NCAA Bracket 2012: Breaking Down the Sweet 16 in the South Region
The opening weekend of the NCAA tournament came and went, bringing the excitement, upsets and heartbreak that it provides every year.
Now, we are down to 16 teams, and this is the point where a trip to the Final Four and a national championship really becomes tangible for the remaining competitors. They are already a third of the way through the Big Dance and a string of four more games away from celebrating in New Orleans on April 2.
The Sweet 16 in the South region will tip off on Friday night, starting with No. 3 seed Baylor vs. No. 10 seed Xavier and then No. 1 seed Kentucky vs. No. 4 seed Indiana.
Here is a breakdown of both games that will take place in Atlanta on Friday night.
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 10 Xavier
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Xavier fell off the list of teams that would make deep runs in March after struggling from December to February, but now the Musketeers are on the brink of going to the Elite Eight. But the next step in their path will be against No. 3 seeded Baylor, which defeated Colorado on Sunday to advance to the regional semifinal.
The Musketeers got to this point because of two reasons: superstar games from point guard Tu Holloway, and frontcourt production from Kenny Frease, Andre Walker and Dezmine Wells.
Unfortunately, Wells' status for Friday is unclear after he left Sunday's game in the first half with an injury.
Most likely, Xavier will get similar production from Holloway. The Baylor guards are solid defenders, but Holloway has been able to pick apart almost every defense he has faced this season.
The bigger issue for Xavier is whether or not it can get exceptional production out of its frontcourt against the Baylor big men, who have a clear size advantage. Although the Musketeers do have solid size in their frontcourt, the Bears' length will be a significant issue.
For Baylor, Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson will have to be able to knock down three-pointers against Xavier's tough, perimeter defense, which ranked first in the Atlantic 10 in three-point defense and No. 32 nationally at 30.8 percent.
In its first two NCAA tournament games, the Bears drained made 19 three-pointers. Barring a defensive breakdown on the perimeter by the Musketeers, Baylor will struggle from beyond the arc more than it did in either of its first two postseason games.
And even though the Bears have an advantage in the post, Frease, Walker and Wells, along with Jeff Robinson and Travis Taylor, will be able to neutralize the likes of Quincy Acy, Perry Jones, Anthony Jones and Quincy Miller enough to the point that the Musketeers will be able to pull of the upset.
My pick: Xavier 78, Baylor 75
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Indiana
When Indiana and Kentucky met in December, the Hoosiers won, 73-72, on a buzzer beater by Christian Watford.
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This is the matchup everyone was hoping for in the South region. No. 1 seed Kentucky is a popular pick to go all the way and cut down the nets in New Orleans, but first the Wildcats will have to get past No. 4 seed Indiana, which beat them back in December.
The meeting in December was an all-time classic, as the Hoosiers won, 73-72, on Christian Watford's buzzer-beater and putting themselves back on the national stage.
Kentucky has looked unstoppable in its first two games of the tournament, defeating Western Kentucky by 15 points and then Iowa State by 16. The matchup with the Hoosiers will no doubt be tougher than either of the previous two, but the Wildcats have the necessary pieces to advance to the next round.
In the first meeting between the two, Kentucky was hurt by three specific aspects—lack of three-point shooting, Anthony Davis' foul trouble and Indiana's home-court advantage. The Wildcats shot just 2-of-7 from long range back in December, and Davis was limited to nine points and six rebounds in just 24 minutes of action.
Davis gives the Wildcats a huge advantage inside, as he will be the best big man on both offense and defense no matter his matchup. In the opening two rounds, he averaged 15.5 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game and 4.5 blocks per game.
The nation's leading shot-blocker has not had to deal with foul trouble often this year, so odds favor that he will not have to spend too much time on the bench for that reason again.
In fact, he has had three or more fouls only four times since the meeting with the Hoosiers. If he stays out of foul trouble on Friday, he, along with Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, will dominate the paint on both ends of the floor.
Don't be surprised if this one is another classic, but, unless the NCAA moves the South regional to Bloomington, this time Kentucky will advance to the Elite Eight.
My pick: Kentucky 75, Indiana 68