NCAA BK

South region a plethora of championship coaches

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The South Region is a stew of coaches who have recently dominated the NCAA tournament.

Three teams in the bracket - top-seeded Kansas, Florida and North Carolina - are led by coaches who have combined to win five of the last eight national championships. Coaches of seven of the top nine seeds have at least reached the Final Four during that same span.

Bill Self, Billy Donovan, Roy Williams, John Thompson III and Shaka Smart are among the big-name coaches with a history of making the right call at the most pressure-filled time - and they're standing in each other's way on the road to Atlanta.

Among the most enticing potential matchups: a meeting between Kansas' Self and UNC's Williams, a former Jayhawks coach, in the third round.

Williams spent 15 seasons as head coach at Kansas and guided the Jayhawks to four Final Fours before leaving in 2003 to return to his alma mater, where he won the 2005 and 2009 championships. Kansas then turned to Bill Self, who beat Williams' Tar Heels in the Final Four en route to the 2008 NCAA title then did it again last year to reach his second Final Four before falling to Kentucky in the final.

Of course, North Carolina, a No. 8 seed, would first need to beat No. 9 seed Villanova and coach Jay Wright in its tournament opener in Kansas City, Mo. That game is a rematch of the national semifinal in Detroit won by the Tar Heels during their most recent title run. And Kansas would need to avoid falling victim to the first 1-vs-16 upset in tournament history when it opens with Western Kentucky.

''We've been in Carolina's bracket quite often,'' Self said Sunday. ''...Who knows if it'll play out that way? But if it goes that direction and we do play that game, Kansas City will have a little interest in that game based on the past.''

The Tar Heels are coming off a run to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final with a four-guard lineup that sparked a late-season surge.

Florida is in the other half of the bracket as the No. 3 seed under Donovan, who guided the Gators to the 2006 and 2007 NCAA titles. The Gators face Northwestern State in their tournament opener.

Georgetown is the No. 2 seed after winning a share of the Big East championship. Thompson led the Hoyas to the 2007 Final Four and Georgetown opens tournament play against No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast, who upset eventual ACC champion Miami in November.

VCU's Smart became a star during the Rams' surprise run to the Final Four two seasons ago. Now with its pressing ''Havoc'' style of play, VCU's No. 5 seed is its highest since getting a No. 2 in 1985.

In a twist, Smart's team faces Akron, where he worked as an assistant under Keith Dambrot.

''I guess it's been a really strange year,'' said Dambrot, whose team won the Mid-American Conference tournament despite the recent suspension of its starting point guard due to an arrest on drug trafficking charges. ''I guess you can cap it off by playing against your best friend in the NCAA Tournament - or ex-best friend.''

The Rams could have a potential third-round matchup with Michigan's high scoring backcourt duo of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

UCLA is the No. 6 seed after reaching the Pac-12 tournament final. Coach Ben Howland led the Bruins to three straight Final Fours from 2006-08 and fell in the 2006 title game to Florida. Those teams would meet in the third round if each wins their tournament opener.

The region's opening-round matchups are: No. 1 Kansas against No. 16 Western Kentucky; No. 8 North Carolina against No. 9 Villanova; No. 5 VCU against No. 12 Akron; No. 4 Michigan against No. 13 South Dakota State; No. 6 UCLA against No. 11 Minnesota; No. 3 Florida against No. 14 Northwestern State; No. 7 San Diego State against No. 10 Oklahoma; and No. 2 Georgetown against No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast.

---

AP Sports Writers Hank Kurz in Richmond, Va., Dave Skretta in Lawrence, Kan., and Tom Withers in Akron, Ohio, contributed to this report.

Tagged: Michigan, North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Akron, Georgetown, Kansas, Tim Hardaway Jr.

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