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March 25, 2012
One Expert's Bracket
Go with Kentucky and Kansas

by Drew Cannon

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SOUTH

(3) Baylor vs. (1) Kentucky (Atlanta: Sunday at 2:20)
First instinct: Kentucky
The numbers like: Kentucky (KP - 75%, Silver - 77%, BPI - Kentucky 1, Baylor 12)

When Kentucky has the ball: Baylor's in for quite the battle in trying to turn the Wildcats over or keep them off the offensive glass. If they can stop Kentucky, it'll be because Baylor somehow keeps them off the line and because the Wildcats aren't making their jump shots. This is more possible than it sounds -- the Bears are one of an extraordinarily few teams with both the size and athleticism to defend Kentucky man-to-man. Some teams have attempted to slow down UK by playing zone and hoping that their admittedly few shooters don't kill them, but it hasn't been recognizably more effective. Baylor should be happy that they can field a real defense against Kentucky without resorting to zone, and thus can throw out some different looks.

When Baylor has the ball: Kentucky doesn't force too many turnovers, which is good news for a team that so regularly leaves the ball in the hands of Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton. The Bears' most likely path to success has three prongs: 1. Crush Kentucky on the offensive boards and get a bunch of points from Quincy Acy and Perry Jones putbacks. 2. Find Brady Heslip every time he's open and hope he never misses. 3. Get Pierre Jackson in position to score -- he's the only Bear with a favorable matchup.

Thought process: UK and Baylor are built similarly, but with the more impressive specimen at each position in action for the Wildcats, excepting point guard. There'll be a lot of weight on the shoulders of Jackson and Acy to produce for the Bears in this matchup, while on the other side of the court every Kentucky starter seems to have a favorable matchup to exploit. Baylor's got quite a bit of firepower to work with, but Kentucky is truly working with an embarrassment of riches.

Final pick: Kentucky

MIDWEST

(2) Kansas vs. (1) North Carolina (Saint Louis: Sunday at 5:05)
First instinct: North Carolina
The numbers like: North Carolina (KP - 47%, Silver - 57%, BPI - North Carolina 5, Kansas 6)

When North Carolina has the ball: Let's not overreact to the Tar Heels' too-close Sweet 16 game against Ohio. If Kendall Marshall can't play, that shouldn't mean that Harrison Barnes goes to pieces the way he did. I fully expect Barnes to bounce back against a Kansas team without a good matchup for him. And let it be noted: Stilman White had six assists and zero turnovers against an Ohio team that forced more turnovers than any team but VCU this year. I'm not saying White is an ACC point guard, but the downgrade from Marshall wasn't felt in the ways I personally expected. North Carolina had 24 turnovers, but it wasn't White's fault.

When Kansas has the ball: North Carolina's biggest defensive strength is keeping opponents off the foul line. They rank first nationally in opponents' free throw rate, and second nationally in lowest proportion of points allowed coming from free throws. This is all the more impressive considering the number of shots they block and the difficulty they present opponents in making two-point shots. They're going to have to find a new way to do things to guard Thomas Robinson, though. I find it hard to believe that they can prevent contact and still make his life difficult. The Tar Heels haven't really had to face an opponent like him this season. And their point guard defense is going to be shaky no matter who plays. Anyway, it doesn't help that they'll have to guard someone as quick as Tyshawn Taylor.

Thought process: Nobody this side of Kentucky really matches up well with North Carolina, but Kansas is certainly interesting on that front. Jeff Withey's shot-blocking ability could make Tyler Zeller's life pretty difficult, and I'm not sure who exactly on the Heels' roster can bang with Robinson. Barnes is a tough matchup for anyone, but you could do worse than Travis Releford if you're trying to keep him in line. And Taylor could absolutely destroy whoever plays point guard for the Heels on Sunday. If, for whatever reason, Barnes comes back next year, he'll probably be the best player in the country. But this year, I don't know how I feel about him putting the Heels on his back for an entire game -- or I prefer the idea of Taylor and Robinson with bad matchups than I do Barnes alone. There aren't many bad matchups for North Carolina, but this is one.

Final pick: Kansas

Drew Cannon is a college student and a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Click here to see Drew's other articles. Follow him on Twitter at @DrewCannon1.

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Drew Cannon is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Drew by clicking here or click here to see Drew's other articles.

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Foul, Survive, Advance (03/25)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Every Play Counts (03/26)

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