The South region of the NCAA tournament may be the most wide-open in the entire field.
There are contenders aplenty, starting with the top seed, Kansas, but the Jayhawks are far from a lock to be cutting down the nets in Arlington, Texas, in a couple of weeks.
Besides the Jaykawks, Georgetown, Michigan and Florida are all to be considered legitimate contenders in the South, and No. 5 seed VCU has some recent experience with busting its way through a bracket, having made the Final Four in 2011.
Then again, Michigan may have trouble just getting to the first weekend. The Wolverines won just six of their final 12 games and with the typical allergy to defense that is endemic to many John Beilein-coached teams, a second-round matchup with South Dakota State and the Jackrabbits’ scoring machine Nate Wolters could be a dangerous one. Michigan did, after all, go down as a No. 4 seed a year ago, losing to Ohio in the second round.
Georgetown is the second seed and has the region’s best player in forward Otto Porter, with all due respect to Kansas freshman Ben McLemore. Porter plays great defense, scores 16 points a game, rebounds and shoots the 3. He may actually sell programs for the Hoyas, too, although that’s not verified information.
Florida was good enough to be on the two-line, but likely fell to a No. 3 seed when they stumbled down the stretch against Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference tournament final on Sunday.
The Gators are easy to overlook, but in coach Billy Donovan, Florida has a guy with a pair of national championship rings. But football is king at Florida and Kentucky is the big name in SEC basketball, so Donovan can fly under the radar a bit. They were a pair of late rallies in each of the last two seasons away from back-to-back Final Fours and could be a dangerous out in the South.
Kansas has McLemore and Jeff Withey, but it also has those inexplicable road losses at TCU and by 23 points at Baylor to close the regular season. Georgetown has Porter and a lockdown defensive mentality, but the question is whether the Hoyas can actually score enough. Michigan hasn’t been impressive over the last month-plus.
Georgetown also needs to be careful in its first game—Florida Gulf Coast is a No. 15 seed but boasts a win over Miami in November. We’re a year removed from two No. 2 seeds losing within a half-hour of each other, so any team on that line should probably pay attention this year.
VCU’s frenetic style can cause problems in a tournament setting, Kansas is very good but at the end of the day, Florida advances to the Final Four in the wake of its near-misses in 2011 and 2012.