Commentary

Katz's Region Breakdowns: South

Updated: March 17, 2009, 12:34 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

What's to like?

North Carolina easily could have been the top seed overall in the tournament, yet the Tar Heels were dealt the toughest top four seeds. Oklahoma, the No. 2, was a No. 1 a few weeks ago. Syracuse, a No. 3, is the hottest team that didn't win a conference tournament. Gonzaga, a No. 4, was playing like a Final Four contender early in the season and returned to that form to close out the West Coast tournament title last week.

Here's your Sweet 16 on the South regional:

Most important injury: Not even close. If Ty Lawson's jammed right big toe is healthy, the Tar Heels can win the title. If it's not, they will struggle to get out of the South regional. Lawson changes the way UNC gets shots. If he's running, the Heels are tough to stop.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Jerry Laizure/US PresswireBlake Griffin is the South's best player, but can he carry Oklahoma to Detroit?

Best player: Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. He is going to sweep the national player of the year awards and likely be the top pick in June's NBA draft. Griffin has the ability to carry the Sooners to the title.

Most endurance: Syracuse's Jonny Flynn. His passing was superb in the Big East tournament, but his ability to stay on the court through six overtimes against UConn (67 minutes), another OT against West Virginia (45) and then a regular game against Louisville (34) was remarkable.

Hottest team: Gonzaga. The Bulldogs torched Santa Clara and Saint Mary's in the WCC tournament. The Bulldogs have scored 83 or more points in each of the past three games. With a possibility of six different players leading the team in scoring, the Zags' offense is clicking as well as it has in the past two seasons. The Zags also got protected this year by going to Portland after having to play Davidson in Raleigh last season despite being the higher seed in that game.

Welcome back: Bruce Weber is one of the best men coaching in the game. He took some heat when Illinois didn't make the field last season. The Illini were one of the surprise teams in the country (even if they were on the losing end of a brutal 38-33 game). Weber's return to the NCAAs should be enough to quiet his critics for now.

Toughest matchup: Arizona State's James Harden can score in a variety of ways. He's a cerebral player who knows how to find his spots on the floor, too. If Harden produces, the Sun Devils can advance. If he doesn't, they won't. Simple enough?

Best shooter: Clemson's Terrence Oglesby can change the game in a moment with his 3-point shooting. He's rarely out of range and doesn't need much space to get his shot. If Oglesby can bury a few 3s, the Tigers have a legit shot to advance.

Best scorer: LSU's Marcus Thornton might grab this honor. Thornton has the ability to put up big numbers. He's a money player, not afraid to take the big shot. He can play off Tasmin Mitchell, too. Thornton was a deserving SEC player of the year.

Stingiest team: Butler. The Bulldogs gave up 57.4 points a game this season. The numbers did jump a few times like when they gave up 71 to Loyola-Illinois. But Cleveland State scored only 57 in a win over the Bulldogs in the Horizon final.

[+] EnlargeJohn Beilein
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJohn Beilein has Michigan in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.

Most relieved fan base: Did you see Michigan's reaction to the bid? The Wolverines were once one of the most relevant teams in the NCAA with the Fab Five and the cachet they had in cities across America. But then the core of the team departed, scandal erupted and multiple coaching changes never got the Wolverines on the right path. Until now; Michigan is back in the NCAAs under John Beilein for the first time since 1998.

Easiest name to remember: Dionte Christmas, Temple. He could carry the Owls to a win or two. Christmas scored 29 points in the A-10 final victory over Duquesne, 20 in the win over Xavier in the semifinals. Christmas had his best game of the season in the Owls' most significant nonconference win, scoring 35 against Tennessee in December.

Encore performers: Western Kentucky played in the best ending of the first round of last year's NCAA tourney when the Hilltoppers beat Drake at the buzzer. Western Kentucky provided early-season drama with a win over Louisville in Nashville. Putting the Hilltoppers in a 12-5 matchup again this season may make them a trendy upset pick.

LeBron influence: No program gets as much favored treatment from LeBron James as his hometown Zips. Akron coach Keith Dambrot once coached James and leans on him for support. Don't be surprised to see King James picking the Zips to win a game.

Welcome: Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks are making their first NCAA appearance out of the Southland. Stephen F. Austin played in one of the best games of the season that few saw when it beat North Dakota State in three overtimes in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 12.

Best story: Todd Bozeman is back in the Dance at Morgan State. He was banished for eight seasons with a "show cause penalty for paying the father of a recruit at Cal. It took him another two years before Morgan State hired him. During his 10-year absence, he worked as a scout and coached AAU basketball, among other gigs. Bozeman has done his penance and is ready for the marquee stage. He also has a team that could cause problems; Morgan State won at Maryland early in the season.

New career: If Bozeman is the most intriguing story, Radford's Brad Greenberg isn't far behind. Greenberg got his first coaching job in his mid-50s after holding nearly every level of job in the sport from general manager of an NBA team (Sixers) to the basketball operations post (at Virginia Tech). One Greenberg (Seth) couldn't get into the Dance, while the other (Brad) made quite an entrance with Radford's scoring 108 points in the Big South final win over VMI.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com