Scout/Jeff Drummond

Kentucky Wildcats' South Region loaded with NBA prospects

Trying to decide which NCAA Tournament region is the strongest? The South makes its case with abundance of NBA prospects.

Each year when the NCAA Tournament brackets are released on Selection Sunday, college basketball fans and media alike scramble to assess which region is the strongest.

Who got a cakewalk?

Who got Murderers' Row?

The jury was almost unanimous this year. To the surprise of no one over at the University of Kentucky's Craft Center, and certainly not John Calipari, the South Region is widely regarded as the most challenging path to the Final Four. 

In ACC champion North Carolina, the South features the No. 1 seed that most college hoops observers considered the biggest threat to cut down the nets over the course of the regular season.

The region also features two other teams that held the AP No. 1 ranking at different points this season in No. 2 seed Kentucky and No. 3 seed UCLA, two of the top offensive clubs in the nation. Along with the Tar Heels, the top three seeds account for 24 championships in NCAA Tournament history.

The 4 seed, Butler, defeated the selection committee's overall No. 1 seed Villanova -- not once, but twice -- and beat Pac-12 champion and West 2 seed Arizona. 

That should be enough evidence to make the case for the South as the most daunting region in this year's tourney. 

But in case that wasn't a strong enough argument, consider this: raw star power.

Forget Cinderella, March Madness is ultimately dominated by Superman. The team left standing at the end of the battle royale almost always has future pros, and the South is loaded with them. 

According to ESPN analyst Chad Ford's latest Top 100 list, the South features five of the top 20 NBA Draft prospects and nine of the top 35.

Kentucky has two of the top 10 in guards De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Wildcats center Bam Adebayo comes in at No. 21.

UCLA has a player some believe could be the No. 1 pick, guard Lonzo Ball, as well as forward T.J. Leaf at No. 17 and raw but talented center Ike Anigbogu at No. 31. Kentucky already knows how good those first two guys are. Ball and Leaf combined for 31 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists in the Bruins' 97-92 win at Rupp Arena in December. 

North Carolina has center Tony Bradley at No. 26 and small forward Justin Jackson at No. 35.

If that was not enough, Wake Forest features forward John Collins at No. 20. He could be one of the most unheralded stars in the field, averaging 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds while playing in the rugged ACC. Other popular mock drafts also include UNC's Isaiah Hicks, Arkansas' Moses Kingsley and Kansas State's Wesley Iwundu among their second-round prospects. 

Make no mistake. If someone is going to make a title run through the South, they're going to have to go through more future pros than any other region. That solidifies it as the Murderers' Row of this year's tourney. 

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