Our regional previews are designed to get you the information you need to help with filling out a bracket (of course) but also to highlight a few specific things in each region. We'll have a look at the teams in the wrong seeds, who to watch, who to like, who to hate, a dangerous team, the best matchup, and a player to keep an eye on. If you disagree, feel free to tell us here or on Twitter @BannersParkway. Grab a bracket here, and also take the opportunity to join our first ever $10 gift card bracket challenge.
Kansas. Yes, the Jayhawks have a defensive eraser in the middle in Jeff Withey, three guys who can fill it up from anywhere on a given night, and perhaps the best shot-stopping defense in the nation. I'm not saying that they aren't a legitimate national championship contender, because they are. What I don't think they are is one of the best four teams in the nation based on their entire resume. That TCU loss sticks in my craw, and they somehow lost by 23 to a Baylor team that went 18-14 and didn't even make the tourney. You want your number one seeds to look bulletproof on paper, and the Jayhawks don't.
San Diego State. The Aztecs lost ten games on the year, but 8 of those losses were against teams in the RPI top 50 (seven of which were away or neutral-site games) and the other two losses were on the road against teams in the RPI top 80. They play great team defense, take care of the ball on the offensive end, and have a couple of reliable scorers in Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. With a five or a six seed, they have a good chance of making the second weekend. Playing out of the number seven slot, they're going to have a Herculean task ahead of them to get out of their pod.
Fun to watch:
Virgina Commonwealth. You don't, as the home crowd reminds you when you visit VCU, want to go to war with the Rams. Shaka Smart's team has definite holes in the half-court on both ends, but they mask them with an aggressive and athletic defense that traps, hustles, harries, and brutalizes opponents in the half- and full-court settings. If the officials decide to call it tight or the other team is stingy with the ball, VCU is in trouble. If things break their way, though, they have the approach and the shooters to rip off more points in 90 seconds than any other team in the nation. The vast gulf in possible results for the Rams is going to ruin a lot of brackets, but they can be a tough of fun to see when they get everything going.
Easy to hate:
UCLA. I was going to use these guys as overseeded, but they fit even better down here. Blessed with size, talent, and multiple scorers, UCLA has somehow evolved into one of the least fun teams to watch in the nation. Highly-touted freshmen Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, and Jordan Adams probably have a lot to do with that; Muhammad in particular glares at his teammates like every possession they use is taking money out of the NBA contract he's already calculating in his head, and the effect compounds on down the line. Rarely will you see a more talented group that appears to so genuinely hate playing together. If you didn't like watching Xavier when Lyons and Holloway were here, you'll absolutely love cheering against this year's UCLA team.
South Dakota State. Fact 1: a 13-seed has won their first-round game in each of the last five years. Fact 2: that has no bearing on this year's tournament. Objectively, South Dakota State is not a great or even very good team; most of their problems stem from the defensive end, where they can't stop anyone. What they have, though, is an efficient volume scorer in senior guard Nate Wolters. His last trip to the NCAA tournament didn't go as planned, but he has the chops to put together a one-man run and scare the heck out of almost any team in the bracket.
UCLA v. Minnesota. Minnesota is probably every bit as underseeded as San Diego State, and they will be coming into the game with a chip on their collective shoulder. Their defense is every bit the match of UCLA's offense, but where the Golden Gophers can really make hay is on the offensive glass. Minnesota was first in the nation in OReb% this year, and UCLA came in at 267th in DReb%. If Minnesota starts killing the Bruins with second chance points and the UCLA players start pouting and yelling at each other, look for the least enjoyable team in the nation to be making a quick exit.
Player to watch:
Zeke Marshall, Akron. Akron is facing VCU just three games after losing their starting point guard to drug charges, so it's probably unlikely that the Zips get a second game, but make sure you catch their 7'0" senior center in action. He is strong like bull in the post, a monster on the glass at both ends and - even acknowledging the presence of Jeff Withey - the most athletic shot blocker in the region. If Akron can somehow hold onto the ball and force VCU into a half court game, the Rams have no answer for Marshall.