The NCAA tournament South Regional could arguably be the most fun region to watch when four teams make their way to Houston to play in the regional finals. High-octane scoring seems to define many of the teams in the South, as half of the nation's top 10 scoring offenses reside in the region.
The Eastern Washington Eagles (80.8), Duke Blue Devils (80.6), Davidson Wildcats (79.9), Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (79.5) and Gonzaga Bulldogs (79.1) are all top 10, while the Iowa State Cyclones aren't too far off at 78.4, which ranked 14th.
More than scoring, though, the region will be about redemption of sorts for No. 1 seed Duke, which made an early exit last season, falling to the Mercer Bears in their first game. This Blue Devils team is built to make a long run with its balance of freshman contributors and veterans, such as senior guard Quinn Cook and junior forward Amile Jefferson. No. 2 seed Gonzaga would love to knock the Blue Devils off and, in the process, shed its reputation for being unable to win big in March.
Five players to watch: All you need to know about Duke center Jahlil Okafor is he's the first freshman ever to win the ACC's player of the year award. Let that sink in a moment as you consider all of the next-level talents who have come through the league since freshman eligibility began. Okafor led the Blue Devils with 17.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game and shot 66.9 percent from the floor.
Utah Utes guard Delon Wright ranked in the top 10 in both scoring (14.9) and assists (5.2) in the Pac-12. Wright returned to school this season in order to become a more consistent perimeter shooter. He's done that, shooting 52 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range.
Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos essentially played injured for most of last season. He was a completely different player this season once he got back to full strength. He averaged 5.0 assists per game and is arguably the single most important player for the Bulldogs. He makes things happen.
Need buckets? Eastern Washington guard Tyler Harvey gets them in flurries. The 6-foot-4 junior guard led the nation in scoring, averaging 22.9 points per game, and also led the nation with 122 made 3-pointers. Harvey dropped 25 points in the Eagles' 88-86 win at Indiana in November.
Iowa State forward Georges Niang is probably more charged to play in the tournament than any first-timer after breaking his foot in the first game of the tournament last season. Niang leads the Cyclones with 15.5 points per game, and his ability to score inside and out makes him a tough matchup.
Dark horse: Iowa State isn't just a sleeper pick for the region. It could have the formula to win it all. The Cyclones go heavy on offense, which, in a season of teams to struggling to score, could trump having shutdown defenders. It did in the Big 12 tournament title game, when Iowa State trailed the Kansas Jayhawks by 17 before rallying to win. The Cyclones have five players who average double-figure scoring, and point guard Monte Morris led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.91-to-1.
Upset alert: Utah is on notice, or at least it should be. All the Utes have to do is look back at last season's NCAA tournament, when Stephen F. Austin was a No. 12 seed and knocked off the VCU Rams. Senior forward Jacob Parker, the 2014 Southland Conference player of the year, and junior swingman Thomas Walkup combined to average 29 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game. The Lumberjacks challenged themselves in nonconference play back in November but lost games against the Northern Iowa Panthers, Xavier Musketeers and Baylor Bears.
Most to prove: Could this be the season Gonzaga and coach Mark Few break through to the Final Four? The Bulldogs certainly have the talent to do it. The weight of past failures, including being bounced in the second game as a No. 1 seed in 2013, has formed the narrative on the Zags in the NCAA tournament. Few has said Kyle Wiltjer, who won a title as a reserve with Kentucky in 2012, has added a bit of attitude to the team. No squad will be playing with a bigger chip on its shoulder than Gonzaga, which looks to put to rest once and for all that it doesn't belong with the elites.
Matchup we'd love: Duke against the SMU Mustangs. There's the obvious coaching matchup of Mike Krzyzewski and his career 1,000-plus wins versus Larry Brown, the only coach to win both an NCAA national title and an NBA championship. (Underneath that headline is Brown's North Carolina pedigree, too. He unwittingly helped elevate the Duke-UNC rivalry when he slugged it out with Art Heyman in 1961.) On the floor, individual battles could pit 6-foot-11 SMU center Yanick Moreira against Okafor and Duke point guard Tyus Jones against SMU floor leader Nic Moore.