By Oliver Mauntel
Of the four regions, the South region may be the toughest to endure. The region consists of a handful of national title contenders, and four schools that have ‘Wildcats’ as mascots. The winner of the South region will have survived a gauntlet, and may very well be the odds on favorite to win it all.
Virginia (31-2): The Cavaliers have few weaknesses, if any at all. Virginia’s offense does tend to stall at times, but they are often bailed out by their suffocating, pack-line defense. Virginia wants to slow the pace down and doesn’t mind getting in a rock fight, if necessary. If the Hoos are knocked out, it will likely be due to a poor shooting performance, or being dominated on the boards. However, if sharpshooter Kyle Guy gets in a rhythm, Virginia will be difficult to stop.
On the road/neutral site: (15-1) Last 10 games: (9-1)
Cincinnati (29-4): The Bearcats have always been able to defend under Mick Cronin, and this year is no exception. This year, however, Cincinnati has a reliable offense as well. The Bearcats have no single star player, but each starter is capable of stepping up if need be. One concern for Cincinnati is that besides beating Wichita State once, they haven’t defeated any premier opponents.
On the road/neutral site: (14-3) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Tennessee (25-8): The Volunteers were projected to finish 13th in the SEC, and needless to say, they easily surpassed those expectations. Tennessee has an abundance of dynamic athletes, including Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield; each looks more like a linebacker than a basketball player. Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bone are quick guards that can wear down defenders quickly.
On the road/neutral site: (12-6) Last 10 games: (7-3)
Arizona (27-7): The Wildcats have begun to play like the national title contender that many expected them to be. They have the most dominant player in college basketball, Deandre Ayton, and have a fresh chip on their shoulder as a result of the Sean Miller allegations. Arizona is as good as any team in the field right now, and easily capable of bringing Sean Miller his coveted first Final Four appearance.
On the road/neutral site: (12-6) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Kentucky (24-10): Even for Kentucky standards, these Cats are young. Although they stumbled through the month of February, the Wildcats appear to have found their grove. Wenyen Gabriel, a sophomore, lit up the SEC tournament, shooting 11-15 from beyond the arc. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks like a new player, averaging over 18 ppg in his last seven games. Weird to say, but Kentucky is a sneaky Final Four candidate. Don’t bet against the Wildcats.
On the road/neutral site: (8-8) Last 10 games: (7-3)
Miami FL (22-9): The Canes experienced a successful regular season, finishing third in the highly acclaimed ACC. Unfortunately, Bruce Brown was injured late in the season and may not return in time for the tournament. Lonnie Walker IV can make plays, but it may not be enough to replace Brown’s production.
On the road/neutral site (11-6) Last 10 games: (6-4)
Nevada (27-7): The Wolfpack are one of the most dangerous non-Power 5 teams in the field, especially when healthy. However, Nevada lost Lindsey Drew, the starting point guard, to a torn achilles in February. Nevada struggled down the stretch without him, losing two of their final three games.
On the road/neutral site: (13-6) Last 10 games: (7-3)
Creighton (21-11): The Blue Jays are a talented team and have a professional scorer in Marcus Foster (20.3 ppg). Creighton’s third leading scorer, Martin Krampelj, tore his ACL in January. Creighton is 6-7 ever since. The Blue Jays are still good enough to beat Kansas State -Marcus Foster’s former school- but the road likely ends there.
On the road/neutral site: (5-9) Last 10 games: (4-6)
Kansas State (22-11): The Wildcats held their own in the grueling Big 12 this year, thanks in part to the play of Dean Wade and Barry Brown. Wade and Brown average 16 ppg apiece, but both were recently injured. Keep an eye on the statuses of these two, because they will dictate whether or not Kansas State has a chance in round one.
On the road/neutral site: (8-7) Last 10 games: (6-4)
Texas (19-14): Texas is much more talented than their seed indicates. Mo Bamba, averaging 10.4 rpg and 3.7 bpg, can wreck havoc on opposing offenses. The king of havoc himself, Shaka Smart, has Final Four experience. Plus, a team with heavy hearts, (Andrew Jones), is never an easy out in March.
On the road/neutral site: (6-10) Last 10 games: (4-6)
Loyola-Chicago (28-5): The Ramblers have already proven themselves capable of pulling off a big upset. In December, Loyola shut down #5 Florida’s high powered offense, winning 65-59 in Gainesville. They possess five double-figure scorers, and shoot nearly 40% from deep. Watch out, Miami.
On the road/neutral site: (14-4) Last 10 games: (10-0)
Davidson (21-11): Davidson stole a bid on Selection Sunday, capping their hot streak with an upset win over Rhode Island. Davidson may be one of the few teams with two players who can put up thirty on any given night. Peyton Aldridge (21.5 ppg and 7.8 rpg) may be the best player in college basketball that you haven’t heard of. Kellan Grady (18.0 ppg) can score the rock too.
On the road/neutral site: (10-9) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Buffalo (26-8): In non-conference play, the Bulls performed well against the likes of Cincinnati, Syracuse, and Texas A&M. Buffalo can score the ball, averaging 84.8 ppg, which ranks seventh in the country. Buffalo also has four players who average over 14.5 ppg respectively; not a fun offense for opponents to guard.
On the road/neutral site: (12-7) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Wright State (25-9): The Raiders played a tight game with Loyola-Chicago to open the season, and upset Georgia Tech on the road in December. Wright State struggles to shoot the ball, but is one of the better defensive teams in the field. To win, the Raiders must shoot well from three, and continue their stifling defense.
On the road/neutral site: (11-7) Last 10 games: (8-2)
Georgia State (24-10): This isn’t the same Georgia State team that took down Baylor a few years back. Ron Hunter is still at the helm for the Panthers, but his son, RJ Hunter, won’t be there to save them. D’Marcus Simonds (21.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.5 apg) can pose a threat offensively, but he likely won’t be enough against a well rounded Cincinnati team.
On the road/neutral site: (13-7) Last 10 games: (6-4)
UMBC (24-10): Jairus Lyles made headlines with his game winner over Vermont, to which gave the Retrievers their first NCAA appearance in a decade. Lyles (20.2 ppg) won’t go down without a fight, and will be fun to watch against Virginia’s smothering defense.
On the road/neutral site: (9-8) Last 10 games: (8-2)