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2013 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: South Region

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The South Region of the NCAA Tournament unfolded more or less as expected, except for the part in which tournament history was made by a 15 seed reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. Outside of that unprecedented event there was a lot of chalk in the South, but let’s take some time to check out what unfolded during the first weekend and what’s on tap for this weekend in the South Region.

Who’s Out:

The Georgetown Hoyas are easily the most disappointing team in the tournament this year. The Hoyas had the kind of defense and the kind of star player in Otto Porter that could have carried them to the Final Four and possibly a national championship, but the last thing Georgetown looked like Friday night was a 2 seed. The Hoyas watched in awe at the athletic display put on by a 15 seed in what was an embarrassing loss for the proud Big East program, which has now been eliminated by a double-digit seed in its last five trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Friday was also an ugly night for UCLA, which lost to 11 seed Minnesota by 20 points, a loss which ended up costing head coach Ben Howland his job. Tournament favorite VCU was also eliminated during the first weekend after going through the worst turnaround in tournament history. The Rams blew out Akron by 46 in the first round, only to get run out of the gym by Michigan in the second round, losing by 25. The 12 seed Akron and 13 seed South Dakota State, two mid majors that were expected to make some noise, but both failed to put up much of a fight in first round losses.

Who’s In:

The highlight of this region’s Sweet 16 participants is obviously Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles shocked everybody, not just with their win over Georgetown, but with how convincingly they beat the Hoyas. FGCU further displayed their impressive athleticism and offensive skills during their second round win over San Diego State, which turned into rout towards the end. Although a 15 seed in the Sweet 16 is unprecedented, Florida Gulf Coast is just as legitimate of a contender as the 2011 VCU team and 2006 George Mason team that ended up in the Final Four. The Cinderella story of Florida Gulf Coast has overshadowed the fact that three of the top four seeds in the South remain. Top seed Kansas didn’t have an easy first weekend, as they had to sweat out a close game against 16 seed Western Kentucky and then got a stiff challenge from 8 seed North Carolina, a game in which they trailed by nine at halftime.

With Georgetown eliminated, the 3 seed Florida is the next highest seed. The Gators looked as good as any team in the tournament over the first two rounds, as they won both games comfortably. Although Minnesota started to claw back in the second half, Florida never looked like a team that would relinquish the sizeable lead they built in the first half. Last, but not least, is the 4 seed Michigan. The concerns over the Wolverine’s struggles down the stretch have quickly dissipated after two impressive performances in the tournament. Michigan handled VCU’s “Havoc” with ease and now they appear to be clicking on all cylinders, especially point guard Trey Burke, who holds the key to his team’s success.

Who’s Playing Who:

Kansas and Michigan will kick off Friday’s schedule in Arlington. The Wolverines dropped to a 4 seed on Selection Sunday, but they are back to playing close to the level of a 1 seed. Burke may be leading the way for Michigan with his strong play at the point guard position, but the Wolverines are getting contributions from everybody, with Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Mitch McGary all playing well in the first two games of the tournament. Michigan has looked like the talented and well-rounded team they were for much of the regular season over these past two games, which is a team that was routinely ranked in the top five of the polls. For Kansas to win and avoid the upset, they’re going to need match Michigan’s stellar guard play and find a way to exploit Jeff Withey, who will be a tough matchup for Michigan’s post players inside.

The final game of the Sweet 16 this year will be 3 seed Florida against 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast. As well as the Eagles have played in this tournament they may be in a little over their head against Florida. The Gators have several talented on-ball defenders, and they are a pressing team that will challenge the Eagles every trip up the floor. Defensively, Gulf Coast will also have to worry about chasing Florida’s shooters around the floor. The Gators can spread the floor with shooters and still be able to throw the ball inside to Patric Young, who may be too much to handle for any of the Gulf Coast big men.

It will take a herculean effort by the Eagles just to stay within striking distance of the Gators late in the game. If the game is close late, the pressure will all be on Florida, who hasn’t played in a lot of close games this season and lacks a true go-to guy on the offensive end. However, the Gator’s specialty this year has been blowing out weaker opponents, and that seems to be the most likely scenario for Friday night against FGCU.