NCAA South Region

h2. (1) Kentucky

Aaron Smith (@KernelASmith)

Managing Editor, Kentucky Kernel

*Reason for optimism:* Being the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament seems like the single-best reason to be optimistic about a team, right?

*Cause for concern:* UK didn’t look as sharp as usual in any of its three SEC Tournament games, struggling to put away teams it dominated in the regular season and dropping its first game since Dec. 10 in the championship game.

*X-Factor:* Balanced scoring. The top six players in the rotation take between 13.5 and 16.2 percent of the team’s total shots, which means that UK isn’t overly reliant on any one (or two, or three) player and can survive an off night from anyone.

*In my bracket Kentucky:* Wins the national championship (I just really do believe this team is the best).

Final Four update- John Calipari’s Wildcats reinforced their claim as the tournament’s scariest team when they dispatched upset-minded Indiana 102-90 and a long, talented Baylor team back-to-back to reach the Final Four. Baylor, which was thought to match up better than any other No. 3 seed in the tournament, was completely overmatched in the 82-70 blowout. Four Kentucky starters (predictably) went into double digits, and the Wildcats’ defense frustrated Baylor from tipoff onward. Freshman phenom Anthony Davis posted 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks.

(16) Western Kentucky

Cole Claybourn (@ColeClaybourn)

Editor-in-Chief, College Heights Herald

*Reason for optimism:* After the coaching change midseason (Ken McDonald out, Ray Harper in) the Hilltoppers have had a renewed mindset, faring 7-0 since Harper’s interim tag was removed on Feb. 19. Team-wide confidence is noticeably higher.

*Cause for concern:* Youth. Western Kentucky features seven freshmen and just one senior while facing a Kentucky team with greater size and talent.

*X-Factor:* O’Karo Akamune, a junior college transfer, provides a spark off the bench. The Miami, Fla., native has provided Western Kentucky with several key blocks and rebounds down the stretch. O’Karo Akamune, a junior college transfer, provides a spark off the bench. The Miami, Fla., native has provided Western Kentucky with several key blocks and rebounds down the stretch.

*In my bracket Western Kentucky:* Falls to Kentucky. WKU will hang in for a bit, but the matchups are in Kentucky’s favor.

Second Round update- The Hilltoppers struggled to slow John Calipari’s Wildcats from the beginning, allowing 45 Kentucky points in the first half. Silver lining: The Hilltoppers’ freshmen trio of Derrick Gordon, T.J. Price and George Fant combined for 46 points.

h2. (8) Iowa State

Jeremiah Davis (@jeremiahdavis10)

Managing Editor – Sports, Iowa State Daily

*Reason for Optimism:* Royce White. He’s a weapon in any situation and leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game. A dangerous point forward who can bring the ball up on the floor.

*Cause for Concern:* The Cyclones live and die by the three. They shoot at a higher rate from 3-point range than anybody in the Big 12 and don’t have an answer when they go cold. Apart from White, the team doesn’t have any particular effective size.

*X-factor:* Apart from Royce, I think it’s going to be a combination of Scott Christopherson scoring the ball and Chris Babb defending Jeremy Lamb. (Babb) has emerged as their lock down guy.

*In my bracket Iowa State:* Loses to UConn in the second round.

Second Round update- A commendable pick by Davis (a lifelong Cyclone fan), but Iowa State dominates the defensive boards 29-14 and comes away with a convincing 77-64 win in Louisville. The Cyclones simply didn’t have the firepower to hang in with Kentucky for good and Iowa State fell 87-71.

h2. (9) UConn

Matt McDonough (@McDTwin1)

Sports Editor and Beat Writer, Daily Campus

Colin McDonough (@McDTwin2)

Associate Sports Editor and Beat Writer, Daily Campus

*Reason for optimism:* Experience. UConn returns all but four of last year’s championship team and the core of (Shabazz) Napier, (Roscoe) Smith and (Jeremy) Lamb have all been here before. There’s optimism they can make another run. (Matt)

*Cause for concern:* The Huskies are inconsistent and fell short of expectations in the regular season. A lot of students and fans were ready for a repeat, and although they made the NCAA tournament, a 20-13 record is not what most people thought would happen. (Colin)

*X-factor:* Andre Drummond. The freshman and consensus five-star recruit has not been as dominant this season as most had hoped. He is still a very raw player but can be a game-changer, especially if the Huskies make it to the later rounds. (Colin)

Roscoe Smith. Doesn’t put up the best stats, but when he’s on the floor it’s a different team. He hustles, he does dirty work, he dives for loose balls, he gets rebounds. He had a great last couple of weeks, but not a great Big East Tournament. (Matt)

*In my bracket Connecticut:* Wins the national championship over North Carolina. I know it’s a long shot, but you never know what can happen in the NCAAs. (Colin)

Makes it to the championship. (Matt)

Second Round update: The Huskies shot just 38 percent from the floor and fell to Iowa State 77-64 despite turning the ball over just four times.

h2. (5) Wichita State

Austin Colbert

Editor-in-Chief, The Sunflower (@SunflowerSports)

*Reason for optimism:* You won’t find many teams with the experience and poise of Wichita State. The majority of these players helped win the NIT a year ago and won’t be intimidated by anything anybody throws at them.

*Cause for concern:* There isn’t much to be concerned about. While the team is very experienced in many regards, this is still WSU’s first NCAA tournament since 2006.

*X-factor:* Anybody can explode for a big night. A guy to watch out for is Ben Smith, a talented forward who often gets overlooked playing behind Joe Ragland and Garrett Stutz. He helped shut down Doug McDermott of Creighton a month ago in Omaha.

*In my bracket, Wichita State:* Reaches the Sweet 16. I see Wichita State beating VCU and either Indiana or New Mexico State. Not worried about any three of those teams beating the Shockers.

Second Round update: The Shockers gained the 59-57 lead with 2:05 remaining after trailing by as many as 13 midway through the second half but lost 62-59 in the No. 12/No. 5 upset. Guard Joe Ragland led with 15 points.

h2. (12) Virginia Commonwealth

Jim Swing (@Jim_Swing)

Sports Editor, The Commonwealth Times

*Reason for optimism:* The Rams lead the nation in both opponent turnover percentage and steal percentage.

*Cause for concern:* Offense. We’ve watched VCU go on a couple cold shooting streaks this season, which have nearly cost them a couple wins. A cold shooting night from Bradford Burgess or Troy Daniels could doom the Rams.

*X-factor:* Troy Daniels. The silky marksman shoots 39 percent from beyond the arc and is just three 3-pointers away from setting a single-season school record. He has the ability to blow a game open and turn a single-digit game into a laugher.

*In my bracket VCU:* Defeats Wichita State and Indiana before losing to Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Second Round update: The Rams forced an uncharacteristically low 12 turnovers but held the ultra-efficient Shockers scoreless over the pivotal final 2:05 to get the 62-59 win. Shaka Smart won yet another game as a double-digit seed, this time wearing a very orange-and-blue omen which proved to be no more than a coincidence. In the Round of 32, the Rams fought toe-to-toe with Tom Crean’s Hoosiers but fell 63-61 after they were unable to convert on a last-second 3-pointer.

h2. (4) Indiana

Connor O’Gara (@cjogara)

Beat Reporter, Indiana Daily Student

*Reason for optimism:* The undefeated 1975-76 Hoosier squad didn’t have a win over a top-five opponent, while this year’s team has three. Indiana has the upside — even the best team in the region, Kentucky, (it’s) beaten.

*Cause for concern:* Indiana has a tendency to play to its competition, blowing a 13-point lead to Nebraska on Jan. 18 while losing at Iowa during an 8-1 streak in February and March. Can (it) win outside of Assembly Hall?

*X-factor:* Christian Watford. If he can get going offensively, the sky’s the limit.

*In my bracket, Indiana:* Loses to Wichita State in the Round of 32.

Second Round update-: Indiana got a remarkable 84 points from its starting five but didn’t have enough gas in the tank to keep up with Kentucky’s deep roster in a 102-90 loss to No. 1 seed Wildcats, who Indiana had beaten on its home court during nonconference play. Christian Watford led the Hoosiers with 27 points, while Jordan Hulls dished out nine assists in the Sweet 16 loss.

h2. (13) New Mexico State

Zane Klemo

Editor-in-Chief, The Round Up Daily (@NMSUroundup)

*Reason for optimism:* Head coach Marvin Menzies said strong leadership from seniors Wendell McKines, Hernst Laroche and Hamidu Rahman has brought the team together. Because of the 6-foot-11 Rahman, 6-foot-10 Tshlildzi Nephawe and 6-foot-8 Banja Sy, they make for a big, intense and very physical front court that opponents have trouble with.

*Cause for concern:* It will be an uphill battle to play against quality basketball teams every single game, unlike the WAC. Also, the Aggies are sometimes hindered by scattered, frantic play that starts with the point guard Laroche. If he can distribute the ball to his bigs and the scrappy McKines instead of trying to take over the game, New Mexico State could be competitive in every game.

*X-factor:* Two words: Wendell McKines. The scrappy 6-foot-6 forward is averaging 18.8 points per game with 10.8 boards, and when he plays well, the Aggies win. As long as Laroche gets the ball to McKines, and as long as Rahman conrols the paint, the headlines might be running on Friday about an Aggie upset over the Hoosiers.

*In my bracket, New Mexico State:* Beats Indiana and takes (its) momentum through Wichita State before losing against Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Second Round update — Fans in Portland weren’t left without an entertaining game despite the Aggies failed bid to make good on the nation’s trendy upset pick. New Mexico State shot just over 55 percent from the floor and won the battle of the boards 22-21, but the Aggies were done in by turnovers (17 to Indiana’s 12).

h2. (6) UNLV

Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21)

Copy Editor/Staff Writer, The Rebel Yell

*Reason for optimism:* There hasn’t been this much buzz around campus for the Runnin’ Rebels in a long time. More times than none, you see a hint of the old school Tarkanian days from the ‘90s. That alone provides much optimism around campus and Las Vegas.

*Cause for concern:* The biggest concern for the team is when they continually shoot 3-pointers. Sticking too much with outside jump shots has failed UNLV on more than one occasion this year, and if (it) gets too comfy with shooting an absurd amount of threes, (it) could be in trouble.

*X-factor:* There are multiple players on this team who step up every night. The two that make this team what it is, however, are Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall. Moser’s ability to be a double-double machine every night has been a huge boost on both sides of the ball for the Rebels, and Marshall’s quickness and ability to hit from anywhere on the court provides for instant offense.

*In my bracket, UNLV:* Gets through to the Sweet 16 before losing to Duke. On more than one occasion, I had UNLV going down to Baylor in the second round, and I wouldn’t be surprised if (it) did.

Second Round update: A 22-4 UNLV run wasn’t enough to close the 20-point gap that emerged in the early second half in Albuquerque. The Rebels shot just 32.4 percent from the floor and 25.0 percent on an alarmingly high 36 3-point attempts to collect the 68-64 loss to upstart Colorado. UNLV dominated the turnover battle, 23-8, but the Buffaloes finished the game plus-13 in rebounds.

h2. (11) Colorado

Marlee Horn (@kimi17890)

Sports editor, CU Independent

*Reason for optimism:* CU has been on a roll, winning four games in four straight days, and when (it) puts (its) minds to it, (it) can beat anyone.

*Cause for concern:* I’m always afraid CU will come out to a slow start and won’t be able to come back from a deficit.

*X-factor:* Carlon Brown is such an amazing asset to the Buffs; he can score, drive, rebound and, oh yeah, make the SportsCenter Top 10.

*In my bracket, Colorado:* Knocks off Baylor to go the Sweet 16 (due largely to my hatred for Colorado’s former conference).

Round of 32 update — Freshman guard Askia Booker came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points for the upset-minded Buffaloes. Double-double machine Andre Roberson ripped down 16 boards and blocked two shots, as Colorado held UNLV to just 32 percent shooting in the 68-64 win over the Rebels. The Buffaloes’ run ended when (it) lost an 80-63 contest to No. 3 seed Baylor in Albuquerque.

h2. (3) Baylor

Tyler Alley (@TXler)

Sports Editor, Baylor Lariat

*Reason for optimism:* Perry Jones III’s 31-point performance against Kansas State in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament. Also, the way Brady Heslip has been shooting the three ball has me thinking Baylor can make a deep run.

*Cause for concern:* My cause for concern would be Baylor’s inconsistency. The team is capable of playing like a No. 1 seed at times, but it can get complacent on defense and sometimes relies too much on the jump shot.

*X-factor:* Deuce Bello. If you saw him play against Mizzou, you understand why. He played good defense against Phil Pressey, brought a lot of energy off the bench with 14 points and Scott Drew has been playing him a lot lately.

*In my bracket, Baylor:* Beats Duke in the Sweet 16 but loses to Kentucky. I just don’t think Baylor would match up well against Anthony Davis.

Elite Eight update — Guard Brady Heslip had a quiet night of 1-for-3 from behind the arc, but Baylor shook off a double-digit seed for a third consecutive game in a 75-70 win over No. 10 Xavier in the Sweet 16. The Bears then were overwhelmed by No. 1 overall seed Kentucky in a lopsided 82-70 Elite Eight contest in which Baylor trailed by 20 or more throughout. Scott Drew’s Bears, playing in the Elite Eight for the second time in three years, put up a season-low 22 points in the first half. Senior forward Quincy Acy went out with a bang, posting 22 points and eight rebounds. Baylor as a team shot just 39 percent to Kentucky’s 53 percent.

h2. (14) South Dakota State

Marcus Traxler (@marcustraxler)

Sports Editor, The Collegian

*Reason for optimism:* The Jackrabbits are extremely strong at shooting the 3-pointer, with four of their players over 40 percent for the season behind the arc. Offense will carry the way for SDSU, but the “Jacks” are strong on defense as well, allowing 57.3 points per game in the last eight contests.

*Cause for concern:* : SDSU lacks size and that will be a major concern, especially inside against the long and lanky Baylor Bears. SDSU will need to play almost lights out to win. This is the team’s first time at the Dance and it has just one senior, so inexperience figures to be an issue.

*X-factor:* Nate Wolters. The 6-foot-4 point guard is the only player in the country to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists and he scored 34 points at Washington in the Jacks’ signature win of the year. He could be a household name by the end of the first weekend.

*In my bracket, SDSU:* I didn’t fill out a bracket this year. I’m hoping to enjoy the tournament a little more for what it is, rather than what’s on my bracket.

Second Round update: South Dakota State got 30 quality minutes from wing Chad White off the bench (16 points, 5-of-9 from deep), but Wolters turned the ball over five times and was just 1-for-6 from behind the arc. The Jackrabbits got pounded in the battle of the boards (17 to Baylor’s 31).

h2. (7) Notre Dame

Eric Prister (@GoIrishESP)

Senior Sports Writer, The Observer

*Reason for optimism:* With their nine-game winning streak earlier in the year, the Irish proved they can win consistently and beat strong opponents like Syracuse.

*Cause for concern:* Notre Dame is young, inexperienced and (to be completely honest) not extremely talented. The Irish will need to play their best ball to get out of the first weekend.

*X-factor:* The X-factor, as it has been throughout Mike Brey’s tenure as head coach, is shooting. If the Irish shoot well, they can beat anyone.

*In my bracket Notre Dame:* Gets past Xavier and then loses to Duke in the Third Round.

Second Round update- Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey’s miracle year came to an end in the Second Round when the Irish were bested in the second half for a 67-63 loss to Xavier. Notre Dame got just six points from its bench and sophomore guard Jerian Grant struggled from the floor to send No. 7 seed Notre Dame back to South Bend.

h2. (10) Xavier

Sabrina Brown (@SabrinaXU516)

Sports Editor, Xavier Newswire

*Reason for optimism:* The Musketeers have all the tools they need to go far in the tournament, and this team can play with a fire that is necessary to make a run.

*Cause for concern:* Xavier’s reason it could succeed mirrors the reason it could fail. If the team’s not in the right mindset, it could be facing a huge uphill battle.

*X-factor:* Tu Holloway. His passion and will to win fuel this Xavier team on top of his statistical contributions. Holloway’s a player to watch.

*In my bracket, Xavier:* Makes the at least the Sweet 16, sometimes farther (depending on which bracket you’re looking at).

Sweet 16 update — Xavier pulled within three late in a 75-70 Sweet 16 loss to Baylor, but the Musketeers couldn’t complete the team’s upset bid over the No. 3-seeded Bears. Lead guard Tu Holloway paced Xavier with 22 points, while center Kenny Frease held his own against a lanky Baylor front line to post 18 points.

h2. (2) Duke

Tom Gieryn

Managing editor and Sports editor, The Chronicle (@dukebasketball)

*Reason for optimism:* Talent and a strong ACC tournament. Duke got consistent praise from everyone for (its) effort in the tournament — (it) played hard and put up a fight.

*Cause for concern:* There’s a lack of leadership on the roster for sure. The leading scorer is a freshman (Austin Rivers) for the first time since Johnny Dawkins in 1983. The roster’s older members don’t have intangibles.

*X-factor:* Ryan Kelly. If he is not healthy, they won’t beat Baylor because they have so many mobile bigs.

*In my bracket, Duke:* Makes the Elite Eight

Second Round update: Duke made a bizarre Friday slate of games even more so when it was upended by No. 15 seed Lehigh. Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee combined for 38 points, but the Blue Devils were stone cold from 3-point range (23 percent) as a team in the 75-70 loss. Duke had previously gone 12-0 in tournament games played in Greensboro, N.C.

h2. (15) Lehigh

Jess Fromm (@jlf212)

Sports Editor, The Brown and White

*Reason for optimism:* If there’s going to be a 15-2 upset this year, it will be this one. The Mountain Hawks are riding an eight-game winning streak and they’re hungry to keep the ball rolling right past (a surely overconfident) Duke.

*Cause for concern:* Duke is the favorite for a reason. Austin Rivers will give C.J. McCollum a run for his money and Duke’s outside shooting is a force to be reckoned with. (It) also has obvious tournament experience that Lehigh lacks.

*X-factors:* First, the obvious: McCollum. The nation’s fifth-leading scorer averages 21.9 points per game and he’ll surely play a key role in the matchup. Second: everyone else. Lehigh has great strength in its depth and will use power forwards Gabe Knutson and Jordan Hamilton to exploit the Blue Devils’ perimeter-heavy defense and to keep their eyes off of McCollum.

*In my bracket, Lehigh:* Goes all the way. OK, second round. But I really do believe Lehigh will make it there and give Xavier a run for its money.

Round of 32 update — A night Lehigh fans will never forget. Duke simply could not contain McCollum, who posted 30 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals in leading the Mountain Hawks to the monumental upset. The lightly recruited native of Canton, Ohio, was hailed as the top player on the floor by the CBS broadcast and studio teams on numerous occasions. In the Round of 32, Lehigh jumped out to a 37-33 lead at the half but sputtered with just 21 points in the second half for a 70-58 loss to No. 10 seed Xavier. McCollum was frustrated all game and finished 5-for-22 with 14 points and 8 rebounds.