SOUTH REGION PREVIEW:
The South Region isn’t short on story lines. Can Duke exercise the demons of two stunning first round upsets in the past three tournaments and live up to their seeding…possibly setting up a CBS Dream National Final against Kentucky? Is this the year Gonzaga finally breaks all the way through and makes it to the school’s first Final Four? There is no doubt they have the talent to advance, but that was also true two seasons ago when they were a one seed yet failed to survive the first weekend.
Is this the region that has the best chance of a non-top two seed emerging? Iowa State can certainly score with anyone and there are some veterans like Georges Niang who are tourney-tested and plenty tough.
Let’s take a look at this region from three different perspectives – the best bets to win the region, good value plays, and some early potential upset teams.
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Duke (7/4) – is the favorite to win the region, and it is hard not to like their blend of explosive guards and the nation’s best big man. The biggest question for them has been their depth. Grayson Allen has gotten more minutes since Sulamon was dismissed from school, and despite a few good scoring games, he has looked real shaky with the ball in his hands. Amile Jefferson and Plumlee have some size to rebound and defend, but neither provides much on the offensive end if Okafor is on the bench.
If Okafor gets in foul trouble, which a team like Gonzaga has the size and depth to provoke, I think they are in some real trouble. They have two of the best road wins of any team in the country; at UVA and Wisky, so they certainly have proven they have the mettle to win the region. But at close to 2:1 (or even lower in a few books), they don’t feel like a great value to me.
That leaves Gonzaga (3/1). I think this is the year they finally get it done. Forget sentimentality and storylines, this team is loaded with talent and NBA-level size in the front court with Karnowski and Sabonis, tough on the wings with Bell Jr. and Wesley who can both score and defend and Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer is a legitimate All-American candidate. Plus Kevin Pangos is in his eleventh season as the Zags point guard. I’m kidding, but it feels like the dude has been there forever. The result is a conference player of the year and veteran floor leader capable of guiding them through rough spots. This team is talented, deep and poised to win the region.
Iowa State (11/2) – To me, this is the only other real threat to win this region. They play quick enough tempo to score with Gonzaga and Duke and the defend with a tenacity few teams in this region can match. Plus, they are insanely resilient. They have fallen behind by double digits and still battled back to win the game five times in a row, so if you have these guys down, might want to use a ZOmbieland double-tap.
SMU Mustangs (20/1) – Can SMU win the region? Probably not. But they have three ingredients that yield god March results. They have an elite point guard in Nic Moore, they have a NBA level bigman in Markus Kennedy and a Hall of Fame coach who has won a National Title (albeit more than a quarter of a century ago) in Larry Brown. I’d like them more if Iowa State wasn’t looming in Round Two, but if you are looking for a flyer, SMU might be a decent longshot.
Best Upset Potential:
Everyone seems to be jumping on Stephen F. Austin, and for good reason. This team knocked off VCU in a similar game last year and they return basically the same squad. They haven’t lost in forever and they have a favorable matchup in slumping Utah. In the 4/13 game, Georgetown has laid an egg before (hello, Dunk City!) and Eastern Washington already has a road win at Indiana. Don’t be surprised if they give G’Town fits and make things nervous once again for JT3.