NCAA Tournament Preview: South Regional

It’s to preview the NCAA regionals and make some Final Four picks, and TheSportsNotebook starts off with the bracket that’s home to the nation’s #1 team in Kentucky. The South Regional will build to its conclusion next week in Atlanta. We’ll go through the bracket’s four pods, take a look at who will be in the Georgia Dome and who ultimately moves on to New Orleans.

#1 SEED POD (Louisville): Kentucky-Miss Valley State/Western Kentucky, Iowa State-UConn
It’s been noted by other commentators, including Prime Sport Network’s Greg DePalma in my podcast with him yesterday, that for being the top team in the country, Kentucky didn’t get a lot of breaks, and a potential second-round game with Uconn definitely falls into that category. Still, UK is talented enough to roll through this weekend.

#4 SEED POD (Portland): Indiana-New Mexico State, Wichita State-VCU
I’m picking Wichita State to come out of this group, and I had originally planned on taking the Shockers to go to the Final Four, but Kentucky is one of the heavyweights that I’m not ready to go against, at least until New Orleans (which of course gives away where this whole post is going). But Wichita-VCU will be a good game, and a second-round game of Wichita-Indiana will be a great game. Another storyline here is that Indiana is the only team to beat Kentucky, and the Wildcats will surely love to see the Hoosiers come out of this pod and set up a rematch in Atlanta.

#3 SEED POD (Albuquerque): Baylor-South Dakota State, UNLV-Colorado
This four-team group is as interesting as any. Baylor is a team that will rip people’s hearts out. They have the frontline talent to match up with, and beat Kentucky if it comes to a regional final showdown. The Bears have the inconsistency to lose to a good South Dakota State team. UNLV is the #6 seed and is getting some love from the commentators for reasons I haven’t figured out. They have some good players—Oscar Bellfield in the backcourt, Chace Stanback at forward, Mike Moser in the post—but not necessarily more than 40 other teams. And the Rebels haven’t put a lot together on the court. Colorado is another mystery team. They spent the last week in February and the first week of March playing their way out of the Big Dance and then a great Pac-12 tournament playing their way back in. I’d like to pick Baylor to be upset here, but I have no confidence in either UNLV or Colorado, so I’ll play it safe on my bracket and pick the Bears to hold serve.

#2 SEED POD (Greensboro): Duke-Lehigh, Notre Dame-Xavier
I’ve been griping about Xavier making the NCAA Tournament, but it doesn’t mean the 10th-seeded Musketeers can’t do some damage now that they’re here. Notre Dame has overachieved, and Duke is heavily dependent on the three-ball. Xavier has Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons in the backcourt, and that’s a duo that can play with anyone. If 7-foot center Kenny Frease, who’s often up and down, decides to be up, Xavier can win this grouping, and that’s exactly what I’m going to pick.

My projected matchups are Kentucky-Wichita State and Baylor-Xavier. You know I hate picking Baylor to make a regional final, because I’m convinced that once I pull the trigger, they’ll blow it to South Dakota State. I’m also equally convinced that if I don’t pick Baylor, they’ll go on a big run. That’s the way this team has been with me all year. But I’m resigned to my fate, and there’s no disputing their talent and the favorable bracket draw I’ve given them—and even if they play Duke here, they can overwhelm the Blue Devils inside. So Kentucky, after a getting a stiff test from Wichita, advances to play Baylor and then UK wins the final in decisive fashion.