Can the (1) Duke Blue Devils, a top seed, be underrated? The Blue Devils never lost at Cameron Indoor this season. Their worst loss? At North Carolina State, a non-tournament team which does have victories over not only the Blue Devils, but tournament hopefuls Wake Forest, Florida State, and Marquette. Since January 30th the only contest the "Dukies" dropped was a seven point loss at Georgetown. Easily the most unlikeable team in the country, they also seem to be the team everybody is considering dead. A 29-win conference tournament and regular season champion underrated? You bet. That's the story of the South Region.
Stand Up Big East Foes: Between (9th) seeded Louisville, (6th) seeded Notre Dame, and of course (2nd) seeded Villanova, the committee has decided Duke is going to have to earn this one the hard way, against the Big East.
Starting with (2)'Nova, they've lost 6 of 10 heading into the tournament. A season removed from their Final Four run, the Wildcats still have horses in the stable. Leading Jay Wright's Wildcats is Scottie Reynolds, the senior guard having career highs in both points per game and field goal percentage. For 'Nova to get back to the Final Four, they'll need monster play from Reynolds, like his 36-point outburst at Louisville on January 11th.
As for the (6) Irish, it'll take more than the 'eyes of March' for them to dance on. More specifically, it'll take them forcing opponents to play their style of basketball, which not many can do. Keep the points down, the game close, and play halfcourt basketball. For Notre Dame to win, they've got to play within themselves, with a month leading up to the tourney, the Irish did just that. Wins against ranked Pittsburgh and ranked Georgetown were the result of that exact style of basketball. Since February 24th, Notre Dame outscored opponents on average 62-54. A stretch which saw them win six of seven including a heart breaking 53-51 loss to West Virginia in the Big East Tournament. In their three games prior, the Irish were giving up 83 per and lost each one. See a pattern?
Then there is Rick Pitino and (9) Louisville. They're streaky, very streaky. At times this season, Pitino's squad played up to their competition, hence the two victories against (1) seeded Syracuse including a 6-point win in the Carrier Dome. Then there are the losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina? With just five upper classmen, the Cardinals are loaded with younger players. Younger playes which include sophomore Samardo Samuels, the 6'9" forward who scores about 15 points per game and pulls down 7 boards a night. The question marks surround senior guard Edgar Sosa. In his final year at Louisville, Sosa is turning the ball over almost three times a night. That loss against Western Carolina, Sosa turned the ball over seven times. That being said, Pitino's teams can win big games and are most definately not an easy out.
(3) Baylor Lays In The Cut:
Wouldn't this be the story of the year? Woudln't the (3) seed Baylor reaching the Final Four be a fantastic story? Yes, and that is why every analyst this side of the Mississippi River is stealing the pick from me. The writing is on the walls in Waco, Texas. Baylor is a team which has gone out of conference to beat a tough Xavier team, they've beaten Texas both in Austin, in Waco and on a neutral floor, and they tacked a loss to Oklahoma State as well. Think this team is ready to take the leap? This Baylor Bears team is stacked with long and athletic talent. Four players at least 6'9" or taller including two 7-footers. Ekpe Udoh, one of those 6'10" big men, is averaging 13 points and nearly 10 boards a game. This Michigan transfer put down twenty five points and eight rebounds in Baylors most recent beatdown of the Longhorns. With their height and great guard play, from LaceDarius Dunn (19.4 ppg), Baylor was the sleeper till everyone jumped on board in the past week. If Baylor can get past Notre Dame, their road gets even brighter, being the biggest and most athletic team in the South Region.
Can He Who Sleeps Go Dancing?:
Between Richmond (7), St. Mary's (10), and Siena (13) we've got a few teams who can find their way into the Sweet 16 without luck. Richmond is a 26-8 team who dared go to Wake Forest and play the Demon Deacons tough into overtime. They've beaten Atlantic-10 top seeds Temple and Xavier. With a win over St. Mary's and an upset over 'Nova, the Spiders would be through to the Sweet 16. For that St. Mary's team, they took it to the Pac-10 this season. The Gaels dropped both Oregon and California en route to a tournament birth. Furthermore, they gave Gonzaga a 19-point loss in the conference tourney, the first in nine games against the Bulldogs in recent years. Their best performance may have been forcing a 2nd place in the SEC Vanderbilt to play them hard in a very close hard fought loss for St. Mary's. Could it possibly even be Siena. A team which had early season non-conference losses against Temple, St. John's, and Georgia Tech. Could they finally put it together with a reeling Purdue team and find their way through to the Sweet 16 with another win?
At the end of the day can Duke pull this off? You know the two veteran guards, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler. Are they ready to take the next step after years together at Duke. Sheyer is having career highs in both points and assists, Singler is pulling down alot of boards and scoring alot of points, 20+ in four of his last six games. The Blue Devils have some challenges, but if they don't have a leg up on the other number ones, I don't know who does.