The South Sixteen (but really seventeen) teams enter, and only one will move on to claim a spot in the Final Four. This is the region to watch if you're a fan of great offensive basketball and points going up on the board. Say what you will about how defense wins championships; the top teams over here are out to prove that old saying wrong.
So without further ado, let's take a closer look at the teams we'll become familiar with later this week. I'll run through the seeds numerically, dishing out knowledge like Monte Morris dishes out assists. Then we'll look at how I see this region shaping up. Stay tuned Cyclone fans, I think you'll like like where this ends up.
#1: Duke Blue Devils, 29-4 (15-3, 2nd in the ACC)
Holding down the 1-seed is a team that needs no introduction. Legendary coach, future NBA lottery pick(s), great fan base...Duke has got it all. This year, that's more apparent than ever, especially with the Blue Devils boasting an offense scoring 80.6 points per game, good for 4th in the nation. Their adjusted offensive efficient rating is even better, at 3rd overall according to Kenpom. Defensively, they're more human, but still within the top 60 in the country.
How do they do it? It starts with Jahlil Okafor, their freshmen center/leading scorer (17.7 ppg)/leading rebounder (9.0 reb)/offensive monster. You may have heard already, but the kid is good. And he might not even be the best player on the team! Guard Tyrus Jones has also impressed as a freshman, chipping in 11.6 ppg and dishing out 5.8 assists, all while playing some great defense.
Bottom line: this is a historically good Duke team with national championship aspirations. They already have impressive wins over Wisconsin (in Madison) and Virginia (also away), and just because they lost to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament doesn't mean you should sleep on them.
#2: Gonzaga Bulldogs, 32-2 (17-1, 1st in the WCC)
Gonzaga has never been to a Final Four. That might very well change this year, as the Bulldogs showcase not only a potent offense, but a stout defense, ranked 6th and 20th respectively according to Kenpom. But Gray, they play in the West Coast Conference! Good mid--major teams always look good on paper, and crumble in the NCAA Tournament, you might say. I think differently about this team, and I'm not alone. They have two losses all year, one of which was an overtime loss AT Arizona, and the other was at home to a feisty BYU team (who is better than people think) that they crushed in the WCC Tournament final almost a week ago.
Regardless, Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos don't give a crap about what you think. Wiltjer, a 6-10 forward who transferred from Kentucky, can score just about any way he wants to, casually throwing up a 16.7/6.0/1.9 line for the season. That's points/rebounds/assists for the uninitiated. Pangos, besides having the BEST HAIR IN BASKETBALL, is very Monte Morris--esque with a 3.7 A/TO ratio, but boasts a shooting split of 46-44-83. That's pretty damn efficient for a guy who scores 11.5 ppg and runs the entire offense.
My point is, Gonzaga has all of the qualities needed for a nice, long tournament run, and will be a problem for whoever has to face them. Without the home loss to BYU, they're a 1-seed without question in my mind. Watch their game on Friday night against NDSU and you'll get a grasp of what I'm talking about.
#3: Iowa State Cyclones, 25-8 (12-6, T-2nd in the Big 12)
What more is there to say about the Cardiac Clones? For the first 3/4 of the season, we wondered if this team had the mental toughness necessary for success in March. The last 5 games have showed that toughness is there in abundance, along with the will to win, even when down by double digits. Morris and Georges Niang are playing at the level we all know they're capable, and a lot of our success will be dependent on them maintaining this level of form.
I won't spend much more time talking about the team we're all familiar with, but I will say this- our bench will determine how far we go in this tournament. We saw it against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament Final, with Bryce Dejean-Jones and Abdel Nader making some big shots to put points on the board and cut into the KU lead. What those two and Matt Thomas can do off the bench will make the difference between an early plane ride home or a trip to Indianapolis.
#4: Georgetown Hoyas, 21-10 (12-6, T-2nd in the Big East)
A team many people might not be familiar with since Big East games weren't broadcast on ESPN this year, Georgetown is a team bucking the offensive-powerhouse trend of the South region. They score only 70.7 points per game, but where they really stand out is defense, ranking 25th nationally by Kenpom and allowing opponents to score 64.6 points per game. They do get after teams though, averaging 7.7 steals and 5 blocks a game.
The Hoyas are led by guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who puts up a well-balanced 16.2/4.1/3.1 line, and in addition steals the ball 1.6 times per contest while shooting 87.6% at the line. He teams up well forward Joshua Smith who puts up just over 11 points per game, but more importantly grabs rebounds like a madman. He alone is pulling down offensive rebounds on 15.4% of eligible misses, the 14th-best rate in the country.
The general consensus is that Georgetown is a bit overrated with the 4-seed. Their offense hasn't been able to score well against quality opposition, and that's why many people are picking them to possibly be upset in the first or second round.
#5: Utah Utes, 24-8 (13-5, T-2nd in the Pac 12)
Speaking of teams with good defenses, Utah definitely qualifies. They hold opponents to 56.9 points a game, which is the 11th best mark in the country. Their opponents shoot a 42.7% effective field goal percentage against them, good for 5th in the nation. That's really, really good. Kenpom lists them as the 8th best defense, but like Gonzaga, the Utes don't just have stifling D, they have a great offense too (18th per Kenpom).
Utah gets a lot of production from Delon Wright, who many people thought should have been the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Instead, he settled for 1st Team All-Conference honors. Wright put up a 14.9/4.9/5.3 line, also getting 2.1 steals and 1.0 block a game. He can do it all from the 2-guard spot, and with his 6 foot, 5 inch body provides solid defense on smaller guards.
This team could be the dark horse of the region. If they get going offensively, they could really give a team like Duke problems in the Sweet 16. Look for them to make some noise in the next two weeks.
#6: SMU Mustangs, 27-6 (15-3, 1st in the American Athletic)
The big story everyone seems to be focusing on is that SMU is coached by Larry Brown, who is the only coach that has won an NCAA Championship (Kansas...) and NBA Championship (Detroit). Impressive stuff, and Brown has done a phenomenal job in making SMU solid both offensively and defensively, rating at 24th and 43rd respectively according to Kenpom.
But coaching can get you so far. That's where Nic Moore and Yanick Moreira come in. Moore, a junior point guard, runs an offense that averages 15.5 assists per game (to which he contributes 5.2). Oh, and he also scores 14.2 points on 42-41-89 shooting. Moreira is a 6-11 center averaging 11.2 points and 6.4 rebounds a game, and just generally being a defensive nuisance.
SMU isn't going to wow you in any way- they just do everything really well and tend not to make a whole lot of mistakes. A fairly soft matchup with a UCLA team that somehow sneaked into the field is inviting, but after that things get a bit more difficult. My only hint is that the abbreviation is I-S-U.
#7: Iowa Hawkeyes, 21-11 (12-6, T-3rd in the Big 10)
Fun fact: I grew up a Hawk fan, and still follow them today, so I know a little bit about our brethren from Iowa City. Despite what you may think about the finger dexterity/accuracy of Adam Woodbury (and the loss in the Big 10 Tournament to Penn St.), this is actually a pretty solid team. Kenpom lists their adjusted offense at 35th in the nation, and they attack the glass, pulling down 37.7 boards a game.
At the heart of Iowa's scoring attack is Aaron White, a senior forward who puts 16 points on the board a night and comes down with 7.5 rebounds, both team bests. Not bad for a 6-9 ginger. Jarrod Uthoff joins White as a scoring threat, contributing 12.3 points and 6.3 boards while doubling as the team's 3-point sniper. The front line is rounded out with Woodbury and his reliever, Gabriel Olaseni, who measure in at 7-1 and 6-10 respectively, causing doubts for opponents who drive into the paint.
Iowa does have quite a bit of talent and experience, as most of their starters are upperclassmen. The question fans will have though, is which Iowa team shows up? The good version, capable of sweeping Ohio St and winning in Chapel Hill? Or the bad version that loses to Big 10 bottom feeders Penn St?
#8: San Diego State Aztecs, 26-8 (14-4, T-1st in the Mountain West)
Sssssssslllllllooooooowwwwwww. That's what comes to mind when the Aztecs are mentioned, rating 334th in adjusted tempo according to Kenpom. They also aren't that great offensively, scoring 61.8 points per game, good for 305th in the nation.
How do you make up for being slow and failing to score a lot of points? A great defense of course! SDSU only allows opponents to score 53.1 points a game (2nd overall), blocks 5 shots a game (27th), and is 4th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency by allowing a 42.7 adjusted FG%. That's all really, really good stuff.
Their player of note is Winston Shepard, who averages a 11.1/5.3/1.9 line, and will shoulder the main burden of putting points on the board for the Aztecs. In a region full of potent offenses, it will be a tough task to impose their style of play on the competition, especially with a possible matchup against Duke in the 3rd round.
#9: St. John's Red Storm, 21-11 (10-8, 5th in the Big East)
Another Big East team that got a little love from the committee. The Red Storm aren't going to impress you with any of their statistics, save one; they average 6.5 blocks per game, which is 4th nationally. To break it down even further, they're swatting 17.2% of their opponent's shots. That's something like 1 out of every 6.
Things will be difficult for St. John's in the tournament, however. Starting center Chris Obekpa was suspended for two weeks for violating team rules right before Selection Sunday, so they're leading blocker will have to watch the games from home. D'Angelo Harrison, a Big East POY candidate, will lead the way for the Red Storm, averaging 17.5 points a game.
The question for this team is how to cope with the loss of Obekpa, who contributed half their blocks a game. With no other inside big man to swat shots, can they find another identifying feature to build their team around?
#10: Davidson Wildcats, 24-7 (14-4, 1st in the Atlantic 10)
Want a team that shares the ball and scores points like Iowa State? Look no further than the Wildcats, who score 79.9 points with 17.2 assists per game. Kenpom rates them as the 8th best adjusted offense in the country. They also don't turn the ball over, only 14.3% of their offensive possessions.
Want a guy who can stuff the stat sheet? Tyler Kalinoski is your man. His line reads 17.0/5.6/4.1, with a shooting split of 47-43-79 as a 6-4 forward. He's joined by point guard Jack Gibbs, who adds 16.3 points and 4.8 assists per game. Similar stats to our own Morris and Niang combo.
Want a....oops, got carried away. Davidson easily belongs in the South, aka the Region of Scoring. The only problem is, they're a small team, with their starting center topping out at 6-7. They are a team who lives and dies by the 3/jumpshot, and if that's not going, they're not going, if you get my meaning. It will be interesting to see how they handle the height Iowa offers in their matchups.
#11: UCLA Bruins, 20-13 (11-7, 4th in the Pac 12)
It's probably fair to say that most everyone is shocked to see the Bruins not being in one of the play-in games. That's not a knock against them, just a nod to how weird the committee went this year. Okay, fine, it was a bit of a knock against them. They put up 7 points in a half against Kentucky! They deserved it.
In all seriousness, UCLA has some good things going for it. They're in California, so they have nice weather all year round. They were also really good at basketball in the 60's and 70's, in case you weren't aware. And I guess they manage to pull down 38 rebounds a game this year, which is something, I guess.
Quite honestly, I don't have a whole lot on the Bruins, because they're decidedly average. They deserved to be closer to the bubble, and I fully expect them to be bounced rather quickly. If they make it past their first game, I've got a few letters for you: I. S. U.
#12: Steven F. Austin Lumberjacks, 29-4 (17-1, 1st in the Southland)
The Lumberjacks? I always thought their mascot was actually Steven F. Austin, Father of Texas. The more you know.
Guess what sports fans? We've got another great scoring team! The Lumberjacks (still not over that) score 79.5 points a game, with a 19th adjusted ranking according to Kenpom. They're also first in the nation in assists, with 17.8 per game. SFA also grabs 37.7% of eligible offensive rebounds, the 13th best mark in the country.
Thomas Walkup is the chief lumberjack of this team, with a 15.7/6.4/3.7 line as a 6-4 junior forward. Most of this damage is done inside the arc, as he shoots just 27% from behind it. Jacob Parker adds 14.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a contest, himself shooting 47% from 3. Woof.
After looking up all these stats, SFA's game against Utah may be the most exciting of the 2nd round. Who wins- the great defensive team that can also score, or the great scoring team that will pass you out of your shoes? Either way, I know what I'm doing Thursday night.
#13: Eastern Washington Eagles, 26-8 (14-4, T-1st in the Big Sky)
Who? That might be the first question that comes to mind with EWU. You'll find out in their game against Georgetown, but I'll spoil it here anyway: the Eagles are the team that jacks up 3's and don't give a damn if you don't like it. Why? Because they make 39.6% of them as a team. They also put up 80.8 points a game, 3rd best nationally. Add those to the fact that they don't turn the ball over, and you've got a dangerous mid-major team.
Leading the Eagle attack is Tyler Harvey, who also led the country in scoring this year at 22.9 ppg. His shooting split is 47-43-85, and he's casually made 122 3's already this year. Wowza. Venky Jois is his partner in crime, adding 16.6 points, 7.7 boards, and 2.2 blocks a night.
So how are they not rated higher? Well, their defense kinda stinks. Like, the sewer main is backed up after your entire neighborhood got food poisoning from that block party you just had, which was catered exclusively by Taco Bell, just to give you some idea. They're going to be a trendy pick to upset Georgetown (count me among them), but after that, expect a trip home for these Eagles.
#14: UAB Blazers, 19-15 (12-6, T-4th in Conference USA)
Ah, the Blazers from UAB. Conference USA Tournament Champions. The University of Alabama, Birmingham.
I'm not going to spoil you with a breakdown of our opponent here. Look for cylentbutdeady's trusted preview to run tomorrow (Wednesday) for all the information you could want about our first tournament foes. Gotta generate website hits somehow. It keeps the almighty overlords of SB Nation happy.
#15: North Dakota St. Bison, 23-9 (12-4, T-1st in the Summit League)
NORTH DAKOTA STATE AND SOUTH DAKOTA STATE TIED FOR FIRST PLACE IN THE SUMMIT LEAGUE THIS YEAR. WHY IS THIS NOT GETTING MORE NATIONAL ATTENTION?!?! Is there going to be a war? Are the peasants arming themselves with pitchforks and torches? We must know which is the better state!!!!
Oh, I guess they beat SDSU in the Summit League Tournament Final by a single point. Not definitive proof, but a W is a W. North Dakota is the best Dakota.
What? You wanted a preview? They're a slow team that doesn't get blocked or stolen from because they grind their frightening Summit League opposition into the dust. Their first two games were against Texas and Iowa, with an average losing margin of 22 points. The most interesting statistic they have is that Lawrence Alexander, their shooting guard, has played 95.6% of available minutes this season. That's the highest amount of anyone in the country.
Use their first game against Gonzaga to show what the Bulldogs can do. You'll need all of 5 minutes. No disrespect to NDSU, but congrats on making the tournament and only book through Friday on your hotel.
#16: North Florida Ospreys / Robert Morris Colonials
It's been a long article, and I've lost the motivation to research these teams. Apparently North Florida is 25th overall in scoring at 75.7 a game. I'll go with them. Good luck against Duke.
So How Does This Region Play Out?
In this author's humble opinion, the top three seeds are the ones most likely to move out and earn that trip to the Final Four. Duke, Gonzaga, and Iowa State have the offenses that can take them past any opposition, and are just plain on another level than the rest of the teams here. Utah is probably the team that will join them in the Sweet 16, and the only other probable upset is overrated Georgetown losing in the 2nd round to EWU. Other than that, expect things to play out according to seeds.
The key game for me will be Iowa State-Gonzaga meeting in the Sweet 16 game. My prediction is the winner of that game will go on to win the region. Call me a homer and that I'm biased, but I honestly think Iowa State is that team. Gonzaga hasn't faced an offense of our caliber, and Duke has shown it is susceptible to offenses that can pour in the points. Just look at their games against Notre Dame.
There you have it folks. The South has been analyzed. Want to have your say? Drop a comment below. Or even better, fill out a bracket yourself in the WRNL Bracket Challenge.