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NCAA SOUTH REGIONAL

Top-seeded North Carolina battles high expectations

Tar Heels must contend with uncertainty over Ty Lawson's toe injury, while No. 2-seeded Oklahoma has its own struggles. Morgan State has shown it can score an upset.

March 16, 2009|Chris Dufresne

Teams

The favorites: North Carolina (28-4) -- No one in Chapel Hill is going to chant "We're No. 3!" after the Tar Heels earned the third No. 1 seeding behind Louisville and Pittsburgh. Expectations were so high some people thought Roy Williams' team might go undefeated this year. That notion ended when, after a 13-0 start, the Tar Heels lost their first two conference games. They rallied to win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title before falling to Florida State in a tournament semifinal.

Oklahoma (27-5) -- The Sooners probably botched their chance of a No. 1 seeding by losing to arch-rival Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. The team started 25-1 but is 4-6 since a Feb. 21 loss at Texas, in which Sooners' star Blake Griffin was knocked out with a concussion. Griffin returned two games later, but the team's magic has not.

Cinderella search: Morgan State (23-11) -- The Bears are coached by Todd Bozeman, who is getting a second chance to rebuild a career he thought was finished more than a decade ago when he was chased from the sport after getting Cal put on probation. Last year, Morgan State won the MEAC regular-season crown in Bozeman's first year and this year he has the Bears dancing. The Cinderella chance? Earlier this season, Morgan State upset Maryland . . . at Maryland.

Games

Must see: No. 3 Syracuse (26-9) vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (24-7) -- The question here is what kind of energy Syracuse has left after playing, in last week's run to the Big East conference final, one of the most brutal stretches of basketball anyone can remember. The Orange played a total of seven overtimes in less than 24 hours in victories against Connecticut and West Virginia.

No. 5 Illinois (24-9) vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky (24-8) -- This has upset potential as Illinois has had trouble scoring while Western Kentucky is making its 21st NCAA appearance. Last year, Ty Rogers' last-second three pointer lifted the Hilltoppers to a first-round shocker against Drake.

Must skip: No. 6 Arizona State (24-9) vs. No. 11 Temple (22-11) -- Oh wait, John Cheney isn't coaching at Temple anymore. If that was the case, we would see two gnarly matchup zone defenses trying to suck the life out of the shot clock. As it is, that's what Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek still wants to do.

Players

On the outside: Arizona State guard James Harden is a 6-5 future NBA guard who can beat you with the outshot or off the dribble. Well, unless he's trying to drive on USC's Taj Gibson.

North Carolina guard Ty Lawson was held out of the ACC tournament to nurse an injured big toe that may dictate how far the Tar Heels advance. Lawson is a break-you-down point guard who makes everyone around him better.

On the inside: Oklahoma forward Griffin is the runaway national player of the year, a human double-double who averages 22 points and 14 rebounds but is capable of 30 and 20 if you turn your head.

North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough was all-ACC all four years in Chapel Hill and national player of the year in 2008. Hansbrough's production and hype fell off a little this season, but he's still Psycho T.

Rim shots

Gonzaga is making its 11th straight NCAA appearance, but America's original Cinderella, now considered a major player, has only advanced to the Sweet 16 once in the last seven years.

Radford is coached by Brad Greenberg, brother of Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg, the one-time coach at Long Beach State.

What have you done lately? No. 7 Clemson, which faces No. 10 Michigan in an interesting first-round match, is 7-8 after getting off to a 16-0 start.

--

SOUTH

1. North Carolina (28-4)

2. Oklahoma (27-5)

3. Syracuse (26-9)

4. Gonzaga (26-5)

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