The South Region: Hansbrough and Griffin Prepare For Showdown
The South Region of the NCAA Tournament features the best player in college basketball, Blake Griffin, the hottest player in the land, Johnny Flynn, and one of the best college players of all-time, Tyler Hansbrough.
North Carolina (28-4, 13-3) is the odds on favorite to win it all. Despite looking sporadic on defense throughout the season, the Heels dominated opponents all season long. Hansbrough is looking to cement his legacy as one of the most accomplished college players ever, and if Ty Lawson gets healthy, there is no team that can equal the Heels' talent.
An efficient offensive opponent could pose problems for UNC, but the Tar Heels are averaging over 90 points a game and are scoring, on average, 18 more points a game than their opponents.
Oklahoma (27-5, 13-3) is led by Griffin. He led the nation in rebounding during the regular season, and has shown that he can put up 30 points on any given night. The Sooners stumbled down the stretch a little, and lost key games against elite opponents, but as long as they have a healthy Griffin they are a title contender.
Oklahoma will rely on Griffin the same way Syracuse relied on Carmello Anthony, Ohio State on Greg Oden, Gonzaga on Adam Morrison, and…well…you get the point.
Willie Warren will be the Mo Williams to Griffin’s LeBron James. Warren is arguably the best freshman scorer in the country, and if he continues to create off the dribble, the Sooners could find themselves in Detroit.
Syracuse (26-9, 11-7) is riding high after a phenomenal Big East Tournament. Their six overtime thriller against UConn showed their unrelenting will to win. Following that game with another overtime thriller against West Virginia showed their desire to fulfill their destiny.
They are an unselfish squad with five players averaging in double digits. Flynn is the Orange’s go to guy. Averaging 17.5 points, and 6.7 assists, per game, he showed superior conditioning by setting a Big East Tournament record for minutes played.
Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins could be the key for the Syracuse. If they play like they did in the Big East Tourney, Syracuse could challenge Oklahoma and UNC in this bracket.
Gonzaga (26-5, 14-0) is the region’s number four. They draw Akron (23-12, 10-6), who hasn’t been to the tourney in 23 years. The tough-minded Zips generate a lot of turnovers on defense. They are a perimeter oriented team with a poor shooting percentage.
The Bulldogs of Gonzaga have one of the most potent offenses in the country. Everyone on the team can bury the three. Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt are fully capable of controlling the paint, and with Hansbrough and Griffin lurking, their ability down low to defend makes the ‘Zags a Final Four caliber team.
Illinois (24-9, 11-7) draws a tough Western Kentucky (24-8, 15-3) squad that has a knack for making noise in the tourney. Orlando Mendez-Valdez and A.J. Slaughter are the primary threats for the Hilltoppers. They helped lead Western Kentucky to an upset of Louisville early in the season. Jeremy Evans is solid underneath, and doesn’t miss to many baskets when called upon.
If the Hilltoppers get hot, expect them to make a run in this bracket.
Illinois will counter with a defense that has held opponents to under 40 percent shooting and 56.6 points per game. They will rely heavily on emerging sophomores Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. The loss of Chester Frazier hurts on both sides of the ball, and may ultimately be to much for the Fighting Illini to overcome.
Arizona State (24-9, 11-7) has one of the top 20 scoring defenses in the country. Considering the firepower of the Pac 10, this makes them all the more impressive.
The Sun Devils let the Pac 10 Tourney slip away from them. This is a team capable of beating anyone they play, but they tend to play to the level of their competition and this can pose problems in a one-and-done environment.
Dionte Christmas leads the Temple Owls with 19.2 points per game. He is a stud who could single handedly carry Temple in the Sweet 16. With the level of the play in the NCAA Tourney, the Owls will need someone else to step up if they are to advance at all.
Temple is a top 30 team in regards to assists. They move the ball well, and typically find an open shooter. That open shooter tends to be Christmas. The likely options to step up are Lavoy Allen or Ryan Brooks. If this team is to go anywhere these two will need to have the weekend of their careers.
Michigan (20-13, 9-9) managed to sneak into the tournament as a No. 10 seed. Victories against UCLA and Duke certainly helped their cause.
Michigan is a low percentage shooting team, with only one player shooting above 42 percent. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are the one-two punch for the Wolverines, but after them it’s anyone’s guess on who will step up.
Michigan draws the No. 7 seed Clemson (23-8, 9-7) in the first round. Clemson went undefeated out of conference (14-0), but only a win against Duke stands out from their in-conference schedule. Teams are to easily able to get inside and dominate the boards against the Tigers. Trevor Booker will need to be big on the post for Clemson if they are to have a chance.
LSU (26-7, 13-3), the region’s No. 8 seed, and Butler (26-5, 15-3), the region’s No. 9 seed, will square off in what should be a solid basketball game.
Trent Johnson has LSU playing great defense this season. Marcus Thornton has the ability to drive the lane, as well as shoot the mid-ranged jumper. The Tigers played well in a weak SEC, but they did little out-of-conference.
LSU will go as far as Thornton takes them. A focused Thornton could pose problems for Butler, as well as potential problems for UNC in the second round.
Butler plays patient offense and ferocious defense. They are very similar to Bulldog teams of the past that have raised havoc in March. Matt Howard is one of the most unheralded big men around. Gordon Hayward and Sheldon Mack play well beyond their years, and they could lead Butler into a second round showdown with UNC if they continue to disregard the pressure surrounding them.
This bracket has the most anticipated one-two matchup of any region. UNC and Oklahoma should find themselves staring at one another in the Elite Eight.
Syracuse could pose problems for any team if they get hot, just ask UConn, but the question will remain, how much do they have left in the tank?
Gonzaga could finally live up to the hype if they could build a little momentum. Reaching the Final Four would solidify Gonzaga as Memphis’ chief opposition in regards to the best program from a non-power conference.
When it comes down to it, it is hard to pick against Hansbrough and Griffin. Expect them to meet up in the Elite Eight where UNC’s superior perimeter play should carry them into the final four.
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