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NCAA basketball tournament: Southwest Region preview

Kansas is seeded No. 1, and USC might be a good bet for a Cinderella.

March 13, 2011|By Mike Hiserman
  • Kansas forward Marcus Morris lets out a roar after dunking against Gary Johnson and Texas in the Big 12 tournament title game on Saturday.
Kansas forward Marcus Morris lets out a roar after dunking against Gary… (Rich Sugg / McClatchy-Tribune )

Top-seeded teams

No. 1 Kansas: The Jayhawks are making their 22nd consecutive NCAA tournament appearance — the longest active streak in the nation — after winning their seventh straight Big 12 Conference regular-season title and the conference tournament for the fourth time in five years. Yet, both UCLA (77-76) and USC (70-68) nearly beat Kansas in Lawrence in December.

No. 2 Notre Dame: A loss to Louisville in a Big East Conference tournament semifinal probably cost the Fighting Irish a No. 1 seeding. As a consolation prize, they get favorable bracket placement and an opening-weekend assignment only a bus trip away.

No. 3 Purdue: Few expected the Boilermakers to win 25 games after they lost star Robbie Hummel, who suffered a torn knee ligament at the season's first practice. But who also would have thought they would lose their final regular-season game against lowly Iowa, then get blown out by Michigan State in a conference tournament quarterfinal?

No. 4 Louisville: The Cardinals play aggressive defense and have outstanding guards in Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva. When they're causing havoc and hitting jump shots, Louisville is as fun to watch as any team in the country.

Cinderella search

USC gets a first-round game against a team many experts say shouldn't be in the tournament, and a second game against a Georgetown team that has been struggling since playmaker Chris Wright suffered a broken hand a couple of weeks ago.

Top players

Marcus Morris, forward, Kansas: The Big 12 player of the year leads the Jayhawks in scoring (17.3) and is second in rebounding (7.2). His brother Markieff, another junior who, at 6 feet 10, is an inch taller, is second in scoring (13.6) and first in rebounding (8.2).

JaJuan Johnson, forward, Purdue: The Big Ten Conference player of the year is a dominant presence at both ends. He was voted the conference's top defensive player, and had team-best averages of 20.5 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Ben Hansbrough, guard, Notre Dame: This is the season he became something much more than Tyler Hansbrough's younger brother. He was the only unanimous choice to the All-Big East team after averaging 18.5 points and 4.3 assists.

Rim shots

? Uh-oh, Kansas draws another "B" school — this time it's Boston University — in the first round. The Jayhawks haven't fared well in recent NCAA openers against "B" teams, losing to longshots Bucknell in 2005 (64-63) and Bradley in 2006 (77-73).

? Illinois could be facing former Illini coaches in its first two games. For openers, Illinois gets Nevada Las Vegas and Lon Kruger, who guided the Illini from 1996 to 2000. A win there and Illinois could draw top-seeded Kansas and Coach Bill Self, who had the Illini from 2000 to 2003.

? The national leader in rebounding and field-goal percentage does not play for any of the region's top-seeded teams. Morehead State's Kenneth Faried averages 14.5 rebounds, is shooting 64.4% and has 27 double-doubles in 33 games.

? The most-watched appendage of this regional might well be John Jenkins' left foot. Vanderbilt's star sophomore guard is among the best pure shooters in the college game, but lately he has been bothered by a sore big toe. Jenkins is averaging 19.5 points and shooting better than 40% from three-point range. In high school, he was an All-American after a senior season in which he averaged 42.3 points and shot nearly 50% from beyond the arc.

MATCHUPS

AT DAYTON, OHIO, WEDNESDAY

USC (19-14, at-large selection) VS.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH (23-11, at-large selection)

Forward Nikola Vucevic gives USC a go-to player in the clutch. He's averaging team highs of 17.3 points and 10.2 rebounds. Virginia Commonwealth was the third team from the Colonial Athletic Assn. in the tournament, a first.

AT TULSA, OKLA., FRIDAY

No. 1 KANSAS (32-2, Big 12 champion) VS.

No. 16 BOSTON UNIVERSITY (21-13, American East champion)

Boston's Terriers have won 11 straight games and are led by 6-5 wing John Holland, a senior who is only the seventh player in American East Conference history to surpass career milestones of 2,000 points and 700 rebounds.

No. 8 NEVADA LAS VEGAS (24-8, at-large selection) VS.

No. 9 ILLINOIS (19-13, at-large selection )

Senior guard Tre'Von Willis has scored in double figures in nine of Las Vegas' last 10 games. Rebels swingman Chace Stanback, a transfer from UCLA, is averaging 13 points. Illinois has lost 10 of its last 16 games.

AT DENVER, THURSDAY

No. 5 VANDERBILT (23-10, at-large selection) VS.

No. 12 RICHMOND (27-7, Atlantic 10 champion)

Vanderbilt's Jenkins isn't the only player who can fill it up from the perimeter. Richmond forward Justin Harper, who is 6-10, has 73 three-point baskets and averages 17.9 points and 7.0 rebounds.

No. 4 LOUISVILLE (25-9, at-large selection) VS.

No. 13 MOREHEAD STATE (24-9, Ohio Valley Conference champion)

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