Butler, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA star in best NCAA Regional.
Terry Davis, Special to TSDMemphis.com | 3/23/2017, 1:22 p.m.
The NCAA South Regional in Memphis features the only bracket where the top four seeds advanced to the regional round. Butler, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA are competing to continue playing next week when the Final Four engulfs Glendale, Ariz.
The Bluff City, home to the University of Memphis’ blue-clad Tiger Nation, is playing host March 24-26 to four variations of visiting blue associated with the Butler Bulldogs, North Carolina’s Tar Heels, Kentucky’s Wildcats and the Bruins of UCLA.
However, distinguishing the fan bases will not be difficult.
All four teams have Final Four resumes. UCLA leads the pack with 11 NCAA championships, Kentucky has 8 and North Carolina has 5. Butler – a last second shot away from defeating the Duke Blue Devils in 2010 – came up short against the UConn Huskies in the 2011 National Championship game.
The South Regional will be a homecoming of sorts for Butler’s Avery Woodson and Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari.
Woodson, a senior graduate transfer guard, is from Waynesboro, Miss. and logged two seasons at the University of Memphis. At Butler, he has started 23 games, averaging 8.9 points per game. He had a season-high 20 points against St. John’s on February 15.
And then, of course, there is Coach Cal, who guided the University of Memphis from 2000-09. If ever there was a personality walking the line between love and hate in one particular city, then Calipari in Memphis is the poster child.
The Calipari-led Tigers reached the 2008 Final Four championship game before losing in hear-wrenching fashion to Kansas in overtime. Memphis built upon its national rep under Calipari, who recruited top-level players throughout the country.
Then came 2009 and – wait for it – “The Departure.”
The lure of bluegrass country pulled Calipari to Kentucky, leaving a lingering bad taste in the mouths of the Tigers’ faithful. It wasn’t just that he decided to leave, it’s that he took some of his prized recruits, including now-NBA point guard John Wall, with him.
A few years ago, University of Memphis President David Rudd championed the idea of bringing Calipari back for a celebration but that not-ready-for-primetime notion got nixed in the wake of public backlash.
The possible reentry of Coach Cal into Memphis with the team he left town for jumped out at fans of the Tigers when the brackets were announced. Later, a sports radio show posed a choice to its listeners: the Tigers (who got no postseason invite) making it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen round or Kentucky getting hit with sanctions.
Score that one for the sanctions.
Leading No. 1
Justin Jackson will try to lead No. 1-ranked North Carolina back to the Final Four.
On a star-studded team, Jackson leads the way with 18.1 points per game.
North Carolina entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites to win six straight and take the title. The Tar Heels have been ranked as high as sixth in the nation, snaring top seeding in the South Regional.