Four observations about the South Region

1. North Carolina has a tough road ahead.
With Ty Lawson at less than 100%, the Tar Heels could be in trouble as soon as Saturday. The LSU/Butler winner is capable of springing the upset, and if both teams advance, #4 Gonzaga could give UNC all it can handle in the Sweet Sixteen. Later on, potential matchups with Syracuse or Oklahoma loom large. With Lawson healthy, they shouldn’t have a problem, but if the ACC POY is gimpy, don’t be surprised if UNC goes down before the Final Four. In fact, expect it.

2. This might be Gonzaga’s best team yet.
Stat guru Ken Pomeroy has the Bulldogs pegged as the fifth best team heading into the tournament, ahead of bigger names like Pittsburgh and Duke. Gonzaga goes eight deep, but Mark Few relies mainly on six players who all average at least 9.2 points per game. Those six players are all legitimate three-point threats as well, with four shooting better than 39% from long range on the season. The Bulldogs are extremely efficient both offensively and defensively, which is why Pomeroy loves them so much.

3. Syracuse/Arizona State should be a doozy.
If they both manage to win their first round games, a second round Orangemen/Sun Devils matchup should be fun. Despite losing to Louisville in the Big East Championship final, Syracuse is one of the hottest teams in the country, but only time will tell if the 35 overtime minutes they played against Syracuse and West Virginia eventually takes its toll. Since they play so much zone defense, it shouldn’t be much of a factor, and it’s not like point guard Jonny Flynn gets tired anyway. ASU has been up and down lately, but they played well in the Pac-10 tournament before blowing a 15-point lead in a loss to USC. The Sun Devils depend on James Harden (20.8 ppg) to score, so it will be interesting to see if Syracuse’s zone can slow him down. Regardless, Herb Sendek has done a terrific job in his short tenure at ASU. I wonder if NC State regrets letting him go…

4. The Illini should be aware of the long ball.
Western Kentucky’s A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez average better than 5.0 made threes per game between them, and along with Steffphon Pettigrew, the Hilltoppers’ top three scorers all shoot at least 37% from long range. If Illinois comes out and lays an offensive egg like they did against Minnesota (36 points) and Penn State (33 points) earlier in the year, Western Kentucky will pull the upset.

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