South: Could Duke Be Vulnerable?
Well, the debate in the South Region starts at the top where Duke received the third overall No.1 seed. Most didn't even have the Blue Devils as a sure-fire No.1 seed despite winning both the ACC regular season and conference tournament titles in what has not been a stellar year for the league.
Was Syracuse more deserving of the third overall No.1 seed or should West Virginia have been a No.1 seed ahead of Duke?
Those are interesting debates, but the reality is Duke is the team to beat in the South and because of that, the South Regional may be the most wide open of the four regionals.
No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Baylor and No. 5 Texas A&M have all built impressive resume's in the much higher thought of Big East and Big 12 conferences. Purdue would also be part of that conversations had the Boilermakers not lost star forward Robbie Hummel to a season-ending injury.
The Baylor Bears could be the most talented of any of the teams in the South Region with big-time players like point guard Tweety Carter, shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn and power forward Ekpe Udoh, who began his career with the Michigan Wolverines. Scott Drew's group could be helped by its run last season to the NIT championship game.
Texas A&M could make the regional interesting as well if the Aggies can avoid the first-round upset and get hot the rest of the way. Led by senior guard Donald Sloan, the Aggies were as good as any of the second tier teams in the Big 12 that lined up behind No. 1 overall seed Kansas this season.
But it's also hard to discount the Blue Devils. Led by the highest scoring trio in the country, guards Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith and forward Kyle Singler, they have won four straight and 12 of their last 13 games after a tough January.
The Villanova Wildcats, meanwhile, are perhaps the most perplexing of the top teams. They are dangerous as evidenced by their 11-game winning streak earlier in the season that included winning their first nine in Big East play.
But the way they finished the season is far from impressive and may cause some to question how the Wildcats were deserving of a No. 2 seed. Villanova hasn't won more than two straight since early January and got bounced in the opening round of the Big East tournament.
Storyline to Watch
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup will come as early as the second round when No. 1 Duke should take on No. 9 seed Louisville.
Mike Krzyzewski vs Rick Petino.
It's hard to imagine it gets any better than that. Both veteran coaches have had better teams which makes the jobs they've done this season even more impressive.
Best First-Round Matchup
Cal vs. Louisville. This matchup perhaps gets overlooked some because the winner takes on Duke in the second round. Both the Bears and Louisville are similar in that they have had lapses this season, but when they're on they're capable of making games exciting.
Most Likely Upset
No. 12 Utah State over No. 5 Texas A&M. You can't overlook the history of the 12-5 upset and giving this one an even better chance is Utah State gets to take on the Aggies in relatively nearby Spokane, Wash.
While Texas A&M looks like the team that could be upset early, the Aggies are also the team that could make a surprise run. The Aggies are much better than Utah State so a loss would be a major upset, not to mention they haven't lost a first-round game since returning to NCAA tournament action.
If A&M can get past Utah State and Purdue, then it's conceivable that anything can happen when the Aggies get to the friendly confines of Reliant Arena in Houston.
The Villanova Wildcats have been far from impressive during the last part of the season and will more than likely fall to Baylor in the Sweet 16. The Bears have too much fire power and size, plus that 2-3 zone will give Villanova fits.
Players to Watch
1. Ekpe Udoh, the junior transfer from Michigan, has been a force on the block for the Baylor Bears and is a large reason why they are a No. 3 seed in the tournament.
2. Kyle Singler seems to be finding his comfort level scoring on the perimeter at the right time as a member of Duke's high-scoring trio that includes Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith.
3.Donald Sloan (pictured right), the Texas A&M guard ,may be the best player that most have never heard of but people will be saying his name a lot after watching the senior put the Aggies on his back and carry them to wins in the tournament.
Biggest Question to Answer
On the surface, it looks like Texas A&M was perhaps disrespected some by being sent to Spokane and having to take on geographically favored Utah State in the always dangerous 5-12 first-round game. Can the Aggies avoid falling victim?
How It Plays Out
It's still mind boggling that Duke ends up the third overall No.1 and that the Blue Devils find themselves among a tough but far from daunting South Regional field. Duke is the best team, but could face challenges from Texas A&M and then Villanova. The most likely regional final pits the Blue Devils against Villanova in Houston, but don't be surprised if the final pits Big 12 foes Texas A&M and Baylor for a third time this season.
Duke advances to Indianapolis.