NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: South Region

In my fourth and final First Round Preview article for this year’s NCAA Tournament, I’ll now take a look at the South Region, featuring a gauntletĀ of historic men’s college basketball programs.

The 1-seed in the South is the ACC regular season champion North Carolina Tar Heels, who some believe did not deserve a 1-seed over teams like Duke and Arizona, but here they are. If they can reach the Elite Eight, they could have a really difficult opponent, either 2-seed Kentucky, the SEC regular season and tournament champs, or 3-seed UCLA, who failed to win either Pac-12 titles, but were ranked as high as 3rd in the nation down the stretch.

The popular opinion is that the South Region is the most difficult in this year’s bracket, so the team that gets out of Memphis will have certainly earned their trip to the Final Four. Here is my preview of the First Round in the South Region!

*Any statistics discussed are courtesy of KenPom and ESPN*

2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket

South Region

Greenville, SC
#1 North Carolina (27-7) vs #16 Texas Southern (23-11)
Friday 3/17, approx. 4:00 pm TNT

Overview: Despite seven losses, which ties the most losses ever for a 1-seed, North Carolina has an extremely impressive resume. They dominated Wisconsin and Oklahoma State in non-conference play, and then picked up wins over Florida State, Virginia, Louisville, Duke and Notre Dame in ACC play. For those keeping track at home, those are the teams who finished 2nd through 6th in the league, behind the Tar Heels. Texas Southern, under former Indiana and UAB coach Mike Davis, has been known to play a brutal out-of-conference schedule, earning money for the athletic department, and preparing the team for the postseason. Since conference play started, the Tigers are 19-2. UNC struggled against 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast last year, and Texas Southern will not be intimidated.

Key Players: Marcus Paige led this Tar Heel team on their run to the National Championship game last year, and junior guard Joel Berry has nicely taken over that role for this year’s team. Berry is averaging 14.8 points, 3.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Fellow junior Justin Jackson (18.1 PPG) is another very important player for UNC. The Tigers have one of the shortest players in the Tournament in 5-7 freshman Demontrae Jefferson, and he is second on the team in scoring with 14.9 points per game. The leading scorer for Texas Southern is junior guard Zach Lofton, who averages 17.0 points a contest.

Why UNC will Win: I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but a 16 has never beaten a 1, and it’s not going to happen here. North Carolina is a popular pick to go all the way, and I think that’s because they do everything well. This team does not have a weakness. Good guards, size, speed, shooting ability, they are the total package, and when they are clicking, their isn’t a team in the nation that can beat them.

Why TXSO will Win: I’m getting a little lazy at this point, but they won’t win. If the Tar Heels have a weakness, it’s that they are susceptible to being denied at the rim, and they struggle with fouls. If Texas Southern can attack the rim on the offensive end and defend the rim well on defense, maybe they can keep this game close.

 

Greenville, SC
#8 Arkansas (25-9) vs #9 Seton Hall (21-11)
Friday 3/17, 1:30 pm TNT

Overview: I must admit, I did not realize how good a season Arkansas was having until they reached the SEC title game as the 3-seed in the conference. I am still shocked that this team didn’t lose double digit games. Even I, a huge college basketball fan, had to look up their roster because I did not know a single player on their team. That’s about as innocuous a season you can have. Meanwhile, it was another really good season in the Big East for Seton Hall, coming on strong down the stretch winning four in a row to end the regular season before losing by two in the Big East Tournament to Villanova. The Pirates are a dangerous team.

Key Players: One of the biggest reasons Seton Hall is dangerous is their biggest player, 6-10 junior Angel Delgado. He is an absolute load to handle in the paint, averaging 15.3 points and a whopping 13.1 rebounds a game. He is one of the best rebounders in the nation. The Pirates have a couple talented perimeter scorers as well in fellow juniors Khadeen Carrington (16.9 PPG) and Desi Rodriguez (15.9 PPG). I said earlier that I didn’t know any of the Razorback players, but they are talented if the stats are to be believed. It would appear that the key players are a couple seniors, 6-3 guard Dusty Hannahs (14.6 PPG, 90.3 FT%) and 6-10 forward Moses Kingsley (11.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG). A couple juniors, guards Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford, also average double-figures for Arkansas.

Why ARK will Win: Arkansas has a good record, but they have a spotty resume. They only have four wins against teams in the Field, and two of those games are against Vanderbilt, a 9-seed. If they are going to win this game against a hot Seton Hall team, they will need to stick with what they do best, and that is play up-tempo (which Seton Hall is not great at) and get to the free throw line (where they are one of the 25 best teams in the country in free throw percentage). Do that, and the Razorbacks should win.

Why SHU will Win: As you already know if you’ve been reading my preview articles, I am a believer in momentum this time of year. There are a lot of teams in this tournament that are better than Seton Hall, but there aren’t many playing with the momentum that they are. I believe that Seton Hall has better interior players than Arkansas, and they have better guards than Arkansas. If you make that into an equation, that equals a victory here. Run the offense through Angel Delgado and crash the boards, and the Pirates should have no issues moving on.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#5 Minnesota (24-9) vs #12 Middle Tennessee (30-4)
Thursday 3/16, approx. 4:00 pm TNT

Overview: Richard Pitino, son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, has done a fantastic job with this Golden Gopher team. The Pitino’s are now the first father-son duo to coach in the same NCAA Tournament. It’s been a great season for Minnesota, with wins over Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Purdue, Maryland and Michigan. It’s one of the best seasons in Minneapolis in a very long time. But it could all go for naught considering the draw that they received in the Tournament, facing a Middle Tennessee team that people have been looking forward to seeing back in the Tournament since the season began. If you remember, the Blue Raiders knocked off national title favorite Michigan State last season in the First Round as a 15-seed. The stars from that game are back this year, and this team had an even better season, earning a 12-seed (and I thought they should have been higher). This will be a fun game.

Key Players: The Gophers have a nice blend of upperclassmen and underclassmen, led by junior guard Nate Mason (15.5 PPG, 5.0 APG) and freshman forward Amir Coffey (12.1 PPG). Those are the leading scorers for Minnesota, and they will need to play well for this team to win. I mentioned the stars for Middle Tennessee last year returning. They are senior forward Reggie Upshaw (21 points versus MSU last season) and junior guard Giddy Potts (19 points, 3-5 from 3PT range against MSU). Those guys are happy to be back, but neither of them are the Blue Raiders’ best player. That is senior Arkansas-transfer JaCorey Williams, who averages 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and had to watch the huge victory over Michigan State last year on the sidelines, sitting out a year due to transfer rules. He will be chomping at the bit for this game.

Why MINN will Win: Middle Tennessee is a great story, and a really good team, but it’s been a wonderful season for Minnesota, and with the Blue Raiders being a trendy upset pick, the Gophers will love to bust a few brackets. Minnesota will be one of the best defensive teams that MTSU will have played this season, so who knows how their talented offense will respond. The Gophers will need to play up-tempo and limit good looks from the perimeter (which Michigan State couldn’t do last year), but if they do those things, they’ll come out on top.

Why MTSU will Win: They beat a really good Michigan State team last year, and if nothing else, that experience will have this team believing that they can beat anybody in this Tournament. Potts and Upshaw know what it’s like to win games in this thing, and the addition of JaCorey Williams only makes them better. Minnesota is an over-seeded team in my estimation, and the Blue Raiders are good on both ends of the floor. As long as they don’t get caught playing the game Minnesota wants them to play, meaning they slow the game down and take good shots (and make them of course), I like the Blue Raiders to win a game for the second straight Tournament.

 

Milwaukee, WI
#4 Butler (23-8) vs #13 Winthrop (26-6)
Thursday 3/16, 1:30 pm TNT

Overview: Another year, another overachieving Butler team. I’m starting to think that Chris Holtmann is just a fantastic coach. This team was expected to be a fringe-Tournament team, possibly winning a few big games in Big East play. Instead, they finished second in the conference, sweeping the season series with the defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats. Their 8-point win in Philly on February 22 is one of the most impressive wins any team has this season. It was a very good season for the Winthrop Eagles as well, returning to the Tournament for the first time since 2010. Two of their six losses this year came in overtime, and they have a win over a major conference team in Illinois, a better win than a lot of 13-seeds or lower have this year.

Key Players: When it comes to short players in this Tournament, none are better than 5-7 senior guard Keon Johnson for the Eagles. Johnson is extremely talented, averaging 22.5 points a game, shooting better than 86 percent from the free throw line and 40.4 percent from 3-point range. He is one of the best scoring guards in this entire Tournament, and he could become a household name when this is all said and done. For Butler, it pretty much comes down to how 6-7 junior guard/forward Kelan Martin plays. He leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game, and in rebounding with 5.7 boards a game. If he plays well, they usually win. If he struggles, they struggle.

Why BUT will Win: Winthrop is a fun team to watch (trust me, this will be a game you’ll want to tune in to), but Butler is just too much for them. Butler is great at controlling the tempo of the game, protecting the ball, and they are very efficient on offense, especially inside the arc, where Winthrop just doesn’t have the size to compete with the Bulldogs. Some may pick this to be an upset, but I like Butler to advance fairly easily.

Why WU will Win: Crazy things happen in March, and really good players have been known to thrive in the spotlight that the NCAA Tournament provides. Winthrop will try to speed this game up and make Butler uncomfortable. If they can do that, they have a shot. Keon Johnson could also just go off, and there might not be anything Butler can do about it.

 

Sacramento, CA
#6 Cincinnati (29-5) vs #11 Kansas State (21-13)
Friday 3/17, 7:27 pm TruTV

Overview: Mick Cronin has led Cincinnati to the Tournament for the 7th consecutive season, and I honestly believe that this might be his best team yet. It was the Bearcats and SMU at the top of the American, and then it was everybody else. They did beat SMU once this season, and they also scored victories over Iowa State and Xavier along the way. They are a Top-10 defensive team, which gives them a chance in any game. Kansas State was able to get past Wake Forest in the First Four, winning 95-88. Since the start of the First Four in 2011, a team from those games has advanced to at least the Round of 32 every season. Could it be K-State?

Key Players: I cannot believe Troy Caupain is still at Cincinnati, because it feels like he’s been there forever, but he is still one of the most important players to the Bearcats’ success. He does a little bit of everything for the Cats, averaging 10.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, while leading the team in minutes. Junior forward Kyle Washington is another key player for Cincy, averaging 13.1 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. K-State has gotten here thanks to the efforts of senior Wesley Iwundu, who scored 24 points to go along with 7 assists and 6 rebounds in the win over Wake Forest. Sophomore guard Kamau Stokes played well also, tallying 22 points on 5-8 shooting from 3-point range.

Why CIN will Win: I mentioned that this is probably the best team Mick Cronin has had in his tenure at Cincinnati, and they will look to buck the trend of the Bearcats underwhelming in the NCAA Tournament. Cronin is due for a deep run in this thing, and this will be his best chance. They will win here if they can take care of the ball and get hot from 3-point range, as K-State really struggles to force turnovers and defend the arc. Cincinnati can win from inside or outside, so I think they focus on getting open perimeter shots, and shoot their way into the Second Round.

Why KSU will Win: History suggests that a First Four team will go onto the First Round and get a victory, and I really don’t like Providence or USC’s chances against SMU, so that leaves Kansas State to be the First Four’s representative in the Round of 32. They have a game under their belt, so the pressure is off. A team playing with no pressure in the Tournament is a dangerous team. The Wildcats had one of the best shooting performances in school history against Wake. If they can come close to that kind of performance here, they’ll get the victory.

 

Sacramento, CA
#3 UCLA (29-4) vs #14 Kent State (22-13)
Friday 3/17, approx. 9:57 pm TruTV

Overview: This UCLA team is probably the most polarizing team in this entire field, and that may or may not be due to the outspokenness of one named LaVar Ball. I wish I could say he’s a player, but he’s actually the father of star freshman guard Lonzo Ball, and for me, his dad is wrongfully taking the attention away from the magnificence that is Lonzo on a basketball court. This is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and they’ll look to shoot their way to a National Title. Kent State came from out of nowhere to win the MAC title as the 6-seed in the conference, winning four games total, three in three days, to earn their trip to the Dance. Despite their finish in the MAC regular season, this is one of the best teams in the conference, and they will not be a pushover for UCLA.

Key Players: Lonzo Ball has a chance to be the 1st overall pick in the NBA Draft, and for good reason. He does it all for the Bruins, averaging 14.6 points, 7.7 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. Fellow freshman T.J. Leaf is important for UCLA as well, averaging a team-leading 16.2 points per game. And don’t forget about the coach’s son, senior shooting guard Bryce Alford (15.8 PPG, 43.5% 3PT). Kent State has a star of their own in 6-8 senior forward Jimmy Hall. Hall leads the team 18.9 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, and he’ll need to have a great game if the Golden Flashes have a shot at the upset.

Why UCLA will Win: It’s going to take a really good defensive team to knock off the Bruins, and Kent State is not that team. UCLA likes to play fast, and they are extremely efficient. KenPom has them in the top-6 most efficient offenses inside and outside the arc. A team that plays fast and doesn’t miss is a team that is tough to beat. Way too tough for Kent State at least.

Why KENT will Win: It’s not impossible, believe it or not. 14-seeds have beaten 3-seeds before, and honestly, if UCLA struggles at all on offense, they can lose, because they don’t play a lick of defense. You need to outscore the Bruins to beat them, but Kent State is capable of that. They are a great offensive rebounding team, so if they can attack the offensive boards and get a lot of second chance points, they might be able to pull off the shocker.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#7 Dayton (24-7) vs #10 Wichita State (30-4)
Friday 3/17, 7:10 pm CBS

Overview: I feel so bad for Archie Miller and Dayton. They had a fantastic season, winning the A-10 regular season title while picking up great wins over Alabama, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island (twice) and VCU. They deserved a better draw than this. Wichita State has the resume of a 10-seed. They have just one win over Tournament teams, and that was against South Dakota State, a 16-seed. However, advanced analytics LOVE the Shockers. KenPom has Wichita State as the 8th best team in the nation. This team will fuel the argument for the Committee to use more advanced statistics in choosing the NCAA Tournament Field. Unfortunately, that won’t make Dayton feel any better.

Key Players: Don’t automatically count out the Flyers though. They are a very experienced team, led by a trio of seniors that want to go out on the right foot. Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard are three fantastic players, and they combine for over 43 points a game. They will not be scared of the Shockers. It’s a little strange to see a Wichita State team without Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, but Gregg Marshall has reloaded nicely. The Shockers have five players who average better than nine points a game, and they are led by 6-8 sophomore Markis McDuffie, who averages a team-leading 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He is key to Wichita’s success.

Why DAY will Win: I feel like there isn’t much pressure on Dayton in this game. The majority of people don’t expect them to win, and I think that actually will make them play with a little added motivation. Wichita State does not force many turnovers, so if Dayton can control the ball and play the game at their tempo, they can very easily win this game.

Why WSU will Win: There might be some pressure on the Shockers for the same reason that there isn’t much pressure on Dayton, but this team under Gregg Marshall has rarely buckled under any pressure. This team hasn’t beaten anybody of note, but they are extremely efficient on both ends of the floor. They are extremely good on the perimeter, so if they work the ball and don’t settle for bad shots, they will look like the Wichita State team that everybody expects, and they’ll move on to the next round.

 

Indianapolis, IN
#2 Kentucky (29-5) vs #15 Northern Kentucky (24-10)
Friday 3/17, approx. 9:40 pm CBS

Overview: It’s the in-state battle that nobody knew they wanted until now! Okay, I joke a little bit, but maybe a little rivalry can be born from this matchup. John Calipari’s Wildcats went through a lot of growing pains this season, but they are rounding into form at the right time, winning the SEC regular season and tournament titles, and they enter the Dance riding an 11-game winning streak. Northern Kentucky, meanwhile, benefited from some big upsets in the Horizon League Tournament, defeating 5-seed Wright State, 9-seed Youngstown State and 10-seed Milwaukee to earn their spot in the Tournament.

Key Players: Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Edrice “Bam” Adebayo are the stars of this team, all freshmen, and all likely NBA lottery picks. They are the three leading scorers for this team (20.4, 16.1 and 13.3 PPG respectively), and they will be key to Kentucky’s success in this Tournament. For the Norse, it’s sophomore forward Drew McDonald who makes things go. He leads the team with 16.4 points and 7.7 boards a game, and he is talented inside and outside the arc. His floor spacing could open things up for the rest of the team.

Why UK will Win: Malik Monk is arguably the best pure scorer in this Tournament. When he is on, he scores in bunches, and he is extremely difficult to contain. But he is very streaky, and is just getting out of a really bad funk. As long as he doesn’t revert back to that, he will score at will against Northern Kentucky, and the Norse won’t stand a chance.

Why NKU will Win: 15-seeds beating 2-seeds, as I’ve mentioned before, is not unprecedented. Especially when the 15-seed is as good offensively as Northern Kentucky is. Kentucky will look to get out and run, but they won’t be successful with that if the Norse can make shots. Make some shots early, get Kentucky out of their comfort zone, and we could see a massive upset.

 

NCAA Tournament Preview: South

Bracketball wants to make sure that you are properly prepared when you fill out your bracket this year! Earlier today, we looked at the First Four, taking place in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday and Wednesday. We will start our First Round preview with the region that most experts are calling the toughest in the field, the South region. All statistics discussed are courtesy of ESPN and KenPom. First, here is another look at the bracket.

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South Region

Des Moines, IA
#1 Kansas (30-4) vs #16 Austin Peay (18-17)
Thursday 3/17, approx. 4:00 pm TNT

Overview: The best team in the land is Kansas, and the enter the Tournament following an 81-71 win over West Virginia in the Big 12 Championship game. They are the odds-on favorite to win the National Championship, and their quest begins with a First Round match-up against the Austin Peay Colonials out of the OVC. The Colonials were the last team to make the OVC Tournament, and reeled off three straight upsets, including a semifinal win over top seed Belmont, to earn their berth in the Tournament.

Key Players: Kansas doesn’t have a superstar per se, but they have a lot of really talented players. Senior Perry Ellis and Juniors Frank Mason and Wayne Selden will look to avoid another early exit, after losing to Wichita State in the Second Round last season. Austin Peay is led by senior forward Chris Horton. Horton is one of the best rebounders in the country, averaging 12 boards a game to go along with 18.9 points per game.

Why KU will Win: Because no 16-seed has ever defeated a 1-seed, and it won’t start with the most balanced team in the nation. Kansas can beat you in so many different ways, and with an interior presence like Chris Horton, Kansas will probably rely more on their perimeter game, which is among the best in the nation. They shoot over 40 percent from three-point range, and I expect them to shoot their way past Austin Peay.

Why AP will Win: Well, they won’t, but they only way they have a chance is for Chris Horton to dominate in the paint. He is a terrific offensive rebounder, and he’ll need to clean up a lot of misses if the Colonials want to keep this game close. If Kansas has a weakness, it’s that they are susceptible to fouling. Austin Peay shoots just 67 percent from the line, and if they win, it’s because they improved on that number in a big way.

 

Des Moines, IA
#8 Colorado (22-11) vs #9 UConn (24-10)
Thursday 3/17, 1:30 pm TNT

Overview: UConn was a Bubble team coming into Championship Week, and after winning the American Championship (after needing a 60+ foot heave to send their quarterfinal game to a fourth overtime), the Huskies are a 9-seed, and are playing with a ton of confidence. They will square off with 8-seed Colorado from the Pac 12, a team that was kind of overlooked for much of the season. They quietly won 22 games, and will be a tough opponent for UConn.

Key Players: One of the best players in the Pac 12 this season was Colorado forward Josh Scott. Scott, a 6-10 senior, averages 16.1 points and 8.7 rebounds a game this season. He is pretty much the lone interior presence for the Buffaloes. UConn has a really good big man in Amida Brimah, but they are led by sophomore guard Daniel Hamilton. Hamilton is one of the best all-around players in the nation, averaging 12.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.

Why COLO will Win: Despite a relative lack of size, the Buffaloes are really good on the boards, especially the defensive boards. They don’t give up a lot of second chances. Against Temple and Memphis over the weekend, UConn rebounded a ton of their own misses, but they won’t be able to do that against Colorado. The Buffaloes are also susceptible to turning the ball over, but even though the Huskies are a great defensive team, they do not force a lot of turnovers.

Why UCONN will Win: The Huskies are red hot right now coming off of their American Championship, and they are a very dangerous 9-seed. Daniel Hamilton played fantastic down the stretch, and freshman guard Jalen Adams really started to come into his own at the end of the year. He should be the next in a long line of great UConn guards. The reason UConn will win is because they are the more dominant defensive team. This will be a low scoring game, and that is totally fine with the Huskies.

 

Spokane, WA
#5 Maryland (25-8) vs #12 South Dakota State (26-7)
Friday 3/18, approx. 4:30 pm TBS

Overview: Maryland entered this season with very lofty expectations, but they haven’t really lived up to them yet. They finished 3rd in the Big Ten and lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals. They are still extremely talented, and are primed for a deep run in the Tournament. Their first test will come from the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, the winners of the Summit League. South Dakota State is one of the more talented mid-major teams in the field, and definitely won’t go down quietly.

Key Players: Maryland is led by NBA prospects Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone, as well as transfers Rasheed Sulaimon from Duke and Robert Carter from Georgia Tech. Jake Layman is an experienced forward for the Terrapins. This has been the year of the senior in college basketball, but South Dakota State is powered by one of the most talented freshmen in the nation, forward Mike Daum. Despite playing just over 20 minutes a game, Daum leads the team in scoring 15.2 points per game.

Why MARY will Win: Before the season started, many people were picking Maryland to advance to the Final Four and contend for a National Championship. There have been struggles along the way, but Maryland is one of the most talented teams in the country. Free throw shooting and guard play are two keys to success in March. Trimble and Sulaimon team up to form one of the best backcourts in the nation, and as a team, the Terrapins shoot 76 percent from the line, one of the best marks in America.

Why SDSU will Win: That stats do not favor the Jackrabbits in this match-up, but sometimes the stats really don’t matter. South Dakota State will not be afraid of the Terrapins, and we all know that Maryland has struggled at times this year. They lost to Minnesota, a team that South Dakota State defeated by 14 early this season.

 

Spokane, WA
#4 California (23-10) vs #13 Hawaii (27-5)
Friday 3/18, 2:00 pm TBS

Overview: One of the hottest teams in the country down the home stretch was the California Golden Bears. Cuonzo Martin’s young group struggled at times in the early going, but really started to gel at the end of the regular season into the postseason. They lost to Utah in overtime in the Pac 12 semifinals. Here they’ll take on one of the most talented mid-major teams in the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii has self-imposed a postseason ban for next season, so they’ll be looking to make the most of their opportunity in 2016.

Key Players: Cal has five players that average double figures, including senior leader Tyrone Wallace (15.3 ppg) and freshman phenoms Ivan Rabb (12.5 ppg) and Jaylen Brown (15.0 ppg). Along with Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird, this is a formidable team that could definitely reach the Final Four. Hawaii has an offensive star in forward Stefan Jankovic (15.7 ppg, 39.5% 3pt), and a defensive stud in guard Roderick Bobbitt (2.2 spg).

Why CAL will Win: This young Bears team has lofty goals, and luckily for them, they have a senior leader in Tyrone Wallace that could carry them to a deep run. These are two teams known for their defense, but Cal could be one of the top defensive teams in the country. They are 15th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and they hold their opponents to a very low field goal percentage inside the arc. Hawaii likes to play inside the arc, so they could be in for some trouble.

Why HAW will Win: Hawaii is another team that gets it done on the defensive end, so this game figures to be pretty low scoring. Hawaii took Oklahoma down to the wire earlier this season, losing by just three points. They were able to keep the Sooners’ shooters in check for the most part, so if they can force Cal into a lot of perimeter shooting, they could come out victorious.

 

Providence, RI
#6 Arizona (25-8) vs #11 Vanderbilt/Wichita State
Thursday 3/17, approx. 9:20 pm TNT

Overview: It has been a disappointing season for Arizona, but this is a team talented enough to make some noise in this tourney. They are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, but they have been inconsistent for much of the year.

Key Players: Kaleb Tarczewski is a big interior presence for the Wildcats, but they are led offensively by sharpshooter Gabe York, freshman Allonzo Trier and Boston College-transfer Ryan Anderson, who each average over 15 points a game this season.

*Rest of game preview will be completed following Vandy/WSU game Tuesday*

 

Providence, RI
#3 Miami FL (25-7) vs #14 Buffalo (20-14)
Thursday 3/17, 6:50 pm TNT

Overview: This team has flown a little under the radar this year, but Miami is definitely a team that could make a run to a National Championship. In a year with a lot of really good upperclassmen, Miami has one of the oldest, most experienced teams in the country. They’ll be taking on the Buffalo Bulls, who are back in the Tournament for a second consecutive season. Last year, under Arizona State Head Coach Bobby Hurley, the Bulls nearly upset West Virginia in the First Round. They’ll look to shock Miami this year under new head man Nate Oats.

Key Players: The Hurricanes are led by a three-headed monster of seniors in center Tonye Jekiri, Texas-transfer guard Sheldon McClellan and Kansas State-transfer point guard Angel Rodriguez. These guys can really get it done on both ends of the floor. For Buffalo, their leading scorer is guard Lamonte Bearden at 13.6 points per game, but they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for junior forward Blake Hamilton, who hit a game-winning three pointer in the waning seconds of the MAC Championship Game against Akron.

Why MIA will Win: This is another game that will see a major clash in styles. The Hurricanes like to play at a methodical pace, while the Bulls want to get out and run in transition. Some teams would be capable of speeding up if they have to, but for Miami to be successful, they need to make Buffalo play at their pace. They are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation, so they just need to play their game, and they should be fine.

Why UB will Win: On the other side of the coin, Buffalo needs to speed this game up to have a chance. Angel Rodriguez is the primary ball handler for the Hurricanes, and he’s probably the only player that would be comfortable playing fast. The other reason Buffalo needs to speed the game up is to neutralize Tonye Jekiri. In a half court set, the Bulls will have a tough time scoring in the paint. The best way for them to score is to get out in transition.

 

Brooklyn, NY
#7 Iowa (21-10) vs #10 Temple (21-11)
Friday 3/18, approx. 3:10 pm TruTV

Overview: There are a few teams in this field who have struggled at the end of the season, but maybe none more than Iowa. Just a month ago, Iowa looked like a contender for a 1-seed in this field. That team would end up losing five of their last seven regular season games, and then were upset by Illinois in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. They meet a Temple team that many didn’t expect to make the field after losing to UConn in the semis of the American Tournament. The Owls were the regular season champs in the conference, and have beaten the likes of UConn, Cincinnati and SMU this season.

Key Players: Iowa is led by Player of the Year candidate Jarred Uthoff, who is averaging 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. Point guard Mike Gesell (6.3 assists per game) and forward Peter Jok (16.2 ppg) are big time performers as well. For Temple, it’s a pair of seniors who were disappointed to be left out of the Tournament last year that will look to advance the Owls this season. Guard Quentin DeCosey is the team’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game, and forward Jaylen Bond is a force inside, averaging 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.

Why Iowa will Win: On the surface, it doesn’t appear to be a good match-up for the Hawkeyes when it comes to the stats. But based on the eye test, Iowa is the more talented team in this game. They defeated Michigan State twice this year, and if they can get back to the way they played in the middle of the season, they should win this game no problem. Jaylen Bond is a good defender, but as a team, the Owls struggle to defend the paint. Adam Woodbury and Jarred Uthoff will have to do a lot of work at the rim if Iowa is going to win this game.

Why TEM will Win: Fran Dunphy is one of the best coaches in the nation, and he will have this team ready to go. Playing into Temple’s favor in this match-up is their perimeter defense. Iowa shoots a good percentage from behind the arc, and they do a lot of their damage from distance, but Temple has one of the best perimeter defenses in the country. If they play a slow game and force Iowa into contested threes, the Owls will have a shot.

 

Brooklyn, NY
#2 Villanova (29-5) vs #15 UNC Asheville (22-11)
Friday 3/18, 12:40 pm TruTV

Overview: Villanova is once again a top-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but all they hear about is their postseason struggles. After winning the Big East Tournament last year and earning a 1-seed, they failed to reach the second weekend of the Tournament for the second year in a row. This might be the best team that Jay Wright has had, and they are looking to buck the trend of bowing out early. The team looking to continue the trend is UNC Asheville out of the Big South Conference. The Bulldogs are a very young team that will look to show the country that experience doesn’t always mean everything.

Key Players: Villanova guard Josh Hart is one of the best all-around players in the country (and was snubbed for Big East POTY if you ask me). He averages 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and he is difficult to deal with. This is the end of the road for senior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who has been around for all of this team’s postseason struggles. Nobody wants to make a deep run more than he does. While UNC Asheville is known for their defense, they have five players that average double figures in scoring, led by freshman guard Dylan Smith, who is scoring 13.5 points per game.

Why NOVA will Win: This team is on a mission. They fell to Seton Hall in the Big East Championship Game, but all of their losses this year are to really good teams, and they are primed to make a run at a National Title. They are one of the most efficient teams offensively and defensively, and a young team like UNC Asheville will probably be a little overwhelmed. Nova settles for too many three-point shots at times, and they will be best served feeding the ball into Daniel Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds and letting them take advantage of a very small Bulldog team.

Why UNCA will Win: If they can keep the ball on the perimeter, believe it or not, they will have a chance. Villanova shoots a lot of threes, but UNC Asheville is 2nd in the nation in defending the arc, as teams shoot just over 28 percent from distance against them. Villanova is a good enough team to know that and not settle for jumpers, but if the Bulldogs play well, they might have to settle for jumpers, and that will give Asheville a shot at the upset.

 

That does it for a look at how the First Round in the South Region could shake down, next up will be the East Region and 1-seed North Carolina.