South Regional Preview
The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Just kidding. A little perspective and deeeeep breath Big Blue Nation. Your Kentucky Wildcats are just fine despite a surprising and somewhat somnambulistic tour through the SEC Tournament. In fact, many, including Coach Calipari, feel that a good kick-in-the-pants loss was exactly what this young Kentucky team needed to sharpen its focus and resolve heading into the tourney. I’m not one to ever say losing a conference championship is a “good” thing, but in this “everything is about March” college basketball climate we live in – the loss truly is NO BIG DEAL.
So can anyone in the South touch the Wildcats? Many people are calling this far and away the best region. I would contend this is the region with the biggest names, but not necessarily the toughest path to New Orleans. Well, its exceptionally tough for any who has to play Kentucky, but I think you get my point.
So who cuts down the nets in the South and moves on to Bourbon Street? Is Kentucky a foregone conclusion, or can a legit challenger emerge? Storyline and intriguing plots lurk everywhere in what is undoubtedly the most FUN region – so let’s break it down round by round.
People are already circling their calendars for the UConn v UK matchup in round two, but UConn is going to have to get past an under-appreciated but really good Iowa State team first. I think they will, but it won’t be the gimme that many are predicting. In the rest of the top half, I like Indiana to beat New Mexico State (though that is the upset pick du jour right now after Verdell Jones’ injury in the Big Ten tourney), and Wichita State gets past VCU in a game that unfortunately pits two tourney potential darlings against each other far too early.
In the second round, I like Wichita State over Indiana with surprising ease, and Kentucky BIG over UConn. Repeat after me. UConn is not beating Kentucky. They’re not. It’s not happening. As a matter of fact (if that game even happens) I can’t wait for the line, because it is going to be three or four points closer than it should be. Kentucky is going to whoop ‘em.
In the bottom half of the bracket, things are going to be crazy. There is literally not a result that would surprise me aside from Lehigh beating Duke (they won’t). Baylor has this tantalizing mixture of underachieving talent and could win the whole stinkin’ thing if they apply themselves and play at their peak. They could also lose their opener to an underrated South Dakota State team. The Jackrabbits can play. And they have the coolest mascot in the tourney. So… yeah…
That said, give me Duke and Baylor to win their openers, and Colorado to knock off a reeling UNLV game in a mild upset as an #11 seed. I like Xavier over a reeling Notre Dame team that underachieved, though perhaps no team has underachieved more this season than Xavier post-brawl. Xavier has the talent to make things interesting, but lacks the inside presence and perimeter size to give Duke a real challenge in the second round. Likewise, Baylor has a little too much talent for former conference-mate Colorado.
In the Sweet 16, Kentucky overwhelms Wichita State and I like Duke to outsmart and out-poise Baylor. Look for the Plumlee boys to come up bigger than expected, taking Coach K’s challenge to show Perry Jones III who’s boss.
That sets up the game the entire nation is salivating for; Duke versus Kentucky, nearly twenty years to the day after the Christian Laettner miracle in the Spectrum. I promise I’ll write a blathering 1,000 word column if that game does indeed come to fruition, but for now, let’s just leave it at Kentucky fans getting their two-decade long anticipated revenge.
East Regional Pick: Kentucky Wildcats
Good Value Bets:
I really don’t see anyone beating Kentucky, but if you want a decent value pick, Baylor has the talent and a decent draw. At 6:1, it’s still too slim for my liking, but if it creeps up to 10 or 12:1, I might bite. Aside from that, I suppose UConn at 30:1, should they shock Kentucky, becomes a very very good value. But again. They aren’t beating Kentucky. Really. They aren’t…