Nick Harney 9.71.

Rebounds: Team (37.9); Demetrius Treadwell 7.9; Zeke Marshall 7.1; Nick Harney 4.0.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (15.0/13.6); Alex Abreu 6.0/2.9; Brian Walsh 1.6/0.6; Carmelo Betancourt 1.5/1.8.

3-pointers: Team (.337); Alex Abreu 50; Jake Kretzer 46; Brian Walsh 40; Reggie McAdams 37.

Last Ten: 8-2.

The Skinny: Zips are big and athletic and overcame the suspension of three-year starting point guard Alex Abreu to win the conference title. Coach Dambrot faces one of his former assistants.

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Michigan

Ann Arbor, 26-7.

Nickname: Wolverines. Coach: John Beilein.

Conference: Big Ten. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 4.

Tournament Record: 43-22, 23 years. Last appearance: 2012.

Scoring: Team (75.2); Trey Burke 19.2; Tim Hardaway Jr. 14.8; Nik Stauskas 11.5; Glenn Robinson III 10.7.

Rebounds: Team (35.1); Mitch McGary 5.5; Glenn Robinson III 5.4; Jordan Morgan 4.7; Tim Hardaway Jr. 4.7.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (14.3/9.2); Trey Burke 6.7/2.0; Tim Hardaway Jr. 2.3/2.0.

3-pointers: Team (.383); Nik Stauskas 71; Trey Burke 65; Tim Hardaway Jr. 60.

Last Ten: 5-5.

The Skinny: A top-10 team for a good chunk of the season, the Wolverines struggled down the stretch. But with the trio of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III, they're going to be a handful for whoever they face.

 

South Dakota State

Brookings, 25-9.

Nickname: Jackrabbits. Coach: Scott Nagy.

Conference: Summit League. Bid: Summit champion.

Region: South. Seed: No. 13.

Tournament Record: 0-1, 1 year. Last appearance: 2012.

Scoring: Team (73.9); Nate Wolters 22.7; Jordan Dykstra 12.5; Tony Fiegen 10.0; Chad White 10.0.

Rebounds: Team (34.7); Jordan Dykstra 7.9; Nate Wolters 5.6; Tony Fiegen 5.5; Chad White 4.0.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (14.5/10.4); Nate Wolters 5.8/2.3; Brayden Carlson 2.4/1.1.

3-pointers: Team (.394); Chad White 75; Nate Wolters 64; Jordan Dykstra 55; Brayden Carlson 48.

Last Ten: 7-3.

The Skinny: Jackrabbits have made it two straight NCAA tournaments after getting in for the first time a year ago. Summit League player of the year Nate Wolters was fourth nationally with 22.7 points per game.

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UCLA

Los Angeles, 25-9.

Nickname: Bruins. Coach: Ben Howland.

Conference: Pac-12. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 6.

Tournament Record: 100-37, 44 years. Last NCAA Appearance: 2011.

Scoring: Team (74.7); Shabazz Muhammad 17.8; Jordan Adams 15.3 (injured); Travis Wear 11.2; Kyle Anderson 9.8.

Rebounds: Team (36.3); Kyle Anderson 8.6; Shabazz Muhammad 5.3; Travis Wear 5.2; David Wear 5.0.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (16.1/11.1); Larry Drew II 7.4/2.4; Kyle Anderson 3.5/2.0.

3-pointers: Team (.339); Jordan Adams 46 (injured); Shabazz Muhammad 40.

Last Ten: 7-3.

The Skinny: The Bruins won the Pac-12 regular-season title, but fell short in the tournament title game after freshman Jordan Adams broke his right foot. UCLA will have to retool its offense.

 

Minnesota

Minneapolis, 20-12

Nickname: Golden Gophers. Coach: Tubby Smith.

Conference: Big Ten. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 11.

Tournament Record: 12-11, 11 years. Last appearance: 2010.

Scoring: Team (68.4); Andre Hollins 13.9; Austin Hollins 10.6; Rodney Williams 10.3; Trevor Mbakwe 10.0.

Rebounds: Team (38.8); Trevor Mbakwe 8.7; Rodney Williams 5.1.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (14.8/13.8); Andre Hollins 3.4/2.3; Austin Hollins 2.5/1.3.

3-pointers: Team (.326); Andre Hollins 70; Austin Hollins 47.

Last Ten: 3-7.

The Skinny: Gophers are athletic enough to knock off UCLA in the opening round, and keep going.

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Florida

Gainesville, 26-7.

Nickname: Gators. Coach: Billy Donovan.

Conference: Southeastern. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 3.

Tournament Record: 35-15, 17 years. Last appearance: 2012.

Scoring: Team (71.6); Erik Murphy 12.6; Kenny Boynton 12.3; Mike Rosario 12.3; Patric Young 10.3, Scottie Wilbekin 9.0.

Rebounds: Team (35.1); Patric Young 6.2; Will Yeguete 5.8; Erik Murphy 5.5.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (14.8/11.1); Scottie Wilbekin 5.0/2.0; Kenny Boynton 3.0/1.3; Mike Rosario 2.2/1.8.

3-pointers: Team (.380); Erik Murphy 68; Kenny Boynton 67; Mike Rosario 51; Michael Frazier II 50; Scottie Wilbekin 36.

Last Ten: 6-4.

The Skinny: Great guards, solid frontcourt, one of the best defensive teams in the country — wouldn't be a huge surprise if the Gators made the short trip to Atlanta.

 

Northwestern State

Natchitoches, La., 23-8.

Nickname: Demons. Coach: Mike McConathy.

Conference: Southland. Bid: Southland champion.

Region: South. Seed: No. 14.

Tournament Record: 2-2, 2 years. Last NCAA Appearance: 2006.

Scoring: Team (81.0); DeQuan Hicks 14.1; Shamir Davis 12.5; James Hulbin 12.1; Jalan West 10.3.

Rebounds: Team (39.3); James Hulbin 5.9; DeQuan Hicks 5.8; Marvin Frazier 4.1.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (15.5/14.0); Jalan West 5.2/1.9.; Brison White 2.3/1.4; Shamir Davis 2.2/1.8.

3-pointers: Team (.317); Jalan West 49; James Hulbin 35; Shamir Davis 32.

Last Ten: 8-2.

The Skinny: The highest-scoring team in the country will be fun to watch and could ruin a few brackets.

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San Diego State

San Diego, 22-10.

Nickname: Aztecs. Coach: Steve Fisher.

Conference: Mountain West. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 7.

Tournament Record: 2-8, 8 years. Last appearance: 2012.

Scoring: Team (69.2); Jamaal Franklin 16.7; Chase Tapley 13.5; Xavier Thames 9.8.

Rebounds: Team (36.8); Jamaal Franklin 9.5; Deshawn Stephens 4.9; JJ O'Brien 4.6.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (12.3/11.9); Jamaal Franklin 3.2/3.4; Chase Tapley 2.8/1.3; Xavier Thames 2.2/1.7; Winston Sheperd 2.0/2.1.

3-pointers: Team (.324); Chase Tapley 66; Jamaal Franklin 38; Xavier Thames 35; James Rahon 32.

Last Ten: 5-5.

The Skinny: Coach Steve Fisher knows a thing or two about coaching, which could be good enough for a win or two in the tournament.

 

Oklahoma

Norman, 20-11.

Nickname: Sooners. Coach: Lon Kruger.

Conference: Big 12. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 10.

Tournament Record: 35-26, 26 years. Last NCAA Appearance: 2009.

Scoring: Team (71.1); Romero Osby 15.8; Steven Pledger 11.8; Amath M'Baye 10.1.

Rebounds: Team (36.7); Romero Osby 7.0; Amath M'Baye 5.2; Buddy Hield 4.2.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (12.4/11.8); Sam Grooms 3.2/1.2; Buddy Hield 1.9/1.6.

3-pointers: Team (.326); Steven Pledger 70; Je'lon Hornbeak 25.

Last Ten: 6-4.

The Skinny: Sooners have rebounded this season to make the bracket for the first time since Blake Griffin took them there 2009.

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Georgetown

Washington, D.C., 25-6.

Nickname: Hoyas. Coach: John Thompson III.

Conference: Big East. Bid: At large.

Region: South. Seed: No. 2.

Tournament Record: 46-27, 28 years. Last appearance: 2012.

Scoring: Team (64.6); Otto Porter Jr. 16.3; Markel Starks 12.5; Greg Whittington 12.1.

Rebounds: Team (32.9); Otto Porter Jr. 7.4; Greg Whittington 7.0; Nate Lubick 5.4.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (14.8/12.7); Markel Starks 2.9/2.0; Nate Lubick 2.8/2.1; Otto Porter Jr. 2.7/1.5; Greg Whittington 2.0/2.0.

3-pointers: Team (.358); Markel Starks 59, Otto Porter Jr. 41; D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera 39.

Last Ten: 8-2.

The Skinny: Georgetown is one of seven basketball-focused Catholic schools splitting off from the conference to create their own league, which will begin play next season and keep the Big East name.

 

Florida Gulf Coast

Fort Myers, 24-10.

Nickname: Eagles. Coach: Andy Enfield.

Conference: Atlantic Sun. Bid: Atlantic Sun champion.

Region: South. Seed: No. 15.

Tournament Record: First year. Last NCAA Appearance: First year.

Scoring: Team (73.1); Sherwood Brown 15.3; Bernard Thompson 14.0; Chase Fielder 12.2.

Rebounds: Team (36.6); Sherwood Brown 6.4; Chase Fielder 5.4; Eric McKnight 4.6; Bernard Thompson 4.4.

Assists/Turnovers: Team (14.0/14.7); Brett Comer 6.3/3.6.

3-pointers: Team (.339); Sherwood Brown 68; Bernard Thompson 48; Christophe Varidel 36; Chase Fielder 32.

Last Ten: 8-2.

The Skinny: Atlantic Sun champs got into the field of 68 in second year of eligibility in DI — pretty impressive after losing 82 games the previous four seasons as a transitional program. Has a win over Miami on its resume.

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Author:

John Keim

Staff Reporter - Washington Redskins
The Washington Examiner
Author:

Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner