The presence of Kentucky, Duke, defending NCAA champion UConn and surprising Pac-12 tournament champion Colorado make the 2012 South Region one of the most intriguing in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
But will it be competitive?
Kentucky looks like the clear favorite to win the region and reach the 15th Final Four in school history.
The Wildcats have won seven national championships — the last one came in 1998, when they defeated Utah in the title game.
On Sunday, Kentucky stumbled against Vanderbilt in the finals of the SEC tournament, but it was only its second loss of the season and did little to tarnish its image.
Kentucky already owns wins over North Carolina, Kansas and Big East tournament champion Louisville.
The Wildcats also went 16-0 in the SEC during the regular season, when only one of their games was decided by less than six points.
In that game, Kentucky won at Tennessee, 65-62.
Coach John Calipari didn’t seem too upset over the fact that Kentucky squandered a 62-55 lead in the final five minutes against Vanderbilt.
“I wish this would have happened [Saturday] so we got home a day earlier,” he said. “We got this off our plate. We don’t have to worry about a win streak — none of that. Let’s just go play this [NCAA] Tournament.”
Calipari’s players agreed with their coach, with sophomore forward Terrence Jones unintentionally adding some levity to the post-loss news conference.
“We’ll just use it as motivation for the tournament,” he said. “This one just brings us back to reality. Coach feels we were getting ignorant.”
“Arrogant,” Calipari interjected.
Duke (27-6) is the region’s No. 2 seed.
The Blue Devils, who won the 2010 championship by beating Butler in the title game, are led by one of the top guards in the country.
Austin Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, averages 15.3 points.
Duke, however, has lost two of its past three games entering the tournament.
In the regular season finale, rival North Carolina rolled to an 88-70 victory. The Blue Devils also suffered a 62-59 loss to Florida State in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.
South Region schedule
P Tuesday, at Dayton, Ohio
• Mississippi Valley State vs. Western Kentucky, 4:40 p.m., truTV
Thursday, at Louisville
• Kentucky vs. Miss. Valley St./W. Kentucky, 4:50 p.m., TBS
• Iowa State vs. UConn, 7:20 p.m., TBS
Thursday, at Portland
• Wichita State vs. VCU, 5:15 p.m., Ch. 2
• Indiana vs. New Mexico State, 7:45 p.m., Ch. 2
Thursday, at Albuquerque
• Baylor vs. South Dakota State, 5:27 p.m., truTV
• UNLV vs. Colorado, 7:57 p.m., truTV
Friday, at Greensboro, N.C.
• Duke vs. Lehigh, 5:15 p.m., Ch. 2
• Notre Dame vs. Xavier, 7:45 p.m., Ch. 2