Kentucky's Run to Start in Louisville: South Region Thoughts

March 11th, 2012

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The Kentucky Wildcats, as has been expected for quite some time, is the top overall seed and they will begin their (hopeful) journey to New Orleans on the floor of bitter rival Louisville. That won't be a problem however as Big Blue Nation likely planned months in advance for their first two games being at the KFC Yum! Center.

First up for them is the winner of the First Four game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky, with both possibilities offering up subplots that will certainly be discussed.

Ray Harper's led the Hilltoppers from the depths of the Sun Belt to the Big Dance, and a win would match them up with the preeminent program in the state. MVSU is led by head coach Sean Woods, who is a Kentucky alum and hish shot gave UK a 102-101 lead on Duke with 2.1 seconds remaining in the 1992 East Regional final (more on this angle later). But after that, one couldn't blame John Calipari if he were to ask what the perks of being the top overall seed are besides geographical preference. 

That 8/9 game looks like a very good battle as Iowa State takes on Connecticut. The Huskies are one of the nation's biggest underachievers, going from preseason Top 5 to a team that some asked whether or not they'd end up in the NIT.

Jim Calhoun's team doesn't lack for talent and it's a safe assumption that they'll be prepared as Calhoun has lost just one opening game (2008 vs. San Diego) during his tenure in Storrs. But in Royce White they'll take on a 6'9" point guard, and the Cyclones' many perimeter shooters could give the Huskies trouble. 

The two-seed in the region is Duke, and if the bracket plays out according to seeds we could end up with Kentucky/Duke for a trip to the Final Four...20 years after they met in Philadelphia in one of the greatest games ever played.

The Blue Devils will need a healthy Ryan Kelly to be at their best offensively, and their perimeter defense needs to be better as well. They'll have to beat Lehigh (C.J. McCollum) followed by Notre Dame (Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant) or Xavier (Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons) in order to reach the Sweet 16. 

As for the three-seed, that distinction belongs to Scott Drew's Baylor Bears and their presence adds to the South Region's edge in the "projected NBA lottery picks" department. Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III are the leaders up front and the Bears can go five deep there, and guard Pierre Jackson has been one of the nation's best newcomers.

The Bears get South Dakota State and Nate Wolters first, and the Jackrabbits are capable of pulling off the upset. And that 6/11 battle between UNLV and Colorado could end up providing more suspense than the casual fan would think given the struggles of the Pac-12.

Indiana makes their return to the Big Dance and while Tom Crean's club is more than capable of stringing together some wins the committee didn't give them the easiest matchup. New Mexico State features the talented Wendell McKines and they've got some size inside as well.

The biggest "wrong" in the region: the 5/12 matchup, as both Wichita State and VCU have the potential to do some special things this month. Instead, one of them is guaranteed to head home. Kentucky will be the clear favorite to get through the region, but despite the Louisville to Atlanta path they didn't receive a road that's smoothly paved.  

Winner: Kentucky

Best second round matchup: Wichita State vs. VCU

All-Region Team
G Austin Rivers (Duke)
G Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut)
F Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
F Royce White (Iowa State)
F Quincy Acy (Baylor)