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South Regional Final Preview

March 25, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 3 Baylor Bears, 2:20 p.m. (CBS)

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg

How They Got Here: Kentucky beat No. 16 Western Kentucky, 81-66, No. 8 Iowa State, 87-71, and No. 4 Indiana, 102-90; Baylor beat No. 14 South Dakota State, 68-60, No. 11 Colorado, 80-63, and No. 10 Xavier, 75-70.

Coaches: John Calipari (Kentucky) and Scott Drew (Baylor)

History: UK is 5-7 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached 14 Final Fours overall (1942, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1966, 1975, 1978, 1984, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2011); Baylor is 0-1 in the Elite Eight since 1985 and has reached two Final Fours overall (1948 and 1950).

Why Kentucky Will Win: It takes a special team to beat Kentucky and it seems that Baylor isn't it. The Wildcats have a very good — if not great — offense and defense and are on a roll right now, putting up an NBA-esque 102 points against Indiana Friday night. That being said, they still need to execute well and stay on their game plan. Baylor did not win the Big 12 tournament title on a fluke and will overcome the Wildcats if UK doesn't stick to what got them here: a talented roster centering around Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Davis can dominate the center and is hard to contain one-on-one.

Why Baylor Will Win: Coach Scott Drew's got magic, having led the Bears to the Elite Eight in two of the last three years. They've got Perry Jones III, Pierre Jackson, Quincy Acy, and Quincy Miller playing extremely well and certainly can take advantage should Kentucky make mistakes. And that's the key to beating the Wildcats: get their stars in foul trouble and out of their comfort zone. Baylor also can take a page from Syracuse, who got two quick fouls on Jared Sullinger and got him on the bench before the game was even seven minutes old. If the Bears can got at Davis and get to the paint, then they've got a chance to win. If they settle for jumpers, they'll fall into Kentucky's hands and it could be another long day for a Wildcats opponent.

What I Expect: Kentucky is the better team here and Baylor doesn't have the defensive prowess to slow down the best team in the country. The two teams to beat Kentucky this year, Indiana and Vanderbilt, held Kentucky to 72 and 64 points, respectively, and I don't see Baylor doing that.

Prediction: The Wildcats move onto the Final Four, where the real fun will begin.

South Region Sweet 16 Preview

March 22, 2012 in Preview

Who/When: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers, 9:45 p.m. (CBS); No. 3 Baylor Bears vs. No. 10 Xavier Musketeers, 7:15 p.m. (CBS)

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg

How They Got Here: Kentucky beat No. 16 Western Kentucky, 81-66, and No. 8 Iowa State, 87-71; Indiana beat New Mexico State, 79-66, and VCU, 63-61; Baylor beat South Dakota State, 68-60, and Colorado, 80-63; Xavier defeated Notre Dame, 67-63, and Colorado, 80-63.

Coaches: John Calipari (Kentucky), Tom Crean (Indiana), Scott Drew (Baylor), Chris Mack (Xavier)

Team Leaders:

Category Kentucky Indiana Baylor Xavier
Points Anthony Davis (14.3) Cody Zeller (15.5) Pierre Jackson (13.5) Tu Holloway (17.4)
Rebounds Anthony Davis (10.1) Cody Zeller (6.5) Perry Jones III (7.7) Kenny Frease (6.2)
Assists Marquis Teague (4.8) Jordan Hulls (3.2) Pierre Jackson (5.8) Tu Holloway (4.9)

What To Expect: Many people are calling this year’s tournament the Kentucky Invitational but I’m here to say “not so fast my friends.” And I suggest this for two reasons: one, Indiana’s already defeated the Wildcats this season, so they certainly know how to get it done, and two, Baylor is playing really well right now and they’ve got the offense to hang with UK. That being said, Kentucky is the best team in the region (and probably the country, but we’ll get to that next week).

The Wildcats-Hoosiers game is more evenly matched than you would think. Kentucky has the 18th-ranked offense and defense in the country (77.1 PPG, 59.5 points allowed), while the Hoosiers score well (averaging 76.9 points per game) but don’t defend as well (65.4). So, in order to secure a second win over the Wildcats this season, Indiana will have to contain Anthony Davis and try to get Kentucky into foul trouble – because they are not deep.

The Baylor-Xavier game, at least on paper, is no contest. Baylor is averaging 74.8 points per game and allowing 64.8 points per game, while Xavier is averaging 70.3 points per game and allowing 66.6 per game. Those may seem like small margins, but consider the competition of each team (Big 12 is the third-ranked conference by Real Time RPI, while the Atlantic 10 is seventh), and you’ll gain more insight. Baylor is balanced and playing very well right now.

Home Court Advantage: This region was built by Kentucky. The NCAA wanted the Wildcats to play as close as Lexington as possible, they’re 380 miles from home in Atlanta. They notoriously travel well and are, in fact, the third-closest of any team playing in a regional (Syracuse is only 315 miles from Boston and Kansas is about 300 miles from St. Louis). Otherwise, Indiana and Xavier are about 500 miles away and Baylor is about 850. This is where the Wildcats will have plenty of fans cheering for them in person (maybe including her).

Predictions: Kentucky and Baylor appear to be on a collision course to meet on Sunday. Both teams can score proficiently, play good defense and have gone through a grueling schedule even before they reached the NCAA tournament. That’s not taking anything away from Indiana and Xavier, but it seems there will be a battle of Wildcats and Bears on Sunday.

An Upsetting First Weekend — For Some

March 19, 2012 in Preview, Recaps

In one game Friday night, Duke's loss to Lehigh, two things occurred that had never happened before: Duke lost an NCAA Tournament game in Greensboro, N.C., and a No. 2 seed lost twice in the first round of the tournament. (Missouri had already lost to Norfolk State.) But those weren't he only top-four seeds to not advance to the Sweet 16: Michigan, the fourth seed in the Midwest Region, lost to Ohio University and Georgetown, the No. 3 seed in that very same Midwest Region, lost to N.C. State on Sunday. Florida State also lost to Cincinnati, although that wasn't as big of an upset. Those games (and others) led to three teams seeded 10 or higher making it to the Sweet 16: Ohio, N.C. State and Xavier.

Otherwise, believe it or not, the seedings pretty much held. And, despite so many calls for their collapse, Syracuse's nine-point victory over UNC-Asheville (in front of an anti-Orange crowd in Pittsburgh) was not the narrowest margin of victory by a No. 1 seed all weekend. That dubious distinction belongs to Michigan State, who beat the St. Louis University Billikens by just four.

So here are your Sweet 16 match-ups:

Thursday/Saturday

East: No. 1 Syracuse Orange vs. No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers, 7:15 p.m. (CBS); No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 6 Cincinnati Bearcats, 9:45 p.m. (CBS)

This region boils down to two Big Ten vs. Big East match-ups. Syracuse-Wisconsin will be entertaining on numerous levels. One, without Fab Melo, it's entirely possible Syracuse is actually rebounding better than they did with him during the regular season and, two, Rakeem Christmas has played pretty well as a freshman starting in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the country, so this will be a battle of Wisconsin's man-to-man defense vs. Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone. The OSU-Cincy game will be more of the same. Both teams have good big men and both can score in spurts. Cincy was one of the teams to beat Syracuse this season, so they've got the pedigree to win big games.

Midwest: No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 13 Ohio Bobcats, 7:47 p.m. (TBS) ; No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks No. 11 N.C. State Wolfpack, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

Both games involve top seeds against teams who upset top seeds. North Carolina should be able to stop Ohio's roll, while Kansas — who escaped their round-of-32 game against Purdue — might have more troubles with the Wolfpack. Like the East, this could yield a interconference regional final and, in this case, one that comes out of the Tar Heel State.

Friday/Sunday

South (Atlanta): No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers, 9:45 p.m. (CBS); No. 3 Baylor Bears vs. No. 10 Xavier Musketeers, 7:15 p.m. (CBS)

Kentucky gets a crack at the only non-conference team to beat them this season. And Indiana just beat a VCU team that still had some magic leftover from last season's run to the Final Four. If Kentucky plays the way it did this past weekend, things could get out of hand quickly, but the Hoosiers are no pushover, and money says that this one stays close throughout. Xavier and Baylor might be another high-scoring affair, but Butler clearly has the better pedigree here.

West (Phoenix): No. 1 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals, 7:47 p.m. (TBS); No. 7 Florida Gators vs. No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles, 10:17 p.m. (TBS)

This is a doozy of a region. The Michigan State-Louisville game is going to be a slow, methodical defensive battle with lots of physicality and plenty of rebounding. The Spartans have the edge because Louisville has no match for Draymond Green. In fact, the Cardinals' center, Gorgui Dieng, is pretty good on defense but he's no threat on offense. During the Syracuse-Louisville game in Kentucky earlier this year, the Orange purposely stopped guarding Dieng, who continued to miss wide-open shots. Don't think Tom Izzo won't look at that game tape. The Gators-Golden Eagles game will be an up-and-down score-fest. (Those who watched the Marquette-Murray State game will understand.)

Look for a more in-depth preview of each game later this week.

Footnote: Of the three Final Four teams from 2011, only Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 in this year's tournament. UConn. lost in the first round, VCU in the second and Butler plays Penn tonight in the College Basketball Invitational, which pretty much amounts to the Toilet Bowl of postseason hoops.