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South Region: Like locals? Then you’ll love this side of the bracket

Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) celebrates after TCU's final shot missed in overtime of a Big 12 quarterfinal. K-State beat TCU 66-64. (Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star/TNS)
Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) celebrates after TCU's final shot missed in overtime of a Big 12 quarterfinal. K-State beat TCU 66-64. (Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star/TNS)
Published Mar. 11, 2018

Team to beat

In a tournament devoid of world beaters, overall top seed Virginia (31-2) appears the best pound-for-pound team in the field. The favorite of purists everywhere (the roster is devoid of one-and-dones), the Cavaliers lead the nation in scoring defense (53.4 ppg) and commit the fewest turnovers (8.6). While their methodical tempo won't generate many style points, it could propel the program into its first Final Four since 1984.

Here come the 'Cats

While the current version of Kentucky won't remind anyone of the 1996 national title team ("The Untouchables"), this group clearly is jelling at an opportune time. Since sending the Commonwealth into a tizzy with a four-game losing streak in mid-February, Kentucky (24-10) has won seven of eight. In three SEC Tournament games, the 'Cats totaled only 24 turnovers, and shot nearly 56 percent from 3-point range (19-of-34) in wins against Alabama and Tennessee.

But he shoots and rebounds

Our indefatigable quest to unearth quirky, compelling statistics led us to No. 2-seeded Cincinnati's low post. In 783 minutes this season, Bearcats 6-foot-9 senior Kyle Washington has totaled only 11 — 11 — assists. Fortunately for the Bearcats, Washington shoots better than 50 percent from the floor. He had a clutch 3-pointer late in Sunday's 56-55 win against Houston in the American Athletic Conference tournament final.

Bay area bracket

We'll be interested to see the local TV numbers for this region, because it's rife with local talent. While Kevin Knox (Tampa Catholic) is sparkling among Kentucky's constellation of one-and-done guys, Miami junior Anthony Lawrence (Lakewood) is having a solid year (8.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) for the sixth-seeded Hurricanes. Elsewhere on the bracket, Gibbs High alumnus Barry Brown Jr. (16.0 ppg, 3.4 assists) is one of three players to have started all 33 games for Kansas State.

Upset alert

Watch for No. 14 seed Wright State to send the Vol Nation into its biggest funk since Greg Schiano prematurely was announced football coach. The Horizon League champ, Wright State (25-9) has used the same starting lineup the past 19 games, which translates into chemistry and continuity. While UT coach Rick Barnes warrants serious national Coach of the Year consideration for resuscitating UT, he hasn't gotten out of the NCAA Tournament's first weekend since 2008.

Related: Full NCAA bracket here