Regional Site: Arlington, TX
Conference Tournament Champions: 6
At large: 10
BCS Conference Teams: 9
Non BCS teams: 7
Pods: Kansas City, Auburn Hills, Austin, Philadelphia
According to the numbers, the 2013 tournament favorite resides in the South, but it is not #1 seed Kansas. Instead, the 3rd seeded Florida Gators are your favorites, getting to the Final Four about half the time and winning the title 1 every 5 or so simulations according to KenPom.
By the numbers, the rest of the region's first round games break out as following:
1. Kansas v. 16. Western Kentucky
Friday, 9:50 PM, TNT
Kansas City, MO
Kansas 95% chance of winning
The Jayhawks are the lowest rated 1 seed by KenPom, but they will get a big boost playing their first two games about an hour away in Kansas City. Western Kentucky finished 4th in the East division of the Sun Belt before a miracle run through the tournament helped by Middle Tennessee's shocking loss to Florida International. The Hilltoppers had the second best offense in the league but shot just 33% from three this year, making their shock the world prospects pretty slim
8. North Carolina v. 9. Villanova
Friday, 7:20 PM, TNT
Kansas City, MO
North Carolina 57% chance of winning
Roy Williams is none too pleased about being an 8 seed, but they're 8-2 in their last 10 games and people seduced by the recency effect could have them as a surprise entry into the second weekend. Reggie Bullock is shooting 44% from three and PJ Hairston is shooting 39% from beyond the arc, but if they're going to advance then James Michael McAdoo needs to play like the potential lottery pick he is. It should be a fun contrast of styles from a free throw point of view: Villanova went to the line more than anyone in the Big East while UNC sent fewer opponents to the line than any ACC team, and Carolina never went to the line yet the Wildcats sent everyone and their dog to shoot two free throws this season.
5. VCU v. 12. Akron
Thursday, 9:45 PM, CBS
Auburn Hills, MI
VCU 65% chance of winning
5/12 matchups are usually popular upset picks, but this matchups is one of the more popular 5 over 12 picks in recent memory. VCU has the best turnover forcing defense in the country, and Akron is 202nd nationally in turnover rate. It is made even worse with point guard Alex Abreu out thanks to his hobby of trafficking marijuana.
VCU does allow points seemingly every possession on which they don't force a turnover, so if Akron somehow does take care of the ball they have a chance, but Shaka Smart is probably spending much of this week figuring out how to turn over Trey Burke or Nate Wolters.
4. Michigan v. 13. South Dakota State
Thursday, 7:15 PM, CBS
Auburn Hills, MI
Michigan 86% chance of winning
I think all that needs to be said about this one is: Trey Burke v. Nate Wolters. Two of the best guards in the country, two potential NBAers. It is going to be phenomenal.
Outside of that though, both teams shoot the ball well from both three and two (SDSU is 9th in three point percentage, Michigan is 11th inside the arc) and neither team turns it over much, so we could be in for creative offense and high scoring. The Wolverines are going to win, but it is going to be fun.
6. UCLA v. 11. Minnesota
Friday, 9:57 PM, TruTV
Minnesota 61% chance of winning
That's right: despite going 3-7 in their last 10 games, Minnesota is favored over the Pac 12 champions. Perhaps it is a testament to the Big 10's prowess or the Pac 12's weakness (or both) but from a non stat perspective it is tough to look at all of the athletes UCLA has and not think of them as the favorites.
The Gophers' strategy on offense seems to be to chuck the ball towards the basket and then hope to get a better look the second time: they are 142nd nationally in eFG but are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, grabbing over 44% of their misses.
UCLA will be without Jordan Adams, who broke his foot, but have gotten a good year at the PG spot from Larry Drew, and Freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad is up to 40% from three on an even 100 attempts. Down low, the Wear twins will have their hands full with Trevor Mbakwe, the nation's 15th best offensive rebounder and Minnesota's best defensive rebounder. Loathe though I am to go against the mighty KenPom, I think I am going to be seduced by UCLA's recent success (comparatively speaking), and pick the Bruins.
3. Florida v. 14. Northwestern State
Friday, 7:27 PM, TruTV
Florida 96% chance of winning.
Florida is going to dominate, so I will use this space to briefly digress about their chances overall. I am not worried about their record in close games, because that is mildly ridiculous. It seems unfathomable that people would praise them for being clutch if they were a bit worse in some games where they blew teams out, rather than giving them credit for blowing those teams out. (KenPom has it much more eloquently stated here).
I will say, though, that I don't think they are as good as some of the stats say, for a couple of reasons. First, they beat Middle Tennessee State by a lot when the Blue Raiders themselves were probably a bit overrated by the stats (i.e. they were a high efficiency team who maybe didn't have the elite level athletes to compete with a BCS conference team). They also beat Wisconsin and Marquette by wide margins, which is great, but it came before either team blossomed into what they are now. So Florida gets all the credit for beating two great teams before they became great. The Gators are a great team, but beating up on a bunch of bad SEC teams doesn't necessarily do it for me.
7. San Diego State v. 10 Oklahoma
Friday, 9:20 PM, TBS
SDSU 61% chance of winning.
Despite the 3 seed difference, the Aztecs are about 25 spots ranked higher in the Pomeroy ratings. Jamaal Franklin is the 12th best defensive rebounder in the country, but takes 27% of the Aztecs' shots despite a 45% eFG. (he's also taken 141 threes despite making only 27% of them).
The Aztecs don't have a lot of height, but somehow manage to be the 44th best defensive rebounding team in the country. They'll face a stiff test from Romero Osby, who shoots 52% from two, draws over 6 fouls per 40 minutes, and makes 80% of his free throws. He makes about 43% of his two point jumpers and has even made 7 of the 14 threes he's taken this year.
Chase Tapley gives the Aztecs a big edge in the backcourt, and with March being a guards' tournament, I give SDSU a slight edge in this one.
2. Georgetown v. 15. Florida Gulf Coast
Friday, 6:50 PM, TBS
Georgetown 90% chance of winning
Otto Porter is 7th in the kPOY ratings right now, and for good reason: he takes over a fourth of the Hoyas' shots, has an 18.7% defensive rebound rate, has more assists (18.6%) than turnovers (11.7%), shoots 52% from two, 43% from three and 78% from the line. In short, he's pretty awesome.
Florida Gulf Coast is a sentimental favorite of mine because one of their assistant coaches follows me on twitter and my allegiance can be bought really easily, but while they're 24th nationally in 2 point percentage, they are just 212th in three point percentage, so an upset seems unlikely at best. If they make a couple lucky ones then the Hoyas could feel some pressure, but they seem primed to waltz into the second weekend.
Potential "Upset" Victim: UCLA
Surprise second weekend candidate: North Carolina
Regional Champ: Florida