These are all my thoughts on the South Region of the bracket. I’m not saying that these games are absolutely going to go the way that I think, so you can choose to follow or fade these picks. Either way, these were all researched based picks.
Virginia vs UMBC
A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed in the tournament and I don’t think it’s going to happen in this game. Virginia is the best team in the country and deserved to get the number 1 overall seed. Their stingy defense as well as high offensive efficiency will help them coast in the first round against UMBC.
Creighton vs Kansas State
This is a good 8-9 matchup, but ultimately Creighton should be able to pull through and move onto the second round where they will play Virginia. Creighton played in one of the better conferences this year and actually beat Villanova which shows they can play with the best teams in the country. Kansas State has a slow tempo which may play to their advantage in the first half, but Creighton adjusts to other teams very well and will take over the pace of play in the second half.
Kentucky vs Davidson
I’ve flip flopped on this game quite a bit, but I’m going to pick Kentucky here. Davidson will make this a very close game. Their coach, Bob McKillup, has played some of the best coaches in college basketball in the NCAA tournament in previous year and has covered the spread against all of them. These are two teams peaking at the right time, but John Calipari knows what he’s doing with his team now and that’s not good for any other team. Kentucky will pull away at the end of the game when it really matters.
Arizona vs Buffalo
Deandre Ayton is the best player in college basketball this season and one of the more dominant players that I have ever seen. Buffalo should be fine on the offensive side of the ball because of their fast tempo and low turnover rate, but their defense will struggle against Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier. Arizona has a clear height advantage which will allow them to eat up some rebounds down low. This will probably be a very high scoring game due to the lack of defense from Buffalo and the high offensive efficiency from both teams.
Miami vs Loyola – IL
Jim Larranega usually avoids the upset in the first round and everyone is riding high on Loyola right now. This is one of the tougher games to pick, but Miami should be able to get the job done. Larranega has been around forever and has been to the tournament 8 times which means the bright lights of the tournament won’t get to him. His team is another story, they have played well at points this year, and at others it really seems like they are nervous to play a game that they have been playing their whole lives. Miami will rely on Lonnie Walker and Ja’Quan Newton to give them a consistent offense in this one.
Tennessee vs Wright State
Tennessee really impressed me in the SEC tournament and I don’t see why they won’t continue their quality play rolling into the tournament. Admiral Schofield is a huge inside presence and played very well in the SEC tournament. Tennessee ranks 4th in the country in defensive efficiency and this will allow them to keep the already terrible Wright State offense in check.
Nevada vs Texas
Shaka Smart has not made it out of the first weekend of the tournament since he took VCU to the Final Four. I do not expect this trend to change and I think Nevada will win this game. Nevada has 6’7” twins that transferred from NC State (Caleb and Cody Martin) and they have been a significant part of the Wolf Pack’s success this season. On the other side Texas has Mo Bamba, who is expected to be one of the top draft picks in the NBA. This usually doesn’t end well for players that are expected to be picked high in the draft, they are focused on the NBA and making money. I don’t quite get all the hype around Bamba either. He’s a very excellent rebounder, but his offense still needs significant work. Nevada is going to be hungry after getting waxed by San Diego State in the conference tournament and will come out with a fast pace to put Texas away early in the game.
Cincinnati vs Georgia State
Cincinnati is one of the better defensive teams in the country and that really showed in their conference tournament. They ended up winning the conference championship after trailing Houston for most of the game. Georgia State is a good team and Ron Hunter is a good coach, but I don’t think they’ll be able to overcome the smothering Cincinnati defense. Cincinnati should have no problem moving out of the first round.
Virginia vs Creighton
Creighton is a very good team and will definitely give Virginia a struggle especially because Virginia is missing ACC Sixth Man of the year De’Andre Hunter. Tony Bennett teams rely on a system on both offense and defense. They try to keep players moving around on offense by utilizing cuts and picks and on defense it’s their ability to pack the defense inside the three point line. Virginia should not have this hard of a road to the Sweet 16, being the No. 1 overall seed, but that’s how it played out. They should win this one and be able to disrupt the Creighton offense.
Kentucky vs Arizona
Kentucky is going to have a hard time finding anyone to match up with Deandre Ayton. This is the youngest team Kentucky has had in a long, long time and it is far less talented than teams they have had in previous years. I think the experience on the Arizona side of the ball as well as the phenomenal play from Deandre Ayton will allow Arizona to reach the Sweet 16.
Miami vs Tennessee
Another tough matchup. Miami is good and flew under the radar towards the end of the season, but ended up finishing ranked 22nd in the AP poll. Tennessee played very well in their conference tournament and found some other players to contribute both offensively and defensively. I think that Admiral Schofield will be able to bully the interior of the Miami defense early in the game and open up the three point line for himself and his teammates. Miami is a team that tends to panic when they get down early in the game and that results in them yelling at each other out on the court. Tennessee has bought into Rick Barnes’ philosophy and will play a dominating defense against a Miami offense that struggles at times. Tennessee to the Sweet 16.
Nevada vs Cincinnati
Nevada uses an uptempo pace to get most of their wins and that’s the exact opposite of what Cincinnati does. Nevada is just inside the top 100 (98) in offensive tempo and Cincinnati ranks 322nd in the country. This game is going to come down to style of play and whoever can control the tempo of the game. I ultimately think Cincinnati has better pieces and will be able to control the game, but don’t be surprised if Nevada puts up a quick 20 in the first half to give themselves a decent lead. Cincinnati plays a stingy defense and will own the rebounding battle in this game which will punch their ticket to the Sweet 16.
Virginia vs Arizona
This is where missing De’Andre Hunter will hurt Virginia the most because it’ll be the end of their tournament run. Everyone is extremely high on Virginia and that’s not necessarily a good thing. They are a good basketball team and rank 1st in defensive efficiency as well as 21st in offensive efficiency, both pretty good spots. They are lacking severely in one spot in this matchup and it is someone to stop Deandre Ayton. This kid is a monster as I have said already and will still be able to get his points against the top defense in the country. My advice to Virginia would be to let Deandre Ayton get his 20-25 points and focus on stopping his teammates from beating them. Ultimately I think that the missing minutes from De’Andre Hunter will hurt the Cavaliers and send Arizona to the Elite 8.
Tennessee vs Cincinnati
Rick Barnes has done a tremendous job with Tennessee this season and really has them motivated for postseason play. The Volunteers did not play in any postseason tournament last season and during their time off, they had to get up at 6AM to run 6 minute miles on the treadmill every morning that the NCAA tournament was going on. This would be in my head every second of every game in the tournament this year and I think Tennessee will shock some people and make it to the Elite 8. They had one of the toughest schedules in the country and shoot free throws and grab rebounds at a high rate, both of which are crucial for teams to make a run come tournament time. Cincinnati also gets a good amount of rebounds, but they struggle mightily at the free throw line and that could hurt them down the stretch.
Tennessee vs Arizona
This game is going to be extremely close if it ever gets played. The strength of Tennessee is their defense and the strength of Arizona is their offense. The weakness of Tennessee is their offense and the weakness of Arizona is their defense. I know the saying goes, “defense wins championships,” but you still have to score points to win a game and I think the high powered offense of Arizona will be able to outweigh their poor defensive play against a Tennessee team that struggles on offense at times. This is basically going to come down to who can make more contested shots and a majority of the contested shots for Arizona are going to come inside the paint from Deandre Ayton. Arizona has been the subject of a huge scandal and Sean Miller has continued to deny that he has ever paid a recruit to come to Arizona. I think that Arizona is playing with an “f you” attitude throughout this tournament and that’s why I think they will be the winners of the South Region and get a chance to play in the Final Four.