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What Happened: South Region

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

The South region was turned upside down on Friday, while Sunday restored some order to the region.

What Happened: South Region

Is your bracket busted? That must mean that the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament has come and passed, leaving thousands upon of thousands of brackets in its wake. CHARGED.fm is here to go over exactly what happened during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and we'll tackle the South Region next.

Most Impressive Team: Kentucky Wildcats

It's not difficult to be impressed by the way Kentucky looked over the first weekend.  They defeated Western Kentucky 81-66 in the second round, then toppled Iowa State 87-71 in the third round.  They showed some slight moments of weakness, but for the most part Kentucky dominated both games.

The dangerous thing about this Kentucky team that only plays 7 guys is that you don't know exactly who is going to hurt you on any given night.  Kentucky has six players that can absolutely destroy you, and more often than not, three or four of them are on their game.  Depending on the matchup, Kentucky can let Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones do work inside.  If the opposing guards prove exploitable, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague will torch them.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can go off against anybody, and Darius Miller can heat up off the bench.

This Kentucky team showed no real signs of distress after losing in the SEC title game to Vanderbilt.  If anything, Calipari's squad looks even tougher because of it.

Most Disappointing Team: UNLV Runnin' Rebels

I had high hopes for UNLV coming into the tournament.  They boasted a stingy defense, a premier player in UCLA transfer Mike Moser, and a toughness that just screamed potentially deep run as a 6 seed.  UNLV really stunk it up in their opening game against Colorado.  They fell behind big in the second half, made a frantic comeback that saw the deficit cut to just two, and then stopped running any kind of offense in favor of chucking 25-foot threes the rest of the game.  UNLV shot just 32.4% from the field, including a paltry 25% from three (9-36!) while also getting badly out-rebounded (43-30) in the 68-64 loss. 

The only thing that kept UNLV in the game was their knack at forcing Colorado turnovers.  The Buffaloes turned it over a staggering 23 times, most of those coming in the second half.  All of these stats just scream "ugly game" and that it was.  A UNLV team with one of the best forwards in the country (Mike Moser) couldn't find a way to get past the first day.  The Mountain West didn't fare well (opening round losses by UNLV, Colorado State, and San Diego State plus a third round exit for New Mexico) and the biggest culprit was UNLV for their no-show.

(The only reason this isn't Duke is because they were missing a key player in Ryan Kelly, and Mike Krzyzewski came off as humble and gracious in defeat after being upset by 15 seed Lehigh).

Most Surprising Team: Xavier Musketeers

The obvious pick for this category is Lehigh, but how many people had Xavier advancing to the Sweet 16 in this region?  This Musketeers team looked completely out of it following the big brawl with Cincinnati, going into a tailspin and appearing to lose their identity.  The toughness that characterized their play looked gone, and they basically limped into the NCAA Tournament.

But that toughness showed up against both Notre Dame and Lehigh.  Tu Holloway seemed like his old self, taking control when he had to and really leading the team.  The tight perimeter defense returned.  Kenny Frease provided great minutes down low, especially against an undersized Lehigh team where he poured in 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Also, this team showed resiliency in the face of adversity.  Xavier needed big buckets down the stretch to take down Notre Dame, and Holloway came through with a clutch fadeaway off the glass to win it.  They trailed Lehigh by as many as 15 points in the first half and looked on the verge of collapsing.  But the Musketeers forged ahead, cutting the lead to four at the half and then keeping the pressure on in the second half for the 12-point win.  Xavier has its swagger back.

Player of the Weekend: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh

The South Region was filled with great statistical performances from players on winning and losing teams alike, but McCollum's efforts on Friday and Sunday stood out the most to me.  McCollum was already a known quantity, coming into the tournament as the sixth-leading scorer in the country at 21.6 points per game.  His Lehigh Mountain Hawks entered the tournament as the 15 seed against heavily-favored Duke, featuring their own highly touted guards Austin Rivers and Seth Curry.

All McCollum did was drop 30 points on Duke with 6 rebounds and 6 assists to go along with it.  The Mountain Hawks pulled off the second 15-over-2 upset of the day, and McCollum was the catalyst for Lehigh.

In their next game vs. Xavier, McCollum couldn't exactly sustain his great play.  A combination of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons clamped down on the junior guard, forcing him to shoot 5-22 from the field and 0-6 from long range in the loss.  He still ended up with 14 points and a team-high 8 rebounds, and his play made us all fall in love with Cinderella again.

Honorable Mention: Brady Heslip, Baylor; Anthony Davis, Kentucky; Royce White, Iowa State.

Game of the Weekend: Any game involving VCU

Shaka Smart's VCU Rams were involved in two terrific games over the weekend, both going down to the wire.  In the second round, VCU was matched with fellow mid-major powerhouse Wichita State.  The Rams pressured the Shockers into a ton of turnovers and took a substantial lead into halftime.  Wichita State almost completed the comeback, but Bradford Burgess drilled a three to give VCU the lead for good and a trip to the third round.

Their next game came against 4 seed Indiana, a team whose backcourt could be pressured relentlessly.  Indiana committed over 20 turnovers that fed into VCU's lead, but Indiana stuck around and clawed back.  The teams traded buckets and Indiana finally got a key stop, leading to Will Sheehey's game-winning bucket from the baseline with just 12 seconds left.  An open three on the other end didn't fall, and Indiana moved on.

Moral of the story: VCU plays entertaining basketball, and it's a shame they are no longer in the tournament.

Biggest What-If: Notre Dame's Lane Violation

Over the first weekend, we were treated to two separate lane violation calls on late free throw attempts.  The second came in the waning seconds of the Notre Dame/Xavier game.  Trailing by two, Notre Dame guard Eric Atkins drew a foul with just two seconds remaining, and he would head to the line to shoot one-and-one free throws.

Atkins calmly drained the first one, cutting the lead to one.  Except that he didn't.  The referee came and waived off the free throw, citing a lane-violation on the play by Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant.  In college, players outside the three point arc can't cross the free throw line until the ball has hit the rim.  Grant clearly violated the rule upon replays.  Not only did the shot not count, but the play resulted in a turnover, giving Xavier the ball.

What would have happened had Grant not crossed?  Would Atkins have made the second free throw?  Could Xavier have made a buzzer beater?  Who would have prevailed in overtime?  It was a horrible way for the game to end, and any other outcome would have been more welcome.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to the NCAA Tournament South Regional in Atlanta.

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