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Breaking Down the Brackets: South Regional Preview

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I've drawn the South and the East regional brackets for our RCT Breaking Down the Brackets Segment.  We'll start this morning in the South and early afternoon we'll move onto the East. 

South Regional General Info:

Regional Site: Memphis Tennessee - FedEx Forum, University of Memphis

Conference Tournament Champions:  7

At Large Teams:  9

Power Conference Teams:  8

Mid Majors:  8

Pods:  Greensboro NC, Portland OR, Miami FL, Kansas City MO

Interesting Facts: 

  • Region will likely feature the past 2 NCAA players of the year
  • Western Kentucky pulled the upset on overall #1 Louisville early in the season.                      

 

Team breakdown, matchup previews and prediction time after the jump....

Team Capsules

#1 Seed North Carolina Tar Heels

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     Bid: At-Large ACC

     Location: Chapel Hill, NC

     Record: 28-4

     KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 1

     KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 35

     Key Offensive Stat: Off Reb% (8)

     Key Defensive Stat: FT% (6)

                                                                   Player to Know: Ty Lawson

The Tar Heels have been one of the favorites for the 2009 National Title when Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green all elected to return following a semifinal loss to the Jayhawks.  We all know what Hansbrough brings to the table and Danny Green can be a difference maker from behind the arc, but recent injury troubles to Ty Lawson are the biggest concern heading into the tourney.  With Lawson on the bench during the ACC tourney Green struggled to get going and the Tar Heel offense sputtered.  If Lawson can come back anywhere near 100% it will go a long way toward the Heels making a return trip to the final four.

 

#2 Seed Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma_sooners_logo1_medium

      Bid: At-Large Big 12

      Location:Norman, OK

      Record:  27-5

      KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 8

      KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 46

      Key Offensive Stat: FT% (9)

      Key Defensive Stat: FG% (24)

                                                                  Player to Know:  Blake Griffin

The Sooners looked like an unstoppable force throughout much of the year behind liekly National Player of the Year Blake Griffin.  However following two missed games due to a concussion and his subsequent return the Sooners have yet to regain their early season form.  Another one to keep an eye on is freshman Willie Warren as he makes his tournament debut, but all eyes will be on Griffin and how he handles the spotlight and pressure of leading a top tourney seed.

 

#3 Seed Syracuse Orange

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        Bid: At-Large Big East

        Location: Syracuse, NY

        Record: 26-9

        KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency:  10

        KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 42

        Key Offensive Stat: FG% (14)

        Key Defensive Stat: FT Attempts (9)

                                                                 Player to Know:  Jonny Flynn

For the first time in three years the Syracuse Orange cruised into the conference tourney weekend breathing easy with a four game winning streak seemingly securing their spot.  They didn't take it too easy though participating in 7 overtimes over the course of the Big East tourney and working their way through #1 seed UConn to get to the final.  Jonny Flynn is one of the top point guards in the country and great guard play can be huge to success in the NCAA tourney.  Combine that with the confidence this team is playing with and they could make some noise.

 

#4 Seed Gonzaga Bulldogs

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        Bid: WCC Champion

        Location: Spokane, WA

        Record: 26-5

        KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 6

        KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 9

        Key Offensive Stat:  Turnover% (7)

        Key Defensive Stat: OppFG% (4)

                                                                  Player to Know:  Josh Heytvelt

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the mid major that shouldn't really be a mid major anymore.  No longer a cinderella Gonzaga has entered the roll of top 4 seed and more often than not seen as a strong candidate in the tournament.  The Bulldogs took the #1 seed UConn Huskies to overtime before falling 88-83 but their defense of late has been the story.  If they step up on that end of the floor they've got the potential to pull an upset however it won't be in the early rounds, it will have to be in the Sweet 16 against the Tar Heels this time.

 

#5 Seed Illinois Fighting Illini

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       Bid: At-Large Big 10

       Location: Champaign Illinois

       Record: 24-9

       KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 97

       KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 4

       Key Offensive Stat: FTOpp% (344)

       Key Defensive Stat: Opp FG% (8)

       Player to Know:  Demetri McCamey

Bruce Weber's Illinois career began with a bang and a 2005 title game appearance.  Since then it hasn't been such smooth sailing but he appears to have the Illini back in a position to compete.  Illinois is one of the stronger defensive teams in the field holding teams to under 40% shooting over the course of the season.  The question will be is this the product of the grind it out style of the Illini, or the overall grind it out style of the Big 10.  Look for Illinois to be one of the teams that can either make or break the perception of the Big 10

 

#6 Seed Arizona State Sun Devils

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     Bid: At-Large Pac10

     Location:  Tempe, AZ

     Record:  24-9

     KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 5

     KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 36

     Key Offensive Stat: FG% (2)

     Key Defensive Stat: Opp FG% (57)

                                                                    Player to Know:  James Harden

With five returning starters from a team that barely missed the tournament last year the Sun Devils will have a lot to prove.  Control the tempo and keep things slow and James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph are able to carry this team to a win.  If it becomes up tempo the Sun Devils will struggle and could trip up early.

 

#7 Seed Clemson Tigers

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     Bid: At-Large ACC

     Location: Clemson, SC

     Record:  23-8

     KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 12

     KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 52

     Key Offensive Stat: Reb% (22)

     Key Defensive Stat: Turnovers (16)

                                                                   Player to Know:  Trevor Booker

Clemson started off the season on fire with a 16-0 start to the year.  Down the stretch they struggled and finished 7-8 for an overall record of 23-8.  The question becomes is this the same Clemson that has collapsed down the stretch in season's past or are they strong enough this year to make a move.  A seasoned frontline with Trevor Booker will be key in the success of Clemson.

 

#8 Seed LSU Tigers

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    Bid: At-Large SEC

    Location: Baton Rouge, LA

    Record: 26-7

    KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 51

    KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 53

    Key Offensive Stat: Turnovers (22)

                                                                  Key Defensive Stat: Opp FG% (32)

                                                                  Player to Know:  Marcus Thornton

Trent Johnson's turnaround of the LSU Tiger basketball program has earned him high praise and mention amongst the nations top coaches of the year.  The question is how much of that is a result of playing in a poor SEC conference.  In three non conference games against higher caliber teams LSU lost to Utah, Xavier and Texas A&M.  The answer will likely come early as the Tigers face another test in mid major talent Butler.

 

#9 Seed Butler Bulldogs

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    Bid: At-Large Horizon League

    Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

    Record:  26-5

    KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 63

    KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 45

    Key Offensive Stat: FTA% (27)

    Key Defensive Stat: Opp FG% (14)

                                                                   Player to Know:  Matt Howard

Butler enters it's third consecutive NCAA tourney with one of it's youngest rosters in recent memory.  3 Freshman, 1 Sophomore and a Junior start for the Bulldogs with all three guards being the freshman.  One of the most important positions over the years for mid major's success has been the guard slot and one has to wonder if relying on freshman can be successful.  It remains to be seen but the Bulldogs will likely struggle to produce the same results this year in the tourney.

 

#10 Seed Michigan Wolverines

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    Bid: At-Large Big 10

    Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

    Record: 20-13

    KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 41

    KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 67

                                                                    Key Offensive Stat: Turnover% (16)

                                                                    Key Defensive Stat: FTA% (28)

                                                                    Player to Know:  Manny Harris

John Belein has the Wolverines back in the tournament barely.  Michigan started of the season with a bang posting upset victories over the Duke Blue Devils and the UCLA Bruins.  Struggles in the Big 10 Conference led to the Wolverines teetering on the bubble but squeeking in at the #10 spot.  Michigan could be another team that makes a case for the strength of the Big 10.

 

#11 Seed Temple Owls

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    Bid: Atlantic 10 Champion

    Location: Philadelphia PA

    Record:  22-11

    KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency:  69

    KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 40

                                                                    Key Offensive Stat: 3pt FG% (66)

                                                                    Key Defensive Stat: Opp FG% (45)

                                                                    Player to Know:  Dionte Christmas

Temple picked the right time of the year to get hot and that was the Atlantic 10 tournament.  At 22-11 in a mid major conference the Owls would have been sitting at home this coming weekend had they not pulled of the tourney championship but now one of the best names in basketball and one very talented player Dionte Christmas will get to show his stuff.  While Temple would argue they are more than a one man team, they'll struggle in this tournament where they weren't even expected if Christmas doesn't come up huge.

#12 Seed Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

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      Bid: Sun Belt Champion

      Location: Bowling Green, KY

      Record:  24-8

      KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 68

      KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 168

      Key Offensive Stat: Off Reb% 28

      Key Defensive Stat: FTA% (71)

      Player to Know:  Orlando Mendez Valdez

 

Western Kentucky brings a small but decent lineup to the tourney this year.  Not nearly as good as the sweet 16 team of a few years ago and little height could lead to big problems against first round opponent Illinois who is big and physical.  A win over #1 overall Lousiville does give hope and if the guards are playing at their peak they could potentially cause problems for some.

#13 Seed Akron Zips

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      Bid: MAC Champion

      Location: Akron, OH

      Record:  23-12

      KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 153

      KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 50

      Key Offensive Stat: FT% (83)

      Key Defensive Stat: Turnover % (4)

      Player to Know: Anthony "Humpty" Hitchens

Akron has had a fair amount of success in recent years but as always that only translates so far against the big boys.  The Zips need a grind it out style of game to be successful and if they can do that they've got a chance.  However they're playing the Gonzaga Bulldogs and that won't be likely.

 

#14 Seed Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks

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      Bid: Southland Champion

      Location:Dateline, Texas

      Record:  24-7

      KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 242

      KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 13

      Key Offensive Stat: Turnover% (37)

      Key Defensive Stat: Opp FG% (3)

                                                                      Player to Know:  Matt Kingsley

Well I'm sure slam will have more insight into the Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks but let me just say that the lumberjacks do have an uphill battle in the opening round.  They play solid perimeter defense but need a good game on the interior to be successful.  The problem is they aren't deep up front and the Orange have a big physical frontline.  I'm pullin for ya slam but sometimes you just have to be happy to be invited to the party.

 

#15 Seed Morgan State Bears

Morgan-state-bears-logo_medium

     Bid: MEAC Champion

     Location: Baltimore, MD

     Record:  23-11

     KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 210

     KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 92

    Key Offensive Stat:  Off Reb% (38)

                                                                      Key Defensive Stat:  Opp FG % (12)

                                                                      Player to Know:  Reggie Holmes

Todd Bozeman is back in the NCAA tourney.  Some of you may remember him as the coach at Cal with Jason Kidd and their matchup against the Jayhawks.  The Bears did beat ACC tourney team Maryland early in the year so they have it in them and they are physical on the inside so that could pose problems for some.  However if Holmes isn't hot from the outside the team can struggle to score.  Bozeman's teams play hard but we'll have to see if that's enough.

 

#16 Seed Radford Highlanders

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   Bid: Big South Champion

   Location: Radford, VA

   Record: 21-11

   KenPom Adj. Offensive Efficiency: 187

   KenPom Adj. Defensive Efficiency: 166

   Key Offensive Stat: FTA% (22)

                                                                       Key Defensive Stat: Opp OffReb% (24)

                                                                       Player to Know:  Artsiom Parakhouski

Winning 17 of their last 19 games the Highlanders come in on a hot streak and as the Big South Champion.  Let's be honest a 16 has never been a 1 and it likely won't happen this time but a good sized front line might be able to give Carolina a little bit of trouble.

 

The Matchups

#1 North Carolina vs. Radford

What To Watch:  Rebounding...North Carolina is one of the top rebounding teams in the country but Radford does have the size inside to compete at least on paper.  If they can create an advantage in this department it might make it more interesting

Radford Will Win If:  Not likely but perhaps if Ty Lawson isn't healthy they could maybe doubtfully pull the upset.

North Carolina Will Win If:  They play play one tic better than there worst game of the year and honestly they could probably struggle more than that and still manage the win.

Player to Watch:  Ty Lawson is the player to watch in this one because it will be interesting to see how healthy he looks.  Lawson's injury was a big reason for the ACC tourney struggles and his full health will be critical to a championship run.

#8 LSU vs. #9 Butler

What To Watch:  Guard play here will match and experience group in LSU to a very inexperienced squad in Butler.  How those Butler guards manage the task of containing SEC player of the year Marcus Thornton will be critical in this games outcome.

LSU Will Win If:  Thornton, Garret Temple and Terry Martin are on there game and provide the depth and scoring out of the guard spot that has made them so successful.  This three man rotation of seniors in the backcourt can be a potent and physical load even for an experienced opponent.

Butler Will Win If:  Matt Hayward can be a load inside for the Bulldogs.  Hayward leads the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks and if he's able to be effective it might soften the limiting factors that come with three freshman guards.

Player to Watch:  Marcus Thornton is the SEC Player of the year and when he's scoring LSU will be tough to stop.

#5 Illinois vs. #12 Western Kentucky

What To Watch:  Tempo and pace.  Illinois is your classic Big 10 team looking to slug it out and get into a physical game.  Western Kentucky lacks the size and presence to play that type of game so whoever is more successful in imposing their will should pull it out.

Illinois Will Win If:  Defense becomes the name of the game.  If Illinois can slow it down and make every possession count their defensive field goal percentage will win out.  They also have more size and strength inside which has been something that has given the Hilltoppers struggles in the past.

Western Kentucky Will Win If:  Beating a dead horse here but Western Kentucky wants this in an up and down game.  They have good guards that can handle the ball, defend and score from the three.  If that group is effective and they keep it from being to much of a halfcourt game they've got a better chance.

Player to Watch:  Jeremy Evans is the only size to speak of on the Hilltoppers.  Look for how well he is able to establish himself and the Hilltoppers in terms of rebounding against the sizeable Illinois frontline.

#4 Gonzaga vs. #13 Akron

What To Watch:  Gonzaga's defense has been coming on strong of late.  Whether or not that continues will be something to watch for because the Zips thrive on quality of possessions and will look to keep Gonzaga from making this an up and down affair.

Gonzaga Will Win If:  They can get out and go.  Their offense is good enough to play with anyone so if this becomes a shootout Akron will have a tough time matching the firepower that the Bulldogs can put on the floor.

Akron Will Win If:  They can make this ugly and match the inside presence of the Bulldogs.  Akron needs this to become a game with fewer possessions where they can make every one count.

Player to Watch:  Josh Heytvelt is the statistical leader on this team and it seems every March a senior from Gonzaga goes on a tear.  He's my pick for the one to write his own personal redemption story in 2009.

#6 Arizona State vs. #11 Temple

What To Watch:  Tempo and if anyone on the Temple Owls shows up besides Christmas.  Depth is a problem for the Owls and Arizona State is a solid 8 deep.  ASU has struggled moreso against teams that run and it will be tough for the Owls to pull of that type of game.

Arizona State Will Win If:  Pendergraph and Harden control the game.  These two make the whole thing work and are key to the ASU offense and winning games.

Temple Will Win If:  and only if Dionte Christmas explodes.  He's done it in the past and really a 6 v 11 matchup shouldn't be out of the question for an upset but I don't see it in this one.

Player to Watch:  James Harden is an exciting player to watch at times and a likely NBA entry after this season.  Enjoy.

#3 Syracuse vs. #14 SFA

What To Watch:  The inside game.  SFA is a strong defensive team on the perimeter but more importantly have a stonrg inside presense albeit with limited depth.  Syracuse puts some big physical bodies down low and whether or not SFA can keep up down low without getting into foul trouble will be a big factor in any potential upset.

Syracuse Will Win If:  The guards are effective at imposing their will and the big guys inside are allowed to play the physical style that has become commonplace in the Big East.

SFA Will Win If:  Matt Kingsley has a great game and the rest of the frontcourt plays well against a big time opponent.  They are an experienced group and their success or failure will determine whether SFA can pull the upset.

Player to Watch:  Jonny Flynn is emerging as a star this year and March is the biggest stage.

#7 Clemson vs. #10 Michigan

What To Watch:  Outside shooting will be a big factor in this game as Michigan is deadly when they can knock them down and the Tigers have some shooters of their own.  If this thing becomes a shootout though it will likely favor the Wolverines in round one.

Clemson Will Win If:  They can brush off their late season slump, defend the perimeter and Trevor Booker can provide the inside game he's shown capable this season.

Michigan Will Win If:  They can get the three.  If Michigan is getting and hitting open looks from outside they have beaten some of the best in the country and could very easily pull the upset in this one.

Player to Watch:  Manny Harris is the name that makes Michigan go.  If he's not finding it others struggle to generate a lot on their own.  I'm watching Harris as this game goes and as he goes from the outside so goes the game.

#2 Okahoma vs. #15 Morgan St.

What To Watch:  Who else will step up for Oklahoma.  We all know Blake Griffin will produce but they've struggled down the stretch without consistency from their backcourt.  Watch to see if that group looks any more in sync even against a lesser opponent and it might give some indication of future round success or lack thereof.

Oklahoma Will Win If:  Blake Griffin is Blake Griffin and any of the OU guards can put in a little something on the side.  Should be a fairly easy victory for OU.

Morgan State Will Win If:  They can manage to bully Griffin inside and the Oklahoma guards continue to struggle in spurts.  Morgan State does play physical so there is a slim chance they could disrupt OU enough to get a win.

Player to Watch:  Outside of Griffin, Willie Warren is a major talent on the Sooners and could be critical in later rounds if they want to win.  He has the ability to be a big time scorer and relieve a lot of the pressure and attention the Griffin will recieve.

 

 

RCT Predictions

Most LIkely to Pull an Upset: Michigan (10-seed)

Final Four Sleeper: Syracuse (3-seed)

Final Four Favorite: North Carolina (1-seed)

Best Team No One Knows About: SFA (14-seed)

Most Underseeded Team: Arizona State (6-seed)

Most Overseeded Team: ???? Illinois, Maybe (5)