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Sweet 16 preview: Southwest’s top players, champ


The details: The region where little went according to seed. Half of the region’s games ended up upsets, knocking out the likes of Notre Dame, Purdue, Louisville and Vanderbilt. Not that it’s a bunch of chumps. Florida State boasts the nation’s best defense, Richmond’s won nine straight games and nobody’s won more NCAA tournament games this year than Virginia Commonwealth. Oh, also, there’s Kansas.

Friday’s matchups

No. 1 Kansas (34-2) vs. No. 12 Richmond (29-7)
Time: 7:27 p.m. ET on TBS

No. 10 Florida State (23-10) vs. No. 11 VCU (26-11)
Time: 9:57 p.m. ET on TBS

Team to beat: Kansas

Um, did you note the seeds? Not only are the Jayhawks the region’s top seed, they’re the only single-digit seed remaining. If that’s not enough, Kansas is the deepest, most talented and most balanced team left. Bill Self’s team has had this kind of path to the Final Four before, too. In ’08, it played teams seeded 16, 8, 12 and 10 – and barely escaped the 10. Just sayin’.

Team with nothing to lose: VCU

Three games, three NCAA tournament wins. Not a bad week for the Rams, who have a promising matchup against Florida State. The ‘Noles has a nasty defense, but VCU’s halfcourt offense shredded Purdue, which is no easy task. Shaka Smart’s offense got better each game thanks to point guard Joey Rodriguez hitting his stride. Another win would be fantastic. But this is already a great tourney for the Rams, who can continue to play fast and loose.

Players to watch

Kevin Anderson, Richmond: Kansas has trouble vs. quick guards who can create their own shot. Anderson should be pumped. The 6-foot senior excels in the open court and off screens, though he’s a streaky shooter. The Jayhawks will do their best to prevent Anderson from receiving the ball, let alone shoot it.

Marcus Morris, Kansas: Lauded by coach Bill Self as “the most complete player I’ve ever coached,” Morris will take the Richmond defense inside and outside, hitting 3s or shot turnaround jumpers. His brother, Markieff, will be tasked with guarding Justin Harper, leaving Marcus the chance to roam and help on defense.

Bradford Burgess, VCU: The junior guard couldn’t miss vs. Purdue, going for 23 points, just three off his season high. Expect Florida State to focus on Jamie Skeen inside, elevating Burgess to the Rams primary scoring option.

Chris Singleton, Florida State: The 6-9 junior is still recovering from a broken foot, but wasn’t need to play huge minutes vs. Notre Dame. That helped his foot heal even more, which isn’t a promising sign for VCU. When healthy, Singleton’s the country’s best defender.

Coach under pressure: Bill Self

See “team to beat” above. Self takes heat for Kansas’ early tournament exits (’05, ’06 and ’10), but would be roasted if the Jayhawks don’t win the region. Yes, he won a title in 2008, but these are two games his team’s supposed to win. He has to ensure the Jayhawks are ready to play.

Outcome: I’m not about to defy the odds. Kansas was the Southwest Regional favorite last week and it’s ready to make plans to hit Houston next week. Richmond and the VCU-Florida State winner will push the Jayhawks, but beating them? That’s something else.

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You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.