The Dagger previews the South Region of the 2012 NCAA tournament. Read our previews of the East, Midwest and West.
Three who can carry their teams:
* Austin Rivers, G, Duke
* Royce White, F, Iowa State
* Jeremy Lamb, G, UConn
Most intriguing opening round matchup: No. 5 Wichita State vs. No. 12 VCU
The selection committee's irritating habit of pitting mid-majors against one-another in the opening weekend of the tournament prevented VCU and Wichita State from taking swings at high-major opponents. Nonetheless, this matchup between the Sweet 16-capable Rams and Shockers is still one of the opening day of the tournament's most intriguing games. Wichita State can be erratic on defense at times, but the combination of big man Garrett Stutz, sharp shooter Joe Ragland and slasher Toure Murray Shockers has made the Shockers both balanced and efficient on offense. VCU, on the other hand, can be spotty on offense after graduating four starters from last year's Final Four team, but it relies on the same "havoc" defense to create pressure and force turnovers.
Best potential round of 32 game: No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 9 UConn
Here's the problem with the potential matchup between last year's national champ and the favorite to win the title this season: There's a good chance it never happens. Iowa State's inside-outside duo of Royce White and Scott Christopherson is capable of toppling UConn in the round of 64, especially if the Cyclones slow the pace and get hot from behind the arc. If the Huskies do survive against Iowa State, then top-seeded Kentucky would have a round of 32 opponent who is one of the few teams in the field with comparable talent to the Wildcats. UConn underachieved in conference play to finish below .500, but there cannot be many No. 9 seeds with championship experience and two first-round picks in their starting lineup.
Ripe for an upset: No. 7 Notre Dame
If Xavier's athletic backcourt can shackle Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, the Musketeers can eliminate the catalysts to Notre Dame's burn offense. That leaves the Irish with nobody to create off the dribble with the shot clock running down and thus with no way of generating good shots in the half court setting. Xavier certainly isn't playing like a team that was unbeaten and ranked in the top 10 prior to it's brawl with Cincinnati, but the Musketeers nonetheless have a favorable draw and the chance at at least one upset.
Bound for the Final Four: No. 1 Kentucky
For Kentucky to reach the Final Four, the Wildcats may have to go through the defending national champions, the only team to beat them in the regular season this year and a hated historical nemesis. That's certainly no cakewalk, yet it's also no reason to pick someone else besides the star-studded Wildcats to reach the Final Four. Kentucky boasts an elite frontcourt, better shooters than it has had in the past and the greatest defensive weapon in the nation in freshman Anthony Davis. Vanderbilt's win in the SEC title game on Sunday shows the Wildcats are not invincible, but they're still far and away the best bet to make it out of this region.
Possible Dark Horse: No. 3 Baylor
Among the teams capable of spoiling a Kentucky-Duke regional title game, Baylor seems like the most capable. The Bears are susceptible to upset because their focus drifts, they have too many defensive lapses and they should be a better rebounding team, yet they're dangerous when at their best. Pierre Jackson is a slashing score-first point guard, Brady Heslip is a dangerous spot-up shooter and one of the nation's best frontlines is highlighted by Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy. Baylor's soft zone would be susceptible to Duke's perimeter shooting if they met in the Sweet 16, but the Bears are also capable of exploiting the Devils' defense in the paint and off the dribble.
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