A is for “Atlanta.”
This is where the initial 17 teams in the region are trying to make it to and ultimately where they’d like to be cutting down the nets before heading to New Orleans to play in the 2012 Final Four.
B is for “Baylor Bears.”
Length-wise Baylor has the best chance at matching up with the number one overall seed Kentucky. Led by another “III” star (see: Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III) the Bears are going to be tough to beat. Perry Jones III is the man on the basketball court, leading Baylor in points (14.0) and boards (7.7). Another “PJ”, guard Pierre Jackson, is second on the team in scoring (13.3) and leads the Bears in assists by a wide margin (5.8).
C is for “Coaches.”
Calipari finally made his first Final Four last season, and has put together a team that should have him back again. Calhoun has won three National Championships and is already in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Crean took Marquette to the Final Four in 2003 by beating top-seeded Kentucky, and looks to have resurrected the Indiana program…and that’s just the top half of the region! Perennial BIG EAST coach of the year candidate Mike Brey and some other Mike also known as Coach K loom in the bottom half.
D is for “Duke.”
Though they have lived in the Top 5 of the polls the entire season, this year’s Blue Devils team just doesn’t seem to have that dominating aura about it. Losing three times at Cameron Indoor will do that I suppose. At times their play has been ugly, but they’ve managed to keep winning. They have wins over UNC and Michigan St, both 1-seeds as well as 2nd-seeded Kansas. If the Plumlee’s come to play, instead of being distracted by their apparent dreams of interning for Nick Ev, Coach K could be well on his way to his 12th Final Four and 5th National Championship.
E is for “Elite Eight.”
Kentucky fan, Duke fan, Kentucky hater, Duke hater, or none of the above – if you are a fan of college basketball and you were at the least a toddler in 1992, you remember exactly where you were when Christian Laettner hit his turn around at the buzzer to beat Rick Pitino’s Unforgettables 104-103 in the East Regional Final.
The Wildcats got their revenge six years later in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Again in the Regional Final Kentucky found themselves down 71-54 with under 10 minutes to play. But over the next two minutes and 42 seconds Kentucky would explode and trim the lead to 72-70 before eventually earning the 86-84 victory and going on to win their second National Title in three years, their seventh overall, and their last to date.
If the rubber match takes place, it will happen on March 25th, just three days shy of the 20th anniversary of the Greatest Game Ever Played – March 28th, 1992.
F is for “Fighting Irish.”
Notre Dame overcame a lot of adversity to finish third in the BIG EAST. The Irish faithful can thank Mike Brey for that. After a devastating early season injury to their captain and leader, senior forward Tim Abromaitis, Brey and Notre Dame had to completely reinvent themselves and incorporate a slow-down, conservative offensive tempo. That they did and here they are.
G is for “Guard Play.”
It’s always talked about come tournament time. You have to have good guard play if you expect to make a deep run in March. The South has its share of teams with great guards. Teague, Lamb and Miller for Kentucky, Duke’s Austin Rivers, Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters, UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb, Baylor’s Pierre Jackson, New Mexico State’s Hernst Laroche. There is definitely no shortage of quality guards in this region. Not to mention the “gangstas”, Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons.
H is for “Hoosiers.”
Not arguably the greatest sports movie of all-time, but the Indiana Hoosiers. Until Vanderbilt took down Kentucky in the SEC Final, it looked like Christian Watford’s three at the buzzer had a legit chance to be the Wildcats’ only loss, thus preserving the 1976 Indiana team’s claim to being the last program to go undefeated for an entire season. Indiana now has a chance to slay the Wildcats once again if they both can make it to the second weekend.
I is for “Iowa State.”
The Cyclones are led by 6′ 8″ Sophomore forward Royce White. And I mean they are lit-rally LED by White. A transfer from Minnesota, Royce is the only player from one of the power six conferences to lead his team in five categories (scoring-13.1, rebounding-9.2, assists-5.1, steals-1.2 and blocked shots-0.9).
J is for “Jackrabbits.”
The best nickname in the Region belongs to the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. But this team isn’t just about some entertaining nickname. They are entertaining to watch, and they are making history. The Jackrabbits are the first team from the state to ever qualify for the Division I NCAA Tournament, leaving only Maine and Alaska as the two states who have never been represented. Junior point guard Nate Wolters is the only player in D-I this season averaging at least 20 points, six assists and five rebounds per game.
K is for “Kentucky.”
For any and all information on the Wildcats’ program and all things Kentucky, head on over to StraitCats.com and get your fill.
L is for “Lehigh.”
The Mountain Hawks won the Patriot league relying heavily on its offensive firepower. The smoking gun of that offense is junior guard C.J. McCollum. McCollum’s 21.9 points led the conference and earned him Player of the Year honors. C.J. is also a finalist for the Lou Henson Award for the Mid-Major Player of the Year. Lehigh junior forward Gabe Knutson complements McCollum’s perimeter game well on the inside and was second on the team in both scoring (12.1) and rebounding (5.5). The Mountain Hawks can score, so if Duke has an off-night shooting the basketball…
M is for “Mississippi Valley State.”
The Delta Devils are led by former Kentucky Wildcat and Unforgettable, Sean Woods. They are 0-4 all time in the NCAA tourney and will be looking for their first ever Tournament win against WKU in the First Four play-in game, the winner earning the right to face mighty Kentucky.
N is for “New Mexico State.”
The Aggies are dancing for the 2nd time in three seasons behind a senior laden team. Led by the upper class trio of forward Wendell McKines, point guard Hernst Laroche and center Hamidu Rahman, New Mexico State’s interior size and strength could send Cody Zeller and the Hoosiers packing early. McKines led the WAC conference in both scoring (18.8) and rebounding (10.8). Laroche has started all 134 games in his Aggie career. Coach Marvin Menzies, a former Pitino assistant, loves to play uptempo basketball and could make this game one of the more exciting to watch.
O is for “Odds.”
According to the website Sportsbetting.com, Kentucky is a 1 to 2 favorite to win the region and head to New Orleans. The rest of the South’s odds at cutting down the nets in Atlanta? Duke (7 to 2), Baylor (5 to 1), Wichita State (8 to 1), Indiana (12 to 1), UNLV (24 to 1), UConn (26 to 1), Notre Dame (35 to 1), Iowa State (50 to 1), Xavier (60 to 1), VCU (100 to 1), Colorado (100 to 1), Lehigh (200 to 1), Miss Valley St (200 to 1), New Mexico St (200 to 1), South Dakota St (200 to 1), and Western Kentucky (200 to 1).
Kentucky is also favored to win the Championship at 7 to 4 odds. North Carolina is next at 5 to 1 and Ohio State is the third favorite at 6 to 1.
P is for “Pac-12 Champion.”
The Colorado Buffaloes earned the Automatic Bid to the dance by winning what has got to have been the weakest power conference in the history of the NCAAs. California was the only other squad from the conference to make the dance, and they are being forced to play in one of the First Four.
Q is for “Quincy.”
Quincy squared actually. Baylor’s 1-2 Quincy punch of Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller are a lethal combination. Acy, along with being the only Bear to start all 34 games, is third on the team in scoring (11.8), second in rebounding (7.2) and first in blocks (1.9) while Miller is fourth in scoring (11.1) and third in rebounding (5.0). The Bears finished 27-7, with five of those seven losses coming at the hands of either Kansas or Missouri.
R is for “Runnin’ Rebels.”
UNLV has benefited greatly from 6′ 8″ Sophomore transfer from UCLA, Mike Moser. He leads UNLV in scoring (14.1), rebounding (10.6) and steals (1.8). The Rebels could become a sexy sleeper pick for the Final Four if anyone really believes they can put it together for an extended stretch. The matchups are there, and they get to play their first two games in “The Pit” in Albuquerque, NM – a familiar arena for them. This is the highest seed for the Runnin’ Rebels since the 1991 defending National Champion squad got a 1-seed courtesy of Jerry Tarkanian, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and company.
S is for “Shockers.”
Everyone loves the underdog. And while the upset possibilites run amok in the South, one team in particular REALLY knows about playing that role because they ARE the Shockers – of Wichita State. The last time they were here they advanced to the Sweet 16, losing to eventual Region champ George Mason back in 2006. The 2012 version of the Shockers features a three-guard attack that allows them to push the tempo without turning the ball over.
They are deep (six players average from 8.3-13.5pts) and accurate (connecting on 48.5% of all shots, making seven three-pointers per contest and hitting 75.1% of their foul shots). They are very balanced and very experienced and have size in the middle to go along with their guard play. Seven footer Garrett Stutz (13.5 ppg, 8.0 rebounds) is not only a presence in the lane, but can stroke it all the way out to 20+ feet and is hitting free throws at an 82% clip. This is a scary team and I wouldn’t be shocked if the shockers made some noise this March.
T is for “Title Defense.”
Defending NCAA champion UConn entered the BIG EAST tourney last year at just 9-9 in conference play, and didn’t lose again on their way to winning it all. Their title defense will begin in Louisville with the 8-seed Iowa State. Recent history isn’t on the Huskies side; since John Wooden left UCLA, only Duke in 1991-92 and Florida in 2006-07 have won back-to-back Championships.
U is for “Unibrow.”
The sporting world’s most famous eye hair belongs to the region’s, and the entire tournament’s most dominating player – UK’s Anthony Davis. Davis leads the Wildcats in points (14.3), rebounds (10.0) and blocked shots (4.6) as the 6′ 10″ freshman beast and soon to be #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
V is for “VCU.”
Shaka Smart and his VCU Rams won five games in the NCAA Tournament last year during an improbable run to the Final Four. This year they will only need to win four to get there. Ain’t happening.
W is for “Western Kentucky.”
The Hilltoppers’ fan base was so apathetic towards one of the winningest programs in history that only 2,137 fans showed up for a dollar ticket promotion back on January 5th. That game ended with the other team victorious because they had six players on the court in overtime to hit the winning shot. That dropped the Hilltoppers to 5-11, and ultimately resulted in the firing of Western’s head coach, Ken McDonald. Assistant Ray Harper took over and didn’t fare much better. He did seem to renew interest and quickly change the attitude and atmosphere surrounding the program.
Western sat at 9-18 with two games remaining in their regular season before likely bowing out in the conference tourney. This young team, featuring seven freshmen however, had other ideas. The Hilltoppers haven’t lost since and will now open the 2012 Dance in Dayton in front of President Obama and the British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The winner gets the chance to shock the world and defeat number one Kentucky in Louisville. That doesn’t seem like an insurmountable task to this bunch. At 15-18, they’re the first team since Coppin State in 2009 to reach the tournament with a losing record, and they are only the fourth team since 1997 to reach the NCAA tournament after a midseason coaching change, according to STATS LLC.
X is for “Xavier.”
They are gangsters. Not thugs. Gangsters. Get it right. This is Xavier’s 7th consecutive trip to the Tourney, and the Musketeers could make some noise as it seems like they always do.
Y is for “Youth Movement.”
Kentucky is the youngest team in this year’s field, and their potential second round opponent, the Connecticut Huskies are the second youngest team playing for the Championship. Also, Kentucky’s potential first round opponent, in-state rival Western Kentucky is the third youngest team out of all 68! Craziness! And I know it’s Kentucky’s potential 2nd and 3rd round games, I just don’t care and I refuse to call them that.
Z is for “Zebras.”
Sadly, the officials tend to have too much to say about most games these days. Hopefully both Jim Burr and Karl Hess will be left off the tournament roster. But you can never get enough Eddie Hightower!!!
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