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South Region Preview: Star power and early upsets?


Here’s the irony about the South Region: there is more star power in this portion of the bracket than anywhere else, yet it is as wide-open as any region this season.

Let’s start with the coaches, as ten of them — Bill Self, Roy Williams, Jay Wright, Shaka Smart, Ben Howland, Tubby Smith, Billy Donovan, Steve Fisher, Lon Kruger and John Thompson III — have made at least one Final Four. That list doesn’t include John Beilein.

That’s almost as impressive as the number of stars that will be setting foot on the court. Trey Burke, Otto Porter, Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey, Shabazz Muhammad, Nate Wolters, Jamaal Franklin, James Michael-McAdoo.

The bottom-line?

There will be no shortage of people to write about in the South.


(CLICK HERE: To browse through the rest of our 2013 NCAA Tournament Previews)

Three story lines to watch

  • Will this be the end of the road for Ben Howland at UCLA? The chatter about his job status that started back in November hasn’t exactly subsided. With the amount of talent that he brought into the program this season, what does Howland need to do to save his job, assuming he even wants to remain with the Bruins? A Sweet 16? An Elite 8? Without Jordan Adams? That’s a tall task.
  • Take a look at who Howland drew in the opening round: Minnesota and head coach Tubby Smith, who is dealing with his own hot seat issues right now. Winner remains employed?
  • With the obvious caveat that they first need to knock off Villanova in the opening round, how awesome would it be to see Kansas reunite with former head coach Roy Williams in the round of 32? And to have the game take place in Kansas City, no less?

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Florida

I still think that Kansas is probably the favorite to come out of the South, although I think that they are probably the least likely of the No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. Their back court play has been better of late, but the Jayhawks still don’t have a true point guard. Ben McLemore is going to be a top five pick, but at this point in his career he’s still more of a spot-up shooter and transition finisher than he is a go-to guy. But their defense, anchored by Jeff Withey, can be dominant when it needs to be, and Kansas will need it to be.

As far as Florida is concerned, I’m very well aware of their issues in close games. They are 0-6 in games decided by single digits. But those account for six of just seven losses, meaning that they’ve won a lot of games by a lot of points, which is part of the reason why the Gators are the only team in the country in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency. I don’t think they get challenged until the Sweet 16 and Georgetown, and I think that Florida’s smothering defense — and Will Yeguete on Otto Porter — may be enough to get them to the Elite 8.

Final Four sleeper: VCU Rams

And they may be more than just a ‘sleeper’. Think about it like this. VCU’s press can be flat-out devastating. Akron’s starting point guard was suspended after getting arrested. Michigan may be the nation’s least turnover-prone team, but they are also very young, they haven’t seen a press this season and they’ll have about 48 hours to prepare for it. Kansas has all kinds of turnover issues in their back court. Georgetown and Florida aren’t exactly striking fear in the hearts of Shaka Smart’s club. Am I losing it?

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 South Dakota State: This may actually be the single-best opening round matchup int he entire tournament. Similar styles. Nate Wolters vs. Trey Burke. Thank you, Selection Committee.
  • No. 7 San Diego State vs. No. 10 Oklahoma: Lon Kruger knows the Aztecs well from his time at UNLV in the Mountain West, but will that be enough to handle Jamaal Franklin and company?

Matchups to root for

  • No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 North Carolina: It’s more than just the Roy Williams thing. UNC actually has a chance to win this game. Going four guards, spreading the floor and forcing Withey to defend on the perimeter is how Oklahoma beat Kansas and how Iowa State nearly beat Kansas twice. That’s what the Heels will do.
  • No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 5 VCU: The clash of styles would just be so intriguing to watch.
  • No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 7 San Diego State: These two schools have developed a bit of a SoCal’s finest rivalry over the past couple of seasons. There are some hurt feelings from the recruiting trail involved here.

The studs you know about

  • Trey Burke, Michigan: Point guard. National Player of the Year.
  • Otto Porter, Georgetown: Small forward. First team all-american and National Player of the Year runner-up.
  • Ben McLemore, Kansas: Future top five pick in the NBA Draft, McLemore may have the prettiest stroke in the country and also throws down windmills in games. Now we’ll see if he can do anything else.
  • Nate Wolters, South Dakota State: The kid’s not a secret anymore. He played in the tournament last season after being hyped up all year long. The only surprise people are going to have about Wolters is that he’s still in school.

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: You should know who he is after he did this.
  • Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova: He’s more than just the complicated last name. The freshman point guard has proven that he has the guts to take and make a big shots.

Upsets that ARE happening

  • No. 11 Minnesota over No. 6 UCLA: I know how well Minnesota has played of late. I get it. But they don’t need to play well against the Bruins. All they have to do is play hard. The Gophers are as good as anyone in the country at getting to the offensive glass, and UCLA is small and doesn’t seem to care all that much about rebounding.

Upsets that AREN’T happening

  • No. 13 South Dakota State over No. 4 Michigan: The Wolverines and the Jackrabbits just play too similar of a style, as they both rely heavily on the playmaking of a dynamic point guard that dominates the ball.
  • No. 7 San Diego State over No. 2 Georgetown: San Diego State struggles shooting from beyond the arc, and that’s exactly what they will be forced to do by the Georgetown defense.

CBT Predictions: As of today, I’m picking Florida over VCU for a trip to the Final Four, but that’s going to chance. Check back on Wednesday for my ‘official’ picks.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.