Southwest Region Primer: Loaded Kansas should handle friendly draw
Kansas isn't flawless, though, and Bill Self has suffered early exits in the past
Georgetown's dangerous if Chris Wright's healthy and highly vulnerable if he's not
UNLV's Lon Kruger gets a first-round crack at his former team, Illinois
State Of The No. 1: Kansas
The Jayhawks are one of the two best teams in the nation, and there's a decent-sized gap between Ohio State/Kansas and the rest of the field. KU went 32-2 while capturing the regular season and tournament championships in the Big 12, exacting a nice piece of revenge on Texas on Saturday night.
Annually a great offensive team, this version is right there in a lot of the categories that hint at a deep tournament run. Kansas has one of the most efficient offenses in the nation and leads all of Division I in both two-point field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage (accounting for the impact of three-pointers). The Jayhawks shoot the three very well and are extremely capable on the glass.
One red flag, though, is their much softer two-point field-goal defense. In none of the last eight seasons had Kansas ranked lower than 12th nationally in that category, but this season the Jayhawks are 62nd, which is well outside the bounds of historic Final Four teams. KU has morphed into a team that's much better defending the three than the two, which is a dangerous game to play, since three-point shooting is more variable and one abnormally hot day from the arc combined with KU's relative softness inside could put the Jayhawks in trouble.
In twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, KU has frontcourt players that provide a strong mix of scoring (more Marcus), rebounding and shot-blocking (more Markieff), along with some physicality (both, depending on mood). Guards Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson are mercurial but can be spectacular at times. Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar are excellent complementary shooters. And that doesn't even mix in guys like Thomas Robinson and Josh Selby.
Unlike last year, when KU's region was loaded, the Jayhawks look to have gotten a nice draw this time around. Neither UNLV or Illinois should threaten them on the first weekend, Louisville/Vandy is a very reasonable Sweet 16 opponent and KU would match up very well with Notre Dame or Purdue in a regional final.
The Trojans were one of the most debated inclusions on Selection Sunday, but they also got a good draw. Defensively rugged, they should be favored to get past VCU in the First Four game and have the capability to beat struggling Georgetown (even if Chris Wright comes back) and challenge Purdue to get to the Sweet 16.
Suspect Team: Georgetown
It's more "suspicious team" than suspect, because if Chris Wright comes back and is close to his normal self, a No. 6 seed could be wildly low and the Hoyas could pop up in the regional final. If he's not back or isn't near his normal quality, the Hoyas easily could lose in Round 1.
Juiciest Matchup: No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 9 Illinois
The Lon Kruger Bowl is the obvious pick. Kruger led the Illini to three second-round appearances in four seasons in Champaign before leaving to take over the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. Now he's rebuilt UNLV into an NCAA regular. Kruger gets a shot to beat his old program and get another crack at Kansas, which hammered the Rebels in the 2008 tourney on its way to a national title. Bruce Weber is feeling some heat from Illini fans not pleased with the underachievement of the past two seasons, and losing to Kruger wouldn't help.
This is a region comprised more of teams than solo attractions. That doesn't mean there aren't excellent players -- Purdue's JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis, Vandy's John Jenkins and Richmond's Kevin Anderson come to mind. It's just that most of these teams are more "sum of the parts" outfits than teams that revolve around one main man.
Best Player You've Never Heard Of: USC's Nikola Vucevic
A pair of transfers -- North Carolina's Alex Stepheson and Fordham's Jio Fontan -- may be better-known names nationally, but the 6-foot-10 Vucevic is easily the Trojans' best player. He's averaging a team-leading 17.3 points and 10.2 rebounds a game while shooting over 50 percent from the field and carrying a heavy load (he takes more than one out of every four USC shots while he's on the floor). He could thrive in the matchups the Trojans are looking at in the first couple of rounds.
The Pressure's On: Bill Self
Last year's second-round shocker to Northern Iowa was Self's third high-profile, first-weekend exit since 2005. A national title buys you all kinds of currency, but how many early departures can you have as a huge favorite? With the relatively kind draw the Jayhawks received, anything less than the Elite Eight (at least) will be highly disappointing. Ken Pomeroy projects the Jayhawks to make the regional final more than half the time and the Final Four 35 percent of the time.
Numbers To Ponder: 85.7 and 2.9
The first number is the sum of the percentage chances that one of the top four seeds in this region makes it to Houston, according to Pomeroy. The second is No. 9 seed Illinois' expectation, which is the fifth-highest in the regional. Some of it is path-based (Illinois' draw obviously gets easier if the Illini can beat Kansas in Round 2), but it also suggests that the No. 5 (Vanderbilt), 6 (Georgetown) and 7 (Texas A&M) seeds are all relatively weak.
The Pick: Kansas
They're the best team in the region, and the other top teams don't match up particularly well with the Jayhawks.
SI Now: Adrian Peterson thinks Johnny Football is NFL Ready
SI Now: Adrian Peterson on the Vikings' future at quarterback