The last region is the South, which could go a million ways. Lots of name teams in this region.
Is Duke back to being Duke? The Blue Devils’ name has taken a hit in recent years, as Duke hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004 and has been knocked out as a higher seed in every year since. The Blue Devils haven’t had the athletic, NBA-bound 6-8 wing player in recent years like they did in their power years with Grant Hill, Corey Maggette and Luol Deng and seem to be lacking that player this year. However, Duke does have capable veteran guards and more size than its had in the recent past. Will be interesting to see if that helps.
Watch out for: No. 3 Baylor
Baylor is everyone’s sleeper final four pick and for good reason, as the Bears have NBA talent and can flat out put the ball in the hoop. LaceDarius Dunn is a big guard that goes for about 20 points per game while Tweety Carter is a lightning-quick point guard. But the biggest key to Baylor’s success may be 6-10 forward Ekpe Udoh, a transfer from Michigan that has added an elite defensive presence along with 13 points per game. Don’t be surprised if the Bears are in Indianapolis in a couple weeks.
Stay away from: No. 4 Purdue
The Boilermakers have been dead team walking since star forward Robbie Hummel blew out his knee in late February. Prior to that, Purdue looked like a No. 1 seed and the class of the Big Ten, but since then the Boilers have lost at home to Michigan State and were bombed in the Big Ten tourney by Minnesota. They play a No. 13 seed in Siena that has pulled upsets the last two years, so there’s a good chance the Boilers go down there. If not, the Texas A&M-Utah State winner should finish the job.
High risk, high reward: No. 5 Texas A&M
The Aggies have one of the better guards in the region in senior Donald Sloan and several interchangeable, physical post players that can rebound and defend. They are also tournament savvy, as A&M has won its first-round game four years in a row. Texas A&M has all the tools necessary to make a long run to the Elite 8 or even the Final Four. So why are the Aggies in this category? Because they are facing one of the more proficient 3-point shooting teams in the country in Utah State. If the USU Aggies are hot, the A&M Aggies will go home early.
Upset special: No. 9 Louisville over No. 1 Duke, second round
Obviously I’m skeptical about Duke being back to being Duke. Louisville seems woefully underseeded as a No. 9, as they defeated West Regional No. 1 Syracuse twice and won 11 games in a tough Big East. While the Cardinals are ugly at times, they have two elements that have given Duke fits in the past – height on the perimeter and athleticism everywhere. Duke is a skilled team, but not a team of greyhounds. If Louisville can dictate pace and fluster Duke with its size, its bye-bye Blue Devils.
Lead-pipe lock: The guard play will be outstanding
It’s been said that the NCAA Tournament is a guard’s tournament. If that’s true, then the South Regional is ground zero. All the key players, Duke (Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith), Villanova (Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes), Baylor (Dunn and Carter), A&M (Sloan) have elite-level guards, while teams like Notre Dame (Tory Jackson) and California (Jerome Randle) have little guys that can play huge. Should be fun to watch.