NCAA – South Region 1 Preview
by David Mosse
Duke vs. Winthrop
For an NCAA Tournament record fifth consecutive year, the Duke Blue Devils earned a top seed. In their four previous first round games, their margin of victory was 36 points. So don’t expect Winthrop to become the first ever No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed. In reality, this promises to be one of the most lopsided games of the entire tournament. Despite winning the ACC Tournament, Duke is still smarting from a pair of late season losses to Maryland and Virginia, which stripped them of their aura of invincibility. Mike Kryzewski’s crew is on a mission not only to retain their crown, but also to do it in dominating fashion. Winthrop, which missed out on the tournament last year, is back representing the Big South. Their marquee player is forward Greg Lewis, who led the conference in rebounding (10.4) and finished fourth in scoring (16.6). The biggest surprise will be if this game is still competitive at the intermission.
Notre Dame vs. UNC Charlotte
In the tradition of most 8-9 games, this promises to be an evenly matched contest. Mike Brey and his Fighting Irish enjoyed a strong season behind the play of freshman point guard Chris Thomas and rugged forward Ryan Humphrey. Humphrey, a first team All-Big East Performer, led the league in rebounding (10.4) and finished seventh in scoring (18.4). Thomas, a McDonald’s All-American, lived up to the hype notching a triple-double in his first game and posting a remarkable 25:1 assist to turnover ratio. UNC Charlotte was rewarded for their strong finish with one of the final at large bids to the NCAA tournament. Despite a modest 18-11 record, they benefited from a strong strength of schedule that included match-ups against Florida, Miami, and Indiana. The 49ers feature a three-pronged attack of sharp shooter Jobey Thomas, point guard Demon Brown, and big man Cameron Stephens. This match-up may be one of the highest scoring games of the first round.
Indiana vs. Utah
In one of the most intriguing first round match-ups of the entire tournament, Mike Davis will hope to notch his first postseason victory as a head coach. For all of their tradition, the Hoosiers have regressed into one of the worst tournament teams in the country, failing to reach the Sweet Sixteen since 1994, and losing in the first round five of the past seven years. On four of those occasions, Indiana lost to a lower seeded team and their past three tournament defeats have come at an average of 18 points per game. The selection committee did them no favors pitting them against Utah in the opening round. Although this Utes team is not as talented as some in the past, Rick Majerus has never lost a first round game. What Utah lacks in quickness, they make up for in size in the form of 6-9 Britten Johnsen and 6-10 Phil Cullen. The pair should be able to frustrate Indiana star Jarred Jeffries and place the onus on Tom Coverdale and Dane Fife to drain three point shots. If they don’t, it could be another early exit for the Hoosiers.
USC vs. UNC Wilmington
This is a match-up of contrasting styles. The Seahawks, with their patented stingy defense, will hope to slow down the high-flying Trojans. UNC Wilmington, who last reached the tournament in 2000, ranked in the top 15 nationally in team defense, surrendering an average of just over 60 points a game. They will need to be at their best going up against a USC squad that averages 78 points per game and sports four double-digit scorers. The key will be the Seahawks ability to contain the inside-outside attack of forward Sam Clancy and guard Brandon Glanville. However, even if the Colonial Athletic champions are able to limit those two players, USC can turn to the explosive forward David Bluthenthal and emerging freshman Errick Craven. The Trojans must worry about CAA player of the year Brett Blizzard, one of the deadliest outside shooters in the country.