NCAA TOURNAMENT | South Regional Breakdown
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 12:03
WITHEY, KANSAS GIVEN DIFFICULT ROAD
After finishing as national runners-up in 2012, Kansas (29-5) is back as a No. 1 seed again in 2013 looking to finish the job. And while standout power forward Thomas Robinson may have left the Rupp Arena paint, 7-foot senior center Jeff Withey is back to do damage inside. the Jayhawks have gotten themselves a new star on the perimeter in freshman shooting guard Ben McLemore (16.4 points, 5.3 rebounds per game). McLemore shouldn’t be as scary to Hoya fans with the recent lockdown defensive performances from sophomore guard Jabril Trawick, but a matchup with Withey would likely prove a problem. Junior center Moses Ayegba and sophomore Mikael Hopkins give up three inches apiece to the Wooden Award finalist, although the former does outweigh Withey by 20 pounds. But with an arguably tougher road to the Elite Eight than the Hoyas (VCU, Michigan and a surging North Carolina team all loom as potential early matchups), the Jayhawks may have a tough time getting to that point at all.
VCU LOOKING TO BUST MORE BRACKETS
It might not even be fair to call Shaka Smart’s squad a “sleeper” anymore; a more apt description might be “every team’s worst nightmare.” Virginia Commonwealth (26-8), a No. 5 seed this season, burst on the national scene after beating Georgetown en route to a Final Four trip in 2011, and they’ve inspired fear among higher seeds across the country ever since. This season, VCU was a notch below Saint Louis but a step ahead of Butler in their first season in the Atlantic 10, and wins by the Billikens and Bulldogs in the Round of 64 Thursday certainly allude to the Rams’ quality. Smart — whose teams are always known for their trademark “Havoc” style of pressure defense — is also able to call on four players who average in double figures, including a potent force in the paint in junior forward Juvonte Reddic and a proven sharpshooter from long range in senior guard Troy Daniels. After slipping past Akron in Thursday night’s matchup, the Rams have a shot at starting up another magical run if they can get past Trey Burke and Michigan on Saturday to grab a spot in the Sweet 16.
FLORIDA TEETERING ON THE CUSP
Although Florida claimed its fifth SEC regular season title under Head Coach Billy Donovan this season, it was one of the least meaningful league championships in recent memory. The Gators (26-7) are an experienced squad, led by three seniors — guards Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton and big man Erik Murphy — who have reached the tournament in each of their four seasons. Despite getting a relatively good draw against a weaker No. 14 seed in Northwestern State, followed by a tilt against the UCLA-Minnesota, consistency has been Florida’s enemy this season, particularly away from Gainesville. Where Florida traditionally hasn’t been inconsistent, though, is in the tourney: The 47-year-old Donovan already has two championship rings and reached the Elite Eight the last two seasons, doing so in 2012 with his team as an unheralded No. 7 seed. The Gators would be no strangers to the Hoyas after their Nov. 9 meeting, and junior forward Nate Lubick would be especially familiar with Murphy, a high school teammate at St. Mark’s (MA). The matchup would be no less fascinating though, with Florida a veteran team that has long been knocking on the door of another Final Four.
No. 6 UCLA, riding the strength of one of the top-ranked freshman classes in the country, eventually managed to turn an inconsistent squad of talented players into one of the best teams in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, after a solid out-of-conference stint, No. 11 Minnesota finished Big 10 regular season play at a pedestrian mark of 8-10, thanks in part to a three-game losing-streak — all to unranked opponents — to end the season. So, what gives? Well, two things: first, and most importantly, UCLA lost freshman guard and second-leading scorer Jordan Adams to a broken foot in its loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament championship. Given the fact that the Bruins base the bulk of their scoring off of Adams and classmate Shabazz Muhammad, it may prove difficult for UCLA to find other players to pick up the slack. Second, Minnesota has topped Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana this year and didn’t lose a single out-of-conference game on the road. Against a shorthanded UCLA squad that has had no time to adjust to a significant injury, the Gophers have a good shot to come out on top in this one.