2012 NCAA Tournament: Will Kentucky Win the South Region?

Chris O'Brien@@Chris0BrienCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2012

2012 NCAA Tournament: Will Kentucky Win the South Region?

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    Kentucky may be the No. 1 overall seed, but their path to the Final Four will be nothing but easy in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

    Could it be the defending champion Connecticut Huskies that sneak up on the Wildcats in the second round? What about a rematch with Indiana in the Sweet 16? Will Coach K lead Duke to the Final Four?

    A lot of interesting storylines and potential for upsets in the South Region. Here is my best guess for how it will all play out.

Kentucky Wins over Western Kentucky/MVSU

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    Kentucky has more lottery picks in this year’s starting five than Western Kentucky and MVSU will have combined, in the next 100 years.

    And to think, if players were forced to stay in college four years, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight would still be with the Wildcats. And you thought this year’s team was scary…

Connecticut over Iowa State

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    Just like last year, for the No. 8 vs. No. 9 games I use my three-part system to determine the winner:

    1. Who has the better coach?
    2. Are they known for their basketball or football program?
    3. Who is from the better conference?

    UCONN has the better coach, is known for being a basketball school, and I give the edge to the Big East as the better conference.

Wichita State over VCU

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    I went back and forth on this game. Here are the two conflicting sides of picking VCU:

    Pros – They actually are better, record wise, than their magical team last year. Their defense is terrifying.

    Cons – Wichita State is a really, really good team with a seven-footer down low. VCU no longer has Jamie Skeen.

    Very few people saw Butler going to the National Championship two years ago. If you tried last year to make up for not picking them in ’09, you would’ve had great results.

    However, I am resisting the urge to hop on the "VCU shocks the world twice" bandwagon and picking the Wichita State Shockers.

Indiana over New Mexico State

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    Losing Verdell Jones III will end Indiana’s run soon, but not in the first round.

UNLV over Colorado

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    UNLV secretly beat North Carolina earlier in the season. This is a quality team and Colorado is still somewhat of a mystery.

Baylor over South Dakota State

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    This may have the lowest viewership of any first round game. I take Baylor by 20 or 30 points.

Xavier over Notre Dame

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    My top five list of teams I don’t trust in March:

    1. Pittsburgh
    2. Mississippi State
    3. Notre Dame
    4. Purdue
    5. Florida (in non Joakim Noah years)

    And to be honest, if I wasn’t so fan blind, Kansas would probably have slipped their way onto this list by now.

    I think senior Tu Holloway is due for at least one big-time game in the tournament.

Duke over Lehigh

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    Do I really need to explain this one? Onto the next round.

The Matchups in Round of 32

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    Kentucky vs. UCONN

    Wichita State vs. Indiana

    UNLV vs. Baylor

    Xavier vs. Duke

Kentucky over Connecticut

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    Why You Should Stick with Kentucky: Kentucky should win the entire tournament. A lot of the people in your pool will have Kentucky winning it all, meaning they will pick up potentially five more wins from Kentucky if you have Connecticut winning.

    Also, where do you go from after picking Connecticut? UCONN over Wichita State in the next round? Or Indiana? Or VCU? Do you take the Huskies to the Final Four? You could land the UCONN over Kentucky upset pick, but end up not having another right answer after in that half of the region.

    I expect this game to be close. Calhoun is one of the best in the business at preparing his team and will have scouted Kentucky hard. 79 percent chance this game will go into overtime.

    *This is the type of game a championship team wins close, feels a relief of having a close game early, and blows out their next two opponents.

Wichita State over Indiana

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    I don't like Indiana's chances against either VCU or Wichita State.

    The lack of point guard will really hurt Indiana against the full court pressure of VCU. Against Wichita State, I think the Shockers are simply the better team.

Baylor over UNLV

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    Baylor is 26-1 against teams not named Kansas or Missouri. Weak schedule or good team? We will find out soon.

Duke over Xavier

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    Can’t go wrong picking Coach K to the Sweet 16.

    I know Duke is not a hot pick right now because of the loss to Florida State and the beatdown they received by North Carolina, but don't forget the Blue Devils beat UNC and FSU once a piece. They have beaten Michigan State, Kansas, Michigan, Davidson, and Belmont. This is still a really good team. 

The Matchups in Round of 16

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    Kentucky vs. Wichita State

    Baylor vs. Duke

Wichita State over Kentucky

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    There is something to be said for having 22-year-olds going against 18-year-olds. Your individual game improves having been coached for four years and, as a team, you gain all of that extra in-game experience. Think about how smooth the Boston Celtics look in the last two minutes of a close game. Reason: They’ve been there before and instinctively know what to do.

    I think having the seven-footer, Garrett Stutz, will push Anthony Davis into early foul trouble. Davis picks up that second foul early and Kentucky is a completely different team without him. Wichita State gets hot from three, builds a fairly big lead, Kentucky rallies back, ties things up with five minutes to go and you have a back-and-forth the rest of the way. Not that I’ve imagined this yet or anything…

    In the last minute, Calipari’s team will miss free throws a la Memphis 2008, and Wichita State will throw up one of those, end of the shot clock, probably bank-in three point shots to push their lead to five. Cue the One Shining Moment music, the ESPN overreaction, and the Twitter explosion.

    Why I am wrong: This game is similar to Kentucky vs. Cornell game a few years back. Cornell had the big man, Jeff Foote, and a bunch of experienced seniors out on the perimeter. The Wildcats, with John Wall, Cousins, etc., proved to have too much talent for The Big Red and advanced.

Duke over Baylor

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    I like Baylor’s guards in this matchup, but the problem is, I see Baylor being more likely to lose to UNLV  than Duke losing the round before to Xavier. Coach K is the best coach in the tournament and it is more reliable to take Duke to the Elite Eight than Baylor. 

    Now, allow me to introduce to you the Duke as a Mid-Major argument:

    Picture for a second, the Duke uniform. Remove the word Duke and throw on Davidson, or VCU or whatever other mid-major team you’d like.

    How excited would everyone be about this 13,000 student school with Doc Rivers’ son, Steph Curry’s younger brother, a few bigs down low, and a live-or-die by the three playing style? I can see it now; Rivers with the buzzer beater over Xavier, Curry with the game tying three against Baylor, it’d be the token Cinderella run.

    Picture Duke as a Major and Kentucky, UNC, Michigan State, Kansas, Ohio State all seem a little stronger. Picture Duke as a Cinderella, in a potentially chaotic bracket, and this could be 2009 all over again.

Duke or Wichita State to the Final Four?

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    Continuing the “Duke as a Mid-Major” argument, I like the Blue Devils over the actual Mid-Major in the Elite Eight.

    The teams match up pretty evenly, but I figure Wichita State will have expended more energy in their win over Kentucky than Duke did in the win over Baylor.


    Why Picking Duke to the Final Four Is Risky:

    Law of averages. A team that lives by the three eventually dies by the three. We all saw how bad the Blue Devils looked against UNC when their shots were not falling.

    Disagree with my picks? Leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter (@Chris0brien) to give me your predictions. Tune in for the rest of my regional breakdowns throughout the week.