At first glance Six weeks ago, Kansas, Georgetown, Florida and Michigan were each legitimate contenders for No. 1 seeds. Now, they're in the...
At first glance
Six weeks ago, Kansas, Georgetown, Florida and Michigan were each legitimate contenders for No. 1 seeds. Now, they’re in the same region, making it a tough road to the Final Four. That quartet had its troubles, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of those teams exit early, especially with the depth in this region. When young-but-talented traditional powers UCLA and North Carolina are seeded sixth and eighth, respectively, you know you are in a difficult region.
Don’t sleep on No. 5 VCU, No. 7 San Diego State, No. 11 Minnesota or No. 13 South Dakota State. This unpredictable region might destroy many brackets.
It’s a region of contrasting defensive styles, from VCU’s full-court pressure to Kansas’ suffocating man-to-man to Tubby Smith’s unique defense at Minnesota. Georgetown, Florida, San Diego State and UCLA also are among nation’s best defensive teams, according to stats maven Ken Pomeroy.
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By the numbers
81 Points per game averaged by Northwestern State, best in Division I.
.360 Opponent field-goal percentage allowed by Kansas, best in Div. I.
9.2 Average turnovers per game by Michigan, fewest in Div. I.
KANSAS: This isn’t the most dominant of Bill Self’s teams, but it’s hard to knock a squad that defends as well as this one. Freshman guard Ben McLemore is a top-five NBA draft choice, and center Jeff Withey is a defensive anchor.
FLORIDA: The Southeastern Conference was mediocre, and the Gators didn’t even impress in conference play. Still, they have made back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, and coach Billy Donovan, who won consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007, will have his team prepared.
MICHIGAN: The No. 4 seed Wolverines were ranked No. 1 in late January, but dropped some games in the rugged Big Ten. Still, this is a dangerous and efficient team.
MINNESOTA: The Golden Gophers are athletic, play good defense, and are coached by Tubby Smith, who won a national title with Kentucky 15 years ago. It’s not a stretch to see them in the Sweet 16.
GEORGETOWN: Hoyas have best all-around player in the country, Otto Porter, but they don’t have great pieces around him. If Porter has an off game, Georgetown will be vulnerable.
This is a region of NBA lottery picks and potential first-rounders in June: Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Georgetown’s Otto Porter, UCLA freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, North Carolina sophomore forward James McAdoo, Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke and Michigan freshman guard Glenn Robinson Jr.
NBA scouts will flock to the South to make stronger evaluations.
It might be strange to consider 35-year-old VCU coach Shaka Smart cagey, especially in a region that features Billy Donovan, Bill Self, Tubby Smith, Roy Williams and Steve Fisher, who have won a combined seven NCAA titles.
But Smart has a 6-2 career record in the Big Dance, including a 2011 Final Four appearance, and his “Havoc” defense is befuddling to opponents. His Rams could overachieve again.
Best players you might not have heard of
NATE WOLTERS: The 6-foot-4 South Dakota State guard is a great shooter and all-around star, averaging 22.7 points.
DEQUAN HICKS: The 6-7 forward from Northwestern State ranks in top 10 nationally in field-goal percentage (58.6).
ZEKE MARSHALL: The Akron 7-footer was MAC defensive player of the year, and became efficient scorer (13 ppg).
And the winner is …
MICHIGAN: Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the nation’s best backcourt, and the Wolverines usually don’t beat themselves with foolish mistakes, meaning they could be the rare team that rights itself during the tournament.