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March 16, 2014 11:50 PM
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Sophomore guard Kyle Anderson, right, leads Pac-12 tournament champion UCLA into the NCAA tournament as the No. 4 seed in the South Region.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The regions at a glance
Favorite: No. 1 Florida (32-2). The Gators, who will be gunning for Billy Donovan's third NCAA championship, went through the Southeastern Conference without a loss and boast an impressive 10-2 record against the RPI top 50. Only two losses came against tournament teams Wisconsin and Connecticut, both on the road. Donovan has balanced scoring throughout his rotation, led by senior forward Casey Prather, who averages 14.3 points per game.
Next line: No. 2 Kansas played without Big 12 defensive player of the year Joe Embiid (back injury) in the conference tournament and the Jayhawks do not expect to have his services until the round of 16, if that. It will be up to star freshman Andrew Wiggins (16.8 ppg) to get them there. No. 4 UCLA won the Pac-12 tournament. First-year coach Steve Alford has taken the reins off the Bruins, who led the Pac-12 in scoring (82 ppg). The downside is they don't defend as well as they did under Ben Howland.
Sleeper: No. 6 Ohio State got a nice draw. The Buckeyes get No. 11 Dayton in the first game, and if they can get past the Flyers, they'll get the winner of the Syracuse-Western Michigan game. The bottom half of the bracket includes a Kansas team dealing with a key injury.
Best second-round game: No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Pitt. The Panthers rediscovered their game in the ACC tournament and will challenge the Buffaloes, who have lost four of their past seven games.
Upset special: No. 14 Western Michigan against No. 3 Syracuse. The Broncos have won 12 of their past 13, but this choice has more to do with Syracuse than anything else. The Orange are ripe for an early upset after losing five of seven entering the tournament.
Noteworthy: Ohio State is 9-3 in NCAA tournament games since 2011 and made it to the Final Four in 2012. ... Since advancing to the Final Four in 2011, No. 5 VCU is 2-2 in NCAA tournament games the past two seasons. ... No. 12 Stephen F. Austin went through the Southland Conference undefeated, but in the only game the Lumberjacks played against a team from a major conference, they lost by 10 at Texas.
Favorite: No. 1 Wichita State (34-0) advanced to the Final Four last year as a No. 9 seed and enters the tournament as the only undefeated team. The Missouri Valley Conference was not particularly strong this season, as evidenced by the Shockers' average victory margin (16.4 points per game) in 21 league games. They had just two victories against other teams in the NCAA tournament field seeded 10th or better -- a two-point win at Saint Louis and a 13-point home win against BYU -- but 6-8 senior Cleanthony Early (16.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and point guard Fred VanVleet (12.1 ppg) give them the inside-outside combination needed for a deep run.
Next in line: No. 2 Michigan has the experience from playing in the NCAA title game last year and won seven in a row before losing to Michigan State Sunday in the Big Ten tournament championship. No. 4 seed Louisville has been hot at the right time. The defending champions have won 12 of their past 13 and the Cardinals have instant offense in leading scorer Russ Smith (18.3 ppg).
Sleeper: No. 12 North Carolina State. ACC player of the year T.J. Warren (24.8 ppg) is capable of carrying the Wolfpack on a Cinderella run. If they can get past Xavier in a play-in game, a struggling Saint Louis team that has lost four of five awaits in the next round.
Best second-round game: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan, for the story line and the matchup. Jaspers coach Steve Masiello played for Rick Pitino at Kentucky and coached under him at Louisville. The Jaspers are a strong defensive team with one of the top shot-blockers in Division I in Rhamel Brown, who will be looking to swat everything the Cardinals throw at him.
Upset special: No. 14 Mercer against No. 3 Duke. The Atlantic Sun Conference produced last year's tournament darling in Florida Gulf Coast. Mercer beat FGCU in the Atlantic Sun title game on its home floor and has an athletic, high-scoring team that will give Duke some problems, especially if the Blue Devils struggle from the outside.
Noteworthy: No. 8 seed Kentucky played a tough non-conference schedule, but the Wildcats' only quality win came at home against Louisville. ... No. 7 Texas has given up 85 points or more in five of its 10 losses. ... No. 15 Wofford is making its third NCAA tournament appearance in the past five years.
Favorite: No. 1 Arizona (30-4) is tournament-tested. The Wildcats have 11 victories against top-50 RPI teams, including non-conference wins against Duke, Michigan and San Diego State. Coach Sean Miller, a Blackhawk graduate, has balanced scoring up and down his lineup. Led by junior guard Nick Johnson (16.2 ppg) and freshman forward Aaron Gordon (12.1 ppg), the Wildcats also have something they were missing in previous seasons -- a true point guard. T.J. McConnell of Chartiers Valley runs the show and has the ability to knock down a jump shot, too. Two reasons for concern: The Wildcats aren't a great 3-point shooting team and have been sputtering lately. Three of their four losses came in the past 10 games and three of their victories in that span were by five points or fewer.
Next in line: No. 2 Wisconsin has won eight of 10 and boasts a trio of good 3-point shooters in Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson. The Badgers, though, are inconsistent on the defensive end. In five of their seven losses, they allowed 75 points or more. No. 4 San Diego State won the Mountain West regular-season title with a 16-2 record, but the Aztecs are more than champions from a mid-major conference. They also have impressive non-conference wins against Kansas and Creighton.
Sleeper: No. 7 Oregon. The Ducks won seven in a row to end the regular season. They were second in the Pac-12 in scoring (81.8 ppg) and have a couple of excellent 3-point shooters in Joe Young (41.6 percent) and Jason Calliste (50.8 percent).
Best second-round game: No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State. Marcus Smart and the Cowboys lost seven consecutive games in the middle of the Big 12 schedule, but won four of their past five to secure their NCAA bid. Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed last year and has plenty of experience returning on the perimeter with Kevin Pangos and David Stockton.
Upset special: No. 12 North Dakota State against No. 5 Oklahoma. The Sooners (82.2 ppg) are one of the highest-scoring teams in the country and finished in second place in the Big 12, but their only non-conference wins against teams in the NCAA field came against Mercer and Tulsa. North Dakota State (76.4 ppg), meanwhile, will have no trouble matching the Sooners in the scoring department.
Noteworthy: No. 6 Baylor was .500 in the Big 12, but the Bears beat Kentucky, Colorado and Dayton in non-conference games. ... No. 10 BYU made the field despite conference losses to non-tournament teams Loyola Marymount, Portland, Pepperdine and Pacific. ... No. 15 seed American is a stingy defensive team that is seventh in Division I in scoring defense (58.6 ppg).
Favorite: No. 4 Michigan State (26-8) was 5-7 in its final 12 regular-season games because of an assortment of injuries, but the Spartans are healthy now and poised for a deep run. They showed it by winning the Big Ten tournament title, which concluded with an impressive win against regular-season champion Michigan. All Tom Izzo-coached teams know how to defend and rebound, but this team can run away from opponents, too. The Spartans average 76.2 points per game.
Next in line: No. 1 Virginia won the ACC regular-season and tournament championships. The Cavaliers, winners of 16 of their past 17, allow an NCAA-low 55.3 points per game. No. 3 Iowa State has won eight of 10, including three in a row to claim the Big 12 tournament title. The Cyclones lead Division I in assists and are led by Schenley graduate DeAndre Kane (17 ppg) and conference player of the year Melvin Ejim (18.1 ppg).
Sleeper: No. 11 Providence has momentum from winning the Big East tournament and has the rebounding to contend with North Carolina's frontcourt in its first game. Bryce Cotton (21.4 ppg) is a dynamic guard who can penetrate and shoot from 3-point range.
Best second-round game: No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 George Washington. The Colonials beat five teams in the tournament and have the ability to slow down the Tigers, who average 77.6 points per game.
Upset special: No. 12 Harvard against No. 5 Cincinnati. Harvard is making its third consecutive trip to the tournament and upset No. 3 New Mexico last year to advance to the round of 32. Cincinnati is strong defensively, but the Bearcats are prone to long scoring droughts, which is a bad trait in a one-and-done tournament.
Noteworthy: No. 2 Villanova has had some alarming defensive performances against the better teams on its schedule, surrendering 101 and 96 points in losses to Creighton and 78 in a loss at Syracuse. ... No. 10 Saint Joseph's is back in the tournament for the first time since 2008. ... No. 15 Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter was born in Pittsburgh and is the nephew of former Steelers tight end Tony Jeter. ... No. 14 North Carolina Central is 1-3 against the RPI top 100 with losses to Wichita State, Cincinnati and Maryland. ... No. 13 Delaware is making its first appearance in the tournament since 1999, when Notre Dame's Mike Brey was behind the bench.
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