See the rest of our regional breakdowns here.
Final Four Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina: The Tar Heels have as much talent on their roster as any team in the country. They are loaded, and they have a point guard that is perfect for the uptempo system that they run. The question I have about UNC has to do with their toughness. They get smacked by Florida State twice, largely because the Seminoles were more physical than UNC. One thing to follow with the Tar Heels heading into the NCAA Tournament is whether or not John Henson’s wrist is healthy. I believe that it is. While he didn’t play in the ACC Tournament final, he was available to play.
And if they lose…?: No. 2 Kansas: For the first time, the tournament selection committee released their s-curve on Selection Sunday, which allowed us to see where they actually had teams ranked. Kansas was fifth, meaning that if Ohio State had won the Big Ten Tournament, Kansas and not Michigan State would have been the final No. 1 seed. Thomas Robinson is a hoss and Jeff Withey is a defensive playmaker, but Tyshawn Taylor is going to be the guy that determines how far Kansas goes. When he’s great, Kansas is very, very good. But when he’s the inconsistent turnover machine that he’s been at times throughout his career, the Jayhawks are very ordinary.
Sweet 16 sleeper (9 or lower): No. 14 Belmont: One of the trendiest upset picks since the bracket was announced was the Bruins knocking off Georgetown. While I, personally, don’t see it — its just not a good matchup — the fact of the matter is that Belmont is a very good basketball team. They push the tempo through pressure and they shoot a lot of threes. When those threes are going down, they are good enough to pick off a higher-seeded team.
Final Four sleeper (5 or lower): No. 5 Temple: The Owls have flown under the radar for much of the season, but this is a good basketball team. They have a dangerous perimeter attack, with two of the best scorers in the Atlantic 10 in Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, and they now have their starting center Michael Eric back in the fold. The thing about the Owls this season is that they aren’t as perimeter oriented as they have been in the past. They push the ball more and they are oriented around their ability to put up points.
Player to watch (top 8 seeds): Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: Franklin was rightfully chosen as the Player of the Year in the Mountain West. An athletic, 6’5″ slasher, Franklin not only is capable of going for 30 points on a given night, but he averaged 9.9 rpg in league play. SDSU’s issue is their lack of interior size, and his ability to clean the glass is a hugely important.
Player to watch (bottom 8 seeds): DJ Cooper, Ohio: Cooper has already led the Bobcats to a first round upset in the NCAA Tournament, going for 23 points and eight assists as Ohio beat Georgetown in 2010. Did I mention he was a freshman then? Ohio is a dangerous team for Michigan. They are excellent at defending the three, something that Michigan thrives on. And Cooper is an excellent on-ball defender, meaning he will likely get the assignment of covering Trey Burke.
Best potential matchup: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kansas: Again, I know this is a cop out, but with the lack of elite teams outside of the top two seeds, its really difficult to find marquee matchups to get excited out. What I love about this matchup — besides the fact that it will be between two of college basketball’s blue-blooded programs — is the idea of seeing Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson do battle with John Henson and Tyler Zeller. I love me a good post battle, and it may not get better than this in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
So who is getting upset?:
– I think Ohio has a very good chance to take down Michigan. The Wolverines looked very average in the Big Ten tournament, and they are very average when they don’t hit threes. Ohio is very good at defending the three.
– If Cal can get by USF in the play-in game, I think they have a chance to knock off Temple. The Bears have one of the best perimeter defenders in Jorge Gutierrez and have been written off by a lot of folks due to their loss to Missouri by 30 earlier in the year.
– Frankly, I’m not buying the two trendy upset picks in this region. I don’t think Belmont gets past Georgetown. The Bruins shoot a ton of threes and shoot them well, but Georgetown has terrific perimeter length and is one of the best in the country at defending the three. I also think SDSU gets by NC State. I know the pro-Wolfpack arguments, but what have they done this season to make me believe they can win a tournament game against the co-champ of the fourth-best conference in the country?