If scoring, well-choreographed offense, three-point marksmanship, and artful individual performances are what piques your college basketball interests, then I would say to avert your eyes from the South Region.
The South Region is stacked with some of the best defensive teams in the country. Kansas (No. 1), Georgetown (No. 4) and Florida (No. 6) are all in the Top 10 in the country in field goal defense. San Diego State (No. 19), Akron (No. 28) and Minnesota (No. 42) are each in the Top 50. To say nothing of a team like VCU, which has made its bones by digging into opponents on that end of the court.
Not only is the South the best defensive region in the tournament, but it also has the greatest number of potential National Champions in it. Kansas, Florida, Georgetown and Michigan have each spent time in the Top 5 this year, meaning that arguably four of the top 10 teams in the country are all fighting to escape one region.
Here are Doc’s Sports 2013 March Madness bracket predictions for the South Region:
No. 1 Seed: Kansas (29-5 Straight-Up, 19-14 ATS)
The Big 12 regular season and tournament champions, Kansas is playing its best basketball of the season. The Jayhawks were the national runners up in last year’s tournament, and they look poised to finish the job this year. Kansas has had some stunning losses this year – like their defeat at TCU and a 23-point loss at Baylor – but they still have as much talent as any team in the nation. Future pro Ben McLemore leads the way on the perimeter. Jeff Withey is the best defensive center in the nation. And seniors Elijah Johnson, Kevin Young and Travis Releford do all the little things that this team needs. This team is still a bit immature for a group that boasts four senior starters. But their athleticism is unparalleled and they could be peaking at the right time.
Kansas Prediction: The Jayhawks are one of the few teams in the field that actually somewhat control their own destiny. What I mean is that they have the talent and experience to be National Champions. They are tough to beat, and the odds are more likely that they will beat themselves with a dud performance than that the Jayhawks will be shot down by an equally talented group. I think they will play Florida to see who goes to the Final Four from this region.
No. 2 Seed: Georgetown (25-6 SU, 16-11 ATS)
Prior to their emotional overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, the Hoyas had been one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning 13 of 14 prior to that defeat. The Hoyas rely on a smothering defense to set the tempo in each of their games. And they have actually held 11 of their 31 opponents to 50 points or less. That is staggering. Otto Porter is one of the best players in the nation, and he leads the offensive attack. Guard Markel Starks gives him an athletic guard complement. But beyond that, points come from hustle, timely shooting and execution in the Princeton offense. The Hoyas play only six guys, so there aren’t a lot of options. But they have gotten the job done thus far and are one of the favorites in the field.
Georgetown Prediction: I am not super-high on the Hoyas. Over the past 15 years the odds state that one or two of the No. 2 seeds will not survive the opening weekend. I actually think that Georgetown is one of the ones ripe for a fall.
No. 3 Seed: Florida (26-7 SU, 16-14 ATS)
If guard play determines how far you go in March, then the Gators should be all right. Florida won the SEC regular season title and came up just short in the conference tournament championship. But this team has as talented and experienced of a backcourt as there is in the country. Also, slick forwards Patric Young (Mr. Inside) and Erik Murphy (Mr. Outside) give the Gators a look that is difficult for opponents to prepare for. Florida staggered down the stretch after a hot start to the year. Some of that was due to injuries and fatigue. But now its time for this veteran group to make one last push. The key is the play of senior Kenny Boynton. He has played some of the worst basketball of his illustrious four-year career in the last month. Time to see him make one last run, and as he goes, so go the Gators.
Florida Prediction: I really think that Florida is on a crash course with Kansas. I think the bracket sets up very well for them, assuming they can avoid what would be a major upset at the hands of Northwestern State. (A similarly built Missouri team lost to Norfolk State last year, so it can happen.) After that the Gators will thump either Minnesota or UCLA. Then it just depends on if Georgetown is still standing. I would love to see a Florida-Kansas Elite Eight matchup because I think the Gators guards would be too much for Kansas. I think this team has legit national title hopes.
No. 4 Seed: Michigan (26-9 SU, 17-14 ATS)
At one point the Wolverines were believed to be the best team in the nation. But they have been in a free fall since their jaunt to No. 1, going 6-6 down the stretch with a loss to Penn State on Feb. 27. This team has looked young and scattered, and they don’t defend as well as the rest of the teams from the Big Ten. Trey Burke is the likely National Player of the Year (although I didn’t vote for him), and the Wolverines have an excellent perimeter attack running John Beilein’s quirky offensive system. The Wolverines run comes down to one thing: how they shoot from deep. This team is No. 8 in field goal shooting and No. 26 from three-point land. If they get hot from deep – watch out. But if not then their late season slide could continue.
Michigan Prediction: Michigan absolutely could be a one-and-done team. Or they could go to the Final Four. You pick. I am leaning toward Option 1, as I just don’t see the maturity out of this team. I have been saying for weeks that the Big Ten is massively overrated. Michigan hasn’t really had a good, convincing win since November. I don’t expect the lights to turn on now, and I think this team will have a disappointing tournament.
No. 5 Seed: VCU (26-8 SU, 10-17 ATS)
The Rams weren’t very good at the window this year, but they were certainly good on the court in finishing in second place in their first year in the Atlantic 10. Shaka Smart’s Rams played Duke, Missouri and Wichita State to the wire early in the season and have only gotten better, going 23-5 in their last 28 games with a 13-game winning streak mixed in. This might be Smart’s best offensive team at VCU with four double-digit scorers and a bevy of capable wing talents among his eight-man rotation. VCU was No. 13 in the country in scoring and excelled at turning their trapping, pressing defense into points on the other end.
VCU Prediction: The Rams get a great matchup in Round 1 against an Akron team that will be playing without its point guard. After that they will have to square off with Michigan or SDSU, and I think they could beat either. But that’s probably where the fun stops. I don’t think VCU is good enough to beat Kansas this year, and if the Jayhawks are still alive in the Sweet 16 it means the have continued their excellent play. I think the Sweet 16 would be a success for this group.
No. 6 Seed: UCLA (25-9 SU, 15-18 ATS)
It would’ve been fun to see what UCLA, a preseason Top 10 team, would have been capable of doing in this region with a full deck. But second-leading scorer and invaluable piece Jordan Adams broke his foot in the Pac-12 Tournament and will be out. That leaves it all to cocky wing Shabazz Muhammed, the Wear twins, and ready-for-redemption point guard Larry Drew. It’s not really a full deck. And the Bruins made sure everyone knew how upset they were about having to travel to Texas. As always, this mentally weak team is worried about all the wrong things.
UCLA Prediction:The Bruins should be able to beat Minnesota because the Golden Gophers are completely and utterly pathetic. But I just have a hard time seeing UCLA advance much further without the stabilizing effect of Adams.
Best second-round matchup: No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 South Dakota State
I have said it numerous times in the past: Beilein teams are better underdogs than they are favorites. Michigan is over reliant on the three-point shot. And, if they are off the mark, then the door is wide open for this team to fall. They lost to Penn State for crying out loud. South Dakota State played Baylor to the bone last year as a No. 14 seed and has virtually the same team back. Nate Wolters is an explosive scorer, and SDSU will have no fear in this one.
Best potential third-round matchup: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 North Carolina
It’s the return of Roy. Roy Williams could match up against his former school in Kansas City. These are two of the most accomplished programs in college basketball history, so it is always exciting when they play. But add in the Williams subplot, and you have drama. On top of that, the Tar Heels actually have the talent to beat the Jayhawks. Kansas would have a massive edge on the interior. But Carolina has outstanding wing players, and if they shoot like they did in the ACC Tournament they would be a very tough out.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Villanova
Michigan is obviously on Upset Alert, but I don’t want to beat that dead horse. I know that 8-9 games don’t usually result in "upsets," but I also know that not many people are giving Villanova a shot here. And if the Tar Heels are caught looking ahead to their matchup with Kansas in the next round, the Wildcats can send UNC packing. Villanova has wins over Syracuse, Georgetown and Louisville this season. Villanova is a fierce underdog and their precocious backcourt would love a chance to topple a more highly-thought-of ACC opponent.
Upset Alert (third round): No. 2 Georgetown vs. No. 7 SDSU/No. 10 Oklahoma
I don’t know that there are many potential third-round stunners in this region. We already touched on the Kansas-Carolina showdown. And I don’t know that UCLA-Florida or VCU-Michigan would be considered upset worthy. But I think that Georgetown could have a wrestling match in its second game. San Diego State is a near mirror image of the Hoyas. They play crippling defense and they rely on their all-around stud player, Jamaal Franklin, to carry the team. Oklahoma is one of the most veteran teams in the field – in stark contrast to the Hoyas – and if they survive then Lon Kruger is capable of guiding his charges past Georgetown as well.
Dark Horse team: No. 5 VCU
It has to be VCU simply because if any of the other Top 4 seeds were to advance it would be a surprise to no one. The Rams, however, are still a mid-major team that isn’t quite at the respect level of a Gonzaga or a Butler. The Rams can be vicious, and they definitely aren’t scared of teams like Michigan and Kansas. I don’t know that this team has a chance to make a run all the way to Atlanta. But I do know that they can leave a trail of broken dreams behind them however long they survive.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 2 Georgetown
I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t trust the Hoyas. John Thompson III really has not been a good tournament coach, and this program has lost to a lower seed and failed to make it out of the opening weekend in each of its last four dances. The Hoyas are young. And if Otto Porter is having an off night they don’t have a counterpunch. The Hoyas only really play six guys, and fatigue could start becoming a factor for these young legs. I don’t like betting against Georgetown. But I will, for good or ill.