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NCAA Tournament South Region Preview: 1-4 seeds

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A look at the heavyweights atop UNC’s region in the tournament.

ACC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Today the Tar Heel Blog staff is previewing all the seeds in Carolina’s portion of the bracket. First up is the best of the region, including (most importantly) UNC.

#1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Record: 27-7 (14-4 in ACC)

Best win: Louisville (74-63)

Worst loss: @ Georgia Tech (75-63)

Key Player: Justin Jackson

The Selection Committee said the Tar Heels were never in danger of losing their #1 seed to Duke, despite claims otherwise in the media. Still, their semifinal exit from the ACC Tournament was a bit disappointing after taking home the tournament championship a year ago.

If Carolina wants to make good on their talk of remembering the final moments of last year’s tournament, Justin Jackson is going to have to return to his ACC Player of the Year form, the defense is going to have to tighten up, and everyone has to stay out of foul trouble. This team can be a wrecking crew when firing on all cylinders. With Isaiah Hicks peaking at the end of the season, UNC can definitely find their way back to the title game.

#2 Kentucky Wildcats

Record: 29-5 (16-2 in SEC)

Best win: #7 UNC (103-100)

Worst loss: @ Tennessee (83-58)

Key Player: Malik Monk

The Wildcats enter the tournament coming off 11 straight wins on their way to another SEC title. Unfortunately for Kentucky, they are stuck in the bottom half of the South region, which is far more brutal than the top half.

There is really no question that the Wildcats are talented enough to make it to the Final Four on the back of Malik Monk and co. but it certainly won’t be easy for them to get there. They will definitely have to earn it with a potential date with UCLA lurking to even make it to the Elite Eight. Also: Beware the Shockers.

#3 UCLA Bruins

Record: 29-4 (15-3 in PAC12)

Best win: @ #1 Kentucky (97-92)

Worst loss: @ USC (84-76)

Key Player: Lonzo Ball

UCLA put together a very strong regular season run. They only had one “bad loss” and it was to a team that made the tournament. That’s not all that bad. Arizona tripped them up twice, but Arizona is a trendy pick to win it all. There’s no shame in that.

Lonzo Ball runs the show for the Bruins, but it’s not always for the best. All of that fanfare can turn into a distraction really quickly. UCLA is fourth in the country in offensive efficiency, so points are not going to be a problem. Like Kentucky, UCLA has to contend with the much tougher bottom half of the South bracket. Those guys are all going to have to first fight it out with each other to emerge for the next big tests.

#4 Butler Bulldogs

Record: 23-8 (12-6 in Big East)

Best win: @ #2 Villanova (74-66) and/or #1 Villanova (66-58)

Worst loss: @ Indiana State (72-71)

Key Player: Kelan Martin

It’s possible that Butler is over-seeded as a #4. They finished second in the Big East behind Villanova, but their season featured some truly inexplicable losses. In addition to losing on the road at Indiana State, the Bulldogs lost at St. Johns, at home against Georgetown, and at home against Seton Hall.

Butler is 106th in the country at 76.3 and 327th in the country averaging 32 rebounds per game. This is the kind of matchup the Tar Heels have to be licking their chops in anticipation of...but it’s not going to be that easy. Middle Tennessee is a trendy upset pick, and they could see Butler in the second game of the tournament. It could all be bad news for the Bulldogs.