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NCAA Tournament Breakdown: Florida Tops South Region Full of Freshman Phenoms and Senior Studs

Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather

Florida, Trying to Avoid a Four-Peat: The Gators haven’t lost since December 2nd, when Shabazz Napier beat them on a late shot, by a point. They did not get that loss, so people would stop talking about how they needed to lose, so they will just have to continue the hot streak. The Gators have been in the Elite 8 each of the last three years, but have failed to break through. A similar fate this year would be viewed as a disappointment.

They score, they defend, and this year, they play more cohesively. Last year, were one of the best teams, but lost close games with poor execution late (0-6 in games decided by 6 or less). The Gators are 9-2 in close games this year, and that difference is why they were a 3 seed, and considered a dangerous one, and the first overall seed. Florida was not expected to be among the top teams, losing three starters. Scottie Wilbekin, though, continues to be a pain in opponents’ sides at guard, and Patric Young continues to be a force inside. Casey Prather’s emergence as a senior, though, has been a major X-factor.

If a team is going to beat them, they are going to have to be disciplined, and take advantage of the early scoring opportunities if they present themselves, and if not run good offense. Florida isn’t a great shot blocking team with elite interior “above the rim” athletes, but no one has been able to take advantage of that to any degree. There are plenty of great athletes in this bracket that could, though there is also youth on other contenders.

Florida-Prather-grabbed-in-nuts

Best First Round Matchup in the Second Round: Yes, we hate the name, just like everyone. When only 12% of the teams play, let’s not call it a round, okay?

I’m going with New Mexico vs. Stanford in a West showdown in the South bracket. Cameron Bairstow versus Dwight Powell should be a great matchup.

The Region of Stars, Both in College and in the Future: The South is the most loaded in terms of future NBA talent, featuring two Kansas players who may be the top two picks in the NBA Draft, in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.

In addition to those two, you have Tyler Ennis, freshman point guard at Syracuse, who could go in the lottery, along with teammate Jerami Grant. Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, and Zach Levine are all projected as potential draftees from UCLA. Wayne Selden of Kansas is another potential first rounder.

Andrew-Wiggins-slam-Big12-Tourney-OK-state

At the other end of the spectrum, the region is also loaded with high quality college seniors who have carried their teams and won plenty of awards, from the Florida guys (Wilbekin, Young, and Prather) to C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Juvonte Reddic (VCU), Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico) and Lamar Patterson (Pitt).

Kansas and Syracuse Slide Into Tournament: A month ago, Kansas and Syracuse looked like #1 seeds. Syracuse was 25-0, and Kansas was 11-2 in the Big XII and rolling to a title. They have gone a combined 6-8 since then. Kansas has had to deal with Embiid’s back problems, and its impact on their defense. For Syracuse, a lot has been a change in close game luck (9-0 during undefeated start, 1-4 since then in close games) coupled with some lackluster play against some inferior opponents. Can either turn it around?

Boeheim and Michael Jackson

Double-Digit Dark Horses to Watch: Stephen F. Austin is 31-2. Yes, they played a weak schedule, but one of the two losses came in Austin against the Longhorns by 10 points. A team with 31 wins is a dangerous one. Stephen F. Austin is one of the smallest teams in the tournament (no starter over 6’6″), and they did not draw a team like  Michigan State that would physically overpower them. They drew VCU, a team that likes to press and create turnovers. VCU is 1st nationally in percentage of defensive possessions resulting in a turnover; Stephen F. Austin is 3rd. VCU has made a name in the tournament with their pressing style, pulling upsets. Now, they need to avoid one against a team that plays a style that can match them defensively. Expect a game of runs, turnovers, and plenty of excitement.

Frivolous Fun Fact: I feel like I am flashing back to the tournaments of my youth with the coaches in this bracket. Johnny Dawkins (Duke/Stanford) and Danny Manning (Kansas/Tulsa) faced off in the 1986 Championship Game. Billy Donovan (Providence/Florida) and Steve Alford (Indiana/UCLA) were both in the 1987 Final Four. Craig Neal (Georgia Tech/New Mexico) also played in the NCAA Tournament in those years.

Aaron Craft: I don’t know why Aaron Craft is such a lightning rod. All he does is win, play the game the right way, grab opponents without getting called, and know about pi.

Aaron Craft off of Adreian Payne

Upset special: Would it be an upset to pick “none”? (unless you count the 7 vs. 10 or 8 vs. 9 games). Stephen F. Austin because of the style, though VCU is the stronger team. Syracuse has been vulnerable lately, and they have lost to teams of Western Michigan’s caliber, but I don’t think the Broncos are a particularly strong squad. If pressed, I would go Dayton, as Ohio State can be prone to periods of offensive ineptness, and Dayton, coached by Sean Miller’s younger brother, Archie, has plenty of fight in this in-state battle.

Heart Says ____ in the Regional Final: UCLA vs. New Mexico. The bottom part of the bracket could be wide open among the top four teams, with Embiid’s injury. New Mexico bowed out early last year when they were overvalued.  How sweet would it be to get redemption with a run this time around, and meet the old coach?

Head Says ____ in the Regional Final: Florida vs. Syracuse. The Gators have been tough all year, while Syracuse has had occasions where they got into a tournament while not looking good, only to turn it on and have unfamiliar opponents struggle against the zone. Ohio State is not an offensive machine, and Kansas’ point guard is Naadir Tharpe.

Regional Winner: Florida

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