I promised a further look at the brackets, and I am a man of my word. First up, a peek at the South Region, headlined by the pre-season favorite, the North Carolina Tar Heels.
First Round Upset On Everyone’s Radar
#12 Western Kentucky over #5 Illinois. Much has been made of the Hilltoppers defeating current #1 Louisville earlier this season, but they also got whacked by tourney teams Florida State and Mississippi State.
Illinois is not a particularly strong or deep team, and Western Kentucky beat Drake in the first round last year, so they enter the tournament confident and experienced.
First Round Upset On Nobody’s Radar
#11 Temple over #6 Arizona State. James Harden is one of the country’s best college basketball players, and Jeff Pendergraph is an underrated big man. They’re a great two-man combination for the Sun Devils.
Temple’s Dionte Christmas is streaky, nasty, tough, and doesn’t quite have the same level of help that Harden has. But Temple as a team seems more battle-tested.
They played Kansas, Villanova, Tennessee, Clemson and Penn State before their conference schedule began.
While Arizona State plays a more rugged conference schedule than the Owls, their non-conference schedule was significantly weaker.
I think Arizona State is the better team on paper, but Christmas has shown a flair for the spotlight in the past. I think the Owls will unwrap the upset here.
Overrated Concern: Syracuse being tired
I understand why people are hesitant to pick the Orange to make a deep run in the tournament, but folks are much too worried about all the minutes that Jonny Flynn and company piled up last week.
By the time the Orange take the court on Friday, they’ll have gone nearly a week since losing the Big East Tournament title game.
Underrated Concern: Ty Lawson’s toe
The fact that Roy Williams is considering sitting Lawson for their first round game speaks to the depth of the North Carolina Tar Heels, and it suggests that Lawson’s injury is worse than previously believed. If it’s turf toe, or something similar, he will have trouble moving laterally.
Potential matchups against Gonzaga’s Jeremy Pargo or Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn could be troublesome for Lawson.
Clemson started the year 15-0 (14-0 non-conference), then went 8-8 the rest of the way; they seem ripe for the picking against Michigan, who had the tougher non-conference schedule (wins vs. UCLA, Duke) and played in the underrated Big 10.
Everyone loves Blake Griffin for Oklahoma, but don’t be stunned if Sooner frosh Willie Warren has a huge tournament and winds up declaring for the NBA Draft.
Round of 32 (Losers in Parentheses)
North Carolina (Radford), Butler (LSU), Western Kentucky (Illinois), Gonzaga (Akron), Temple (Arizona State), Syracuse (Stephen F. Austin), Michigan (Clemson), Oklahoma (Morgan St.)
Sweet Sixteen (Losers in Parentheses)
North Carolina (Butler), Gonzaga (Western Kentucky), Syracuse (Temple), Oklahoma (Michigan)
Elite Eight (Losers in Parentheses)
North Carolina (Gonzaga), Oklahoma (Syracuse)
North Carolina (Oklahoma)