Your Sweet 16 Commentary: Southwest Region Preview

March 25th, 2011
There's usually one region that defies logic in the NCAA Tournament and this year that distinction goes to the Southwest Region, which features top-seed Kansas as the lone team to reach San Antonio that was expected to be there. They'll take on Atlantic 10 tournament champion Richmond in the first game of the night at the Alamodome and it won't be easy as Chris Mooney's Spiders boast a pair of pro prospects in guard Kevin Anderson and forward Justin Harper. The nightcap features a contrast in styles as VCU's uptempo offense takes on the top field goal percentage defense in the country in Florida State. Even with a national title favorite in San Antonio it would come as no surprise if an unexpected winner emerged.

7:27 PM (12) Richmond vs. (1) Kansas (TBS)
How they got here
Richmond: W 69-66 over Vanderbilt and 65-48 over Morehead State
Kansas: W 72-53 over Boston University and 73-59 over Illinois

The matchup between the Spiders and Jayhawks features the highest point spread (Kansas -10.5) of the eight Sweet 16 games, due in large part to Kansas' status as one of the favorites to win the national title. But don't be fooled by that number, as Richmond has four seniors in their starting lineup and a system that can disrupt opponents on both ends of the floor. Offensively they run a Princeton-style offense, but just as important as the ability to shoot from the perimeter and capitalize on backdoor cuts is Anderson's ability to make things happen on his own. He's allowed to do that by Coach Mooney, a wrinkle not always seen in this kind of offense. Justin Harper has gotten the job done at forward, averaging 17.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game to lead the Spiders. He'll be challenged by the larger Jayhawks but his versatility makes Harper a tough matchup for most teams.

Kansas's strength lies in the frontcourt led by twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, who are the only two players averaging double figures in scoring. Marcus was considered to be an All-America by many before the season began and he hasn't disappointed to date, while Markieff has reached double figures in 10 straight games including 24 points (and 12 rebounds) in the win over Illinois. Kansas can also look to Thomas Robinson and Mario Little for contributions in the frontcourt, and their depth means that more will be needed from Dan Geriot and Darius Garrett if Richmond is to win. The question for Kansas: whether or not their backcourt can make the sound decisions needed against Richmond's matchup zone.

The Spiders have held six of their last seven opponents below 40% shooting from the field, making it all the more important that Kansas work the ball inside for quality shots. Kansas shoots 51% from the field on the season and ranks in the Top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency, and if they can do the same tonight they'll more than likely advance to the Elite 8. Elijah Johnson, Josh Selby and Tyshawn Taylor are just three of the guards Bill Self can call on (Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed will also see significant minutes), and if they are judicious in their shot selection while also getting the Morii the basketball it could be a long night for Richmond. But if not, the program that's made its mark in the NCAA Tournament through the years by pulling off some stunning upsets could add another chapter to that book.

9:57 PM (11) VCU vs. (10) Florida State (TBS)
How they got here
VCU: W 59-46 over USC, 74-56 over Georgetown and 94-76 over Purdue
Florida State: W 57-50 over Texas A&M and 71-57 over Notre Dame

Simply put this will be a battle of styles despite the fact that Florida State averages four more possessions per game than VCU. Why? Leonard Hamilton's team is at its best when they can "muddy" a game up; textbook cuts and passes will not be on display as Notre Dame found out the hard way on Sunday night. The good news for FSU to come out of those games was that they didn't have to rush Chris Singleton back into the rotation. The junior, who leads the Seminoles in both points and rebounds while also being their best defender, got actual game time while also being able to shake off the rust without having to be called on for major minutes. With a few more days under his belt look for Singleton to help out the likes of Derwin Kitchen and Michael Snaer offensively.

But will they be able to disrupt the Rams? That's proven to be far easier said than done with senior point guard Joey Rodriguez leading the way. Rodriguez was outstanding against Purdue, helping lead the Rams to an offensive performance that resulted in 1.36 points per possession. Forward Jamie Skeen is a handful to deal with inside while also having the ability to step out and knock down perimeter shots, and other contributors such as Bradford Burgess and Brandon Rozzell make VCU a tough team to corral defensively. They'll pressure on made baskets as well, and with Florida State averaging nearly 16 turnovers per game this could become an issue for the Seminoles if they aren't careful. The issue for VCU: their struggles rebounding.

VCU is out-rebounded by an average of 3.3 rebounds per game on the season, and while it hasn't been an issue in the NCAA Tournament so far that's due in part to the Rams controlling the tempo. If Florida State can turn the game into a grinder rebounding becomes emphasized, allowing for players such as Singleton and Bernard James to control the glass and as a result the flow of the game. The Seminoles present a defensive challenge rarely seen due to the number of athletic players they have all over the floor, but if anyone in San Antonio can crack the code it may be Shaka Smart's Rams.