Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Sweet 16 Preview and Predictions: South Region


The 2013 edition of the Sweet 16 got underway last night, with Marquette, Ohio State, Syracuse, and Wichita State all advancing to the Elite Eight.

Tonight, four more teams will join them as the South and Midwest regions take center stage.

Let’s take a quick look at the two matchups from the South region:

(1) Kansas vs. (4) Michigan – 7:37 PM ET, TBS

Despite spending time at number one this season, the Wolverines weren’t a heavy favorite to advance past the second round. A lot of analysts (myself included) didn’t think Michigan would be able to handle the havoc that Shaka Smart’s VCU squad brought to the table, but they did just that…..and then some. Michigan pounded the Rams by 25 in one of the more dominating performances of this year’s tourney thus far. Mitch McGary was the catalyst in that one, as he seemed to be in all the right spots in route to a double double, but it was a total team effort from beginning to end.

The Wolverines will need a similar type of performance tonight as they take on the top seed in the South region, the Kansas Jayhawks. Of all the one seeds in this year’s tournament, Kansas has gotten the least attention. Which is probably to be expected since they haven’t particularly played their greatest basketball in their two tournament wins over Western Kentucky and North Carolina. But perhaps the most promising part of those two is that the Jayhawks’ best half came in their last half, where they erased a nine point halftime deficit to win by 12.

What fueled Kansas is what will need to fuel them against Michigan. Jeff Withey had 16 and 16 in an impressive performance against the Tar Heels, and he’ll need to bring the same type of effort in his matchup with McGary if Kansas wants to control the paint. It would also be nice if they could Ben McLelmore going with a few early makes to get his confidence up after struggling recently. If McLemore can’t find his shot though, they’ll once again need to call on Travis Releford to shoulder the scoring load.

Given what we’ve seen from the two teams, it’s hard to pick against Michigan right now. They might not have the same type of momentum they had following the VCU win due to the layoff, but there’s no doubt that this team is clicking on all cylinders on the court. They have the shooting, they have the beast inside, and they are playing like the top team that we all knew they could be. Bill Self will have Kansas ready, but I don’t think they’re playing well enough at this point in the tournament to knock off a Michigan team that is.

Prediction: Michigan 73, Kansas 67

(3) Florida vs. (15) Florida Gulf Coast – 10:07 PM ET, TBS

Everyone and their mother now knows who Florida Gulf Coast is. The Eagles are the first 15-seed to make it to the round of 16, and not only that, they won their first two games by double digits. It’s been an amazing ride for this team, with players like Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson taking over the headlines in the first weekend of the tournament with their outstanding play in leading this team to unthinkable territory.

Head coach Andy Enfield has done a tremendous job preparing his team for the first two challenges, and he’ll no doubt have his hands full this time around as they take on Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators. Florida is an interesting team in that most people thought before the season that they would be serious national title contenders. However, that thought changed throughout the season as the Gators proved time and time again that they couldn’t pull out victories in close games.

In one of the more remarkable stats of the season, all 28 wins for the Gators have come by double digits. Six of their seven losses have come by single digits. And that’s where worry sets in when deciding if this team is capable of winning a national championship. They certainly have the talent to do it, with Patric Young and Erik Murphy manning the middle, and Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, and Scottie Wilbekin all being outstanding shooters on the perimeter. But the concern still remains as to how they will react in a close game with little time left on the clock.

In going back to Enfield for a second, he’s led this team here by simply letting them play. There’s nothing fancy about what FGCU does. They run and play basketball. Florida will be the toughest challenge they’ve faced, and you know that Donovan will have his team ready. The crowd will be rooting for the underdog, so if the Eagles can get out to a hot start, it’s going to be interesting to see how this Florida team responds. But what if FGCU is the one that starts slow? We know how capable they are of making quick runs due to the way they run the floor.

I’ll probably regret picking against the underdogs, but I picked the Gators to win this region, and I’ll stick with that pick. I think it’s gonna be hard for FGCU to recapture that same type of momentum that they had going last weekend. Honestly though, I hope I’m wrong. This has been a special story and I’d like to see it continue. I’m going with the Gators though.

Prediction: Florida 75, FGCU 65

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