2012 March Madness Bracket Predictions: South Region
by Robert Ferringo - 3/12/2012
If Kentucky wants to claim another banner for the Bluegrass State it certainly is going to have to earn it.
The Wildcats are the consensus No. 1 team in the country and they are the overall No. 1 seed in the entire tournament. They are the clear-cut favorite to win the National Championship at +185 and will be the sweetheart pick of the majority of brackets filled out this week.
But they have been placed in a treacherous region that features the last two national champions (Connecticut and Duke) as well as several talented upstarts (Baylor, Wichita State) and other traditional powers (Indiana).
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Here are Doc’s Sports March Madness bracket predictions for the South (Atlanta) Region:
No. 1 Seed: Kentucky (32-2 Straight-Up, 12-20-1 ATS)
This group is one of John Calipari’s best and they are the same group that already has wins over fellow title contenders Kansas and North Carolina from earlier in the year. Kentucky is able to overwhelm teams with its size, particularly stud center Anthony Davis, a National Player of the Year candidate, and their defensive ability. This team is efficient offensively because opponents can’t keep them away from the basket and because they probably have the most NBA talent on their roster of any school in the tournament. Also, the Wildcats and their rabid fan base don’t have to stray too far from home at any point this March and that will give them a crowd edge wherever they play. But Kentucky is beatable. They are one of the least experienced teams in the nation. They also don’t shoot particularly well, weren’t tested much in their mediocre conference, and weren’t a great team outside of Lexington this season.
Kentucky March Madness Prediction: I don’t think that there is any way that this team will win the national title. They have a brutal draw just to get to the Final Four. And once they are there I still think there are better teams in the field. Their lack of depth and inexperience will come back to bite them.
No. 2 Seed: Duke (27-6 SU, 13-20 ATS)
Even though this is admittedly one of the shakier Duke teams of the past five years the Blue Devils had enough talent to earn a No. 2 seed. They finished in second place in the ACC and as long as they have Coach K on the sideline (and a host of all-Americans on the court) they will be a tough team to beat. This team doesn’t have the top-end athletic talent needed to win a national title. But they do have some very streaky guards in Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. I don’t think Duke has looked very regal over the last month and they have some red flag games from earlier in the year (losing to Temple, nearly losing at home to Belmont). But this is still a talented team to be reckoned with.
Duke March Madness Prediction: As always, Duke has been given a cushy road to the Sweet 16. However, this team is very inconsistent and they aren’t a real national title threat. I think Baylor or Kentucky would throttle them. If they can avoid either of those clubs they could slide into a Final Four. But I think they will get busted much earlier than that.
No. 3 Seed: Baylor (27-7 SU, 12-15 ATS)
The Bears are one of the biggest, most athletic teams in the field and have been billed as a potential Final Four team all season. They haven’t always played like it. But when you really dig into their resume their only losses have come against Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State and Kansas State. A frontcourt of Perry Jones, Quincy Miller, Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones may be the deepest and most talented in the nation. And in my mind there is not a more underrated guard in the country than Pierre Jackson. Baylor has yet to prove that it has that extra gear to push past the best teams in the country. They have elite talent but haven’t proven it against other equally gifted clubs yet. But this is a high-risk, high-reward team that can be very dangerous this time of year.
Baylor March Madness Prediction: I think you have to go boom-or-bust with this team while filling out your bracket. Either a much weaker team will upset them in the opening weekend or I think they will make the Final Four.
No. 4 Seed: Indiana (25-8 SU, 17-10 ATS)
The road back from mediocrity has been a long one for this proud program. But Indiana is certainly back. They gave as well as they got in a loaded Big Ten this year. This is one of the best offensive teams in the country and the No. 2 three-point shooting team around. Indiana is one of just two teams to beat Kentucky this year and with four players scoring 11 points or more they have one of the most balanced attacks around. A lot is being made about the season-ending injury to Verdell Jones last week. That is a key loss. But he wasn’t a starter and won’t submarine this team’s chances of advancing. They have three quality big men in Cody Zeller, go-to guy Christian Watford and Derek Elston. They also have electric Victor Oladipo to carry the scoring load and super-shooter Jordan Hulls as the point. So losing Jones isn’t a crippler.
Indiana March Madness Prediction: The Hoosiers have a brutal pod for their first two games and will have to shoot their way past three of the best mid-major teams in the country. I don’t know that they will do it and I think the Hoosiers are an upset candidate.
No. 5 Seed: Wichita State (27-5 SU, 16-13 ATS)
I think that the Shockers are one of the best mid-major teams in the country and it would not surprise me to see them make a serious run here. Wichita boasts the No. 5 most experienced roster in the country, with four senior starters and three junior reserves doing most of the damage. That is more rare than it seems in college hoops these days. Their foundation is seven-foot center Garrett Stutz, who is one of the best big men in the nation. But the real strength of this team is the athleticism that they have on the wings. This team went 10-1 on the road and is one of the most efficient offenses in the country, posting a field goal percentage of 48.5 on the year. That is the No. 11 mark in the nation. The Missouri Valley champions are very balanced and can play a lot of different styles. If Kentucky falls early then there is a great chance that this team could make a move to the Elite Eight, which is a lot further than most people probably have them going. But they are that good and are a dangerous team in the middle of this region.
Wichita State March Madness Prediction: Wichita State is so much more experienced than VCU that I think they avoid the upset. The next round they would face either Indiana or New Mexico State. Wichita is equal (or better) than those two teams offensively, and I think they have more defensive ability. I like a Sweet 16 run.
No. 6 Seed: UNLV (26-8 SU, 12-18 ATS)
It is easy to forget that UNLV flirted with the Top 10 earlier this season and they throttled North Carolina back in November. The Rebels are consistently one of the toughest teams in the country to beat each March because of their rugged defensive style. They have been a bit more potent offensively than in the past but this is still a team that likes to get up into people’s faces with aggressive man-to-man defense. Forward Mike Moser is the biggest talent on this team. But veteran wings Chace Stanback and Oscar Bellifield are its foundation. Crafty guard Anthony Marshall likes to push the tempo. But he needs to take better care of the ball and leave the decision-making to Belifield. UNLV has not been as strong down the stretch as they were earlier this year, entering the tournament just 5-5 in its last 10 games.
UNLV March Madness Prediction:I don’t like the trajectory of this team so I don’t see them making it out of the opening weekend. It wouldn’t stun me if they did because they have shown top-end ability this year. But I don’t see them taking down both Colorado and Baylor to advance.
Best first-round matchup: No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 New Mexico State
The easy answer here would be to say Connecticut vs. Iowa State. And I do think that will be a brilliant game between two very experienced, talented teams. But I like the IU vs. NMSU matchup because both of these teams are kind of wild cards. The Aggies have more than enough size to counter Indiana’s strength in the middle. They play five guys that are 6-8 or taller and their shortest guard is 6-2. This team loves to run and is capable of scoring 80 or 90 on any given night and they have a lot of experience, with three starters that nearly upset Michigan State in the first round of the tournament in 2010. Indiana is a dark horse Final Four contender. But they’ll have to show that they can duplicate their regional success this year on the national scene if they want to get this program back where it belongs.
Best potential second-round matchup: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 8 Connecticut
To be the champs you gotta beat the champs. This would be a monster clash in the second round if Connecticut can survive Iowa State. I think that both teams have the size to cancel one another out so this game would really come down to guard play. Kentucky has more size and talent. But I think the Huskies are a little craftier and more experienced in the backcourt. Regardless, these would be two of the youngest and most talented teams in the nation going end-to-end and the winner would leave Louisville riding high with a load of confidence.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 South Dakota State
There is a ton of potential upsets in the first round: VCU over Wichita State, NMSU over Indiana, Colorado over UNLV. But this game really jumps out at me as a potential shocker. NDSU is one of the best shooting teams in the county and they just love running around the perimeter jacking up three-pointers. All of Baylor’s issues are from the neck up. And I get the feeling that they may not be taking this Jackrabbits squad seriously. Baylor is in somewhat of a letdown spot after making it to the Big 12 Championship Game and losing and after three emotional games how will they approach this one? SDSU is young and fearless. And this team beat a bigger, stronger Washington team by 19 points earlier this year in a true road game. If they get hot they can shoot a lot of holes in Baylor’s zone and send this somewhat shaky team home early.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 8 Connecticut/No. 9 Iowa State
I am willing to say that at least 33 percent of all brackets in this country will be filled out with Kentucky as the National Champions. But the Wildcats are going to have a hard time making it out of the opening weekend. We’ve covered the potential meeting with last year’s champion. But Iowa State can be just as tough. The Cyclones have played and beaten Baylor and Kansas this year – two teams that are just as big on the interior and just as physically talented as Kentucky. Also, Iowa State is leaps and bounds more experienced, with several upperclassmen transfers that have extra years of seasoning. Finally, Iowa State does a lot of its damage from the perimeter, which would neutralize the impact of Davis on the inside. Regardless of whom they play, Kentucky is going to have a battle in its second game.
Dark Horse team: No. 8 Connecticut
The defending National Champions have been an enigma for most of this season. I understand that Kemba Walker was a freak last year and irreplaceable this season. But the Huskies weren’t even a lock to be in the tournament until last week despite one of the more physically gifted rosters in the nation. Despite its title run, this is one of the least-experienced teams in the country. But they have enough juice to knock off a relatively green Kentucky squad in Round 2. And if they were to do that then Jim Calhoun’s bunch would have a load of confidence heading into the Sweet 16. There is no way that this team can make another title run. But they definitely have the talent to bust some brackets and win two or three games.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 3 Baylor
I really feel like this region is Baylor’s to lose. I think that Kentucky is going to have its hands full in the Round of 32 and Sweet 16. And I also think that the Bears match up tremendously well with both Duke and Kentucky if it were to get to that point. But Baylor still really scares me because they have a tendency to fall asleep during games against weaker competition. I also don’t trust Scott Drew as an in-game coach and I worry about their preparation. However, as I said, I think that this is the best team in the region and if they can just stay focused enough to make it out of the opening weekend that they will end up in the Final Four.
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