NCAA Tournament Betting: South Region Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/18/2009
Every year in the NCAA Tournament there is one region that is just absolutely loaded. I'm talking comically loaded. I'm talking six or seven national title contenders crammed into the same region. Well, this year it's the South Region in Memphis.
If there is any doubt about the talent level in this part of the bracket, just check out what would be the All-South Region if you were putting together an all-star team:
Point Guard - Johnny Flynn
Shooting Guard - Marcus Thornton
Small Forward - James Harden
Power Forward - Blake Griffin
Center - Tyler Hansbrough
That's four 1st Team All-American talents and the SEC Player of the Year. And that is also friggin' ridiculous.
Here's one man's look at the South (Memphis) Region:
No. 1 Seed: North Carolina
There's not much I can tell you about the Tar Heels that you don't already know. This team is still the favorite to win it all despite an injured point guard, a poor conference tournament showing, and the fact that they play absolutely no defense. But this group of Tar Heels does have experience. The core of this team - Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Ty Lawson - lost in overtime of the Elite Eight in 2007 and in the Final Four to the eventual champions in 2008. This is their last chance to bring home a title, and they'll have to do it out of the most difficult region on the bracket.
No. 2 Seed: Oklahoma
The Sooners spent practically the entire season in the Top 8 in the country and, I believe, are a bit undervalued right now. Yes, they are just 2-4 in their last six games. But two of those losses came without Blake Griffin, one was at Missouri, and then another was a heated Bedlam game in the Big 12 Tournament. However, I don't let that dampen what this team has shown me throughout the season. They are No. 6 in field goal offense and No. 32 in field goal defense and they possess Griffin, the most dominating player in the country. The key, as always, is getting good guard play. I love Willie Warren's game and Tony Crocker is a savvy vet. But the key player is Austin Johnson, who seems injured and has disappeared in the latter part of the season.
No. 3 Seed: Syracuse
If Syracuse is still playing after the first weekend of the tournament then this is a team that could win it all. Syracuse has been sensational over the last several weeks since they have gotten healthy and since Kristof Ongenut has returned to the lineup. They are coming off an emotionally and physically draining run in the Big East Tournament so this team could be primed for a letdown. But after two consecutive snubs by the NCAA Tournament I think this team will want to make a statement and stick around for a while. They have one of the best backcourts in the country and, again, if they can play with the same energy and passion that they exhibited in New York City then this club will be a tough out.
No. 4 Seed: Gonzaga
Gonzaga has been perpetually overrated in the NCAA Tournament in recent seasons. After a Sweet 16 loss in 2006 the Bulldogs have been bounced in back-to-back first round games. It's the last chance for this group of players and they appear motivated to make a final push. The Bulldogs are one of the best offensive teams in the country and their +17 winning margin per game is one of the best in the country. The problem I have with this team is that they are like a mid-major version of Duke: they are incredibly soft in the middle. This team doesn't defend the post and they could have trouble with an athletic and frantic team like Western Kentucky.
No. 5 Seed: Illinois
The Illini are one of the more dangerous team in the entire bracket because they could be poised for a first round flameout or a Sweet 16 run. Bruce Weber's club has been overachievers all season long but they'll be without their starting point guard, senior three-year starter Chet Frazier. Demetri McCamey is one of the more explosive guards in the region and will be looking to bounce back from a poor showing in the Big Ten tournament. This team is a soft, perimeter oriented team and it all comes down to whether or not they are making shots.
Best first-round match up: No. 8 LSU vs. No. 9 Butler
Butler has feasted on athletic, but undisciplined teams over the last three years and this game sets up very well for them as an underdog. This is a young Bulldogs team and a club that I didn't expect much from this season. But they are disciplined, play great defense, they execute, and they are dangerous because they live (or die) with the three-point shot. LSU is a team that can do some serious damage if they move deeper into the bracket. They have two exceptional players in SEC Player of the Year Marcus Thornton (20.7 ppg) and forward Tasmin Mitchell (16.3 ppg), and solid guard play to go along with an athletic center, Chris Johnson. However, LSU lost three of its four nonconference games to teams ranked in the Top 50 by double digits. That includes a 10-point home loss to Xavier, and 11-point and 30-point losses at Texas A&M and Utah, respectively.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Arizona State
Perhaps the best point guard in the country (Johnny Flynn) and the best perimeter player in the country (James Harden) could square off in a star-studded second-round game. Both of these teams were snubbed from The Big Dance last year and both are looking for retribution. Syracuse has proven itself against the top teams in the country this year while Arizona State has really been mediocre, at best, over the last two seasons against Top 50 opponents. But this is a good matchup for ASU. They can surround the Syracuse zone with shooters and if their supporting players are knocking down shots they could bury the Orange. But Syracuse's guards should decimate any ASU defense thrown at them and the Orange does have a lot of steam right now.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin
This is a prime letdown spot for the Orange after an emotional run in the Big East Tournament. Factor in travel, a noon tip-off, and the natural tendency to look ahead to potential matchups with Arizona State, Oklahoma and North Carolina and I could see a perfect Letdown/Look Ahead situation here. SFA is the No. 1 field goal defense in the country and could slow this game down to a crawl. The boon for Syracuse: SFA is not a good shooting team and they have double-digit losses to Texas Tech and Arkansas this season.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
Clemson is one of the few teams that can actually matchup with the size of Oklahoma. Trevor Booker might be the most underrated forward in the country and it would be a great one-on-one matchup with Griffin. Also, I like Clemson's guards better than OU's backcourt and I think that the running, pressing, trapping style of the Tigers could exploit the Sooners' weakness and help negate Griffin's impact.
Dark Horse team: No. 6 Arizona State
When you have one of the best perimeter players in the field you are going to be dangerous in March. James Harden is unstoppable one-on-one and Jeff Pendergraph gives the Sun Devils a legit post presence to throw the ball into. The Sun Devils have just one win over Top 50 teams over the past two seasons, but their slow pace and quirky offense, coupled with Harden, makes them a very difficult team to prepare for. The key for ASU is knocking down shots. When their supporting players are hitting threes then this offense can be unguardable. This team has shot over 50 percent in its last four games. If they carry that over then this team can be an X-Factor.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 3 Syracuse
A lot of people are really high on this Syracuse team. And as my alma mater I obviously have a personal stake in their success. But I just wonder what that run at Madison Square Garden has taken out of them. After that they would have a tricky matchup with Arizona State and then would likely have to tussle with powerhouses Oklahoma and North Carolina. And that's just to get to the Final Four! Syracuse has the talent to play with anyone in the country. Hand's down. And their guard play is sensational. But sometimes they don't do the little things - not turn the ball over, rebound, making free throws - that cost teams this time of the year.