Ranking the 10 best players in the South Region that Kentucky could face on the way to the Final Four

John Calipari and the Wildcats will have a tough road to the Final Four out of the South Region in the NCAA Tournament, and these are the players in the way of the Wildcats and Final Four No. 19.
Houston Cougars guard Jamal Shead (1)
Houston Cougars guard Jamal Shead (1) / William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
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1. 450. Jamal Shead. player. . 13.1 ppg 6.2 asts 2.3 steals. . Senior 6'1" 200 lbs. Jamal Shead, PG. Jamal Shead, PG

His numbers are unimpressive, at 13.1 points per game and 6.2 assists, but Shead was the Big 12’s Player of the Year for good reason. He’s an absolute bulldog at the point of attack defensively, a nightmare for opposing guards, and a conductor on offense, the real-life manifestation of Kelvin Sampson’s basketball brain. 

After four years at Houston, Shead embodies the toughness that Sampson preaches and in their first year in the Big 12 together, the two ran roughshod over the conference (conference title game excluded). He’s only shooting 40% from the field and 32% from three and yet there isn’t a player in the South Region I would less want to see on the other side if I’m Kentucky or any of the other 14 teams. 

Houston would be an interesting matchup for Kentucky if both made the Elite Eight. Houston’s weakness is its offense, which can go cold for 4-5 minute stretches at a time, while it feels like Kentucky hasn’t gotten 4-5 defensive stops all season. Facing Shead head-to-head for a spot in the Final Four would be the ultimate test of Reed Sheppard, one I’m not sure he’s ready for. 

While Shead isn’t the scorer for Houston, his running mate LJ Cryer is. Cryer would have cracked this list, but I refrained from using two players on the same team outside of Marquette’s unique case where Kolek may not play. 

For argument's sake, I’d have Sheppard at No. 3 on this list, just ahead of Filipowski, while Reeves would slot in behind Ighodaro and ahead of Simpson. Even Dillingham would find a spot in the top 10. Yet, Kentucky will have an incredibly tough time getting out of the South Region. It’s never been a question of talent for the 2024 Wildcats.

Next. Kentucky all-time March Madness round-by-round record. Kentucky all-time March Madness round-by-round record. dark