NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region

NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region

This article is part of our NCAA Tournament Preview series.

East Region
West Region
Midwest Region
South Region

The South seems to lack some of the firepower of the other regions, though the top two teams are both Wildcats. Arizona is the cream of the crop, as the Pac-12 version dominated out west in every facet, despite most of the focus being on UCLA returning virtually its entire squad from their Final Four run from a season ago. Meanwhile, Villanova's version is the No. 2 squad, and coach Jay Wright's alma mater has made the Sweet 16 in two of the last three tournaments.  Meanwhile, fewer teams come into the big dance hotter than Tennessee, as the Vols took home the SEC Tournament crown for the first time since 1979.  A region would not be complete without an appearance from a Big Ten school, as the conference took home a staggering nine bids when the dust settled on Selection Sunday.

Cinderella has a familiar face in this region, as the lowest-seeded school that could do some damage is none other than Sister Jean's Ramblers.  That's right, Loyola-Chicago is back, this time coached by longtime assistant Drew Valentine.

Let's take a closer look at the players, coaches and matchups that will ultimately decide the fate of the South region.

THE FAVORITES

No. 1 Arizona – The Wildcats won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles, finishing with a superb 31-3 record.  Arizona is paced by swingman Bennedict Mathurin, who was named Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year.  The Wildcats possess

East Region
West Region
Midwest Region
South Region

The South seems to lack some of the firepower of the other regions, though the top two teams are both Wildcats. Arizona is the cream of the crop, as the Pac-12 version dominated out west in every facet, despite most of the focus being on UCLA returning virtually its entire squad from their Final Four run from a season ago. Meanwhile, Villanova's version is the No. 2 squad, and coach Jay Wright's alma mater has made the Sweet 16 in two of the last three tournaments.  Meanwhile, fewer teams come into the big dance hotter than Tennessee, as the Vols took home the SEC Tournament crown for the first time since 1979.  A region would not be complete without an appearance from a Big Ten school, as the conference took home a staggering nine bids when the dust settled on Selection Sunday.

Cinderella has a familiar face in this region, as the lowest-seeded school that could do some damage is none other than Sister Jean's Ramblers.  That's right, Loyola-Chicago is back, this time coached by longtime assistant Drew Valentine.

Let's take a closer look at the players, coaches and matchups that will ultimately decide the fate of the South region.

THE FAVORITES

No. 1 Arizona – The Wildcats won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles, finishing with a superb 31-3 record.  Arizona is paced by swingman Bennedict Mathurin, who was named Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year.  The Wildcats possess a fast-paced, free-flowing offense along with NBA-caliber size.

No. 2 Villanova – Another year, another high seed for the Wildcats.  Villanova won its fifth Big East Tournament in the last seven seasons.  The Wildcats are led by fifth-year senior Collin Gillespie, who missed last year's tourney due to a knee injury.  Villanova enters the big dance having won 10 of its last 11 games.

No. 3 Tennessee – The Vols surged down the stretch, culminating in their first SEC Tournament title in over 40 years.  Surprisingly, Tennessee was rewarded only with a No. 3 seed.  The Vols also come into the tourney on a heater, winning 12 of their last 13 outings, including triumphs over Auburn, Arkansas and Kentucky (twice).

No. 4 Illinois – The Illini are one of a staggering nine entries into the big dance for the Big Ten, paced by one of the most dominating big men in the country in Kofi Cockburn.  Cockburn averaged a double-double with 21.1 points and 10.6 rebounds this season after testing the NBA draft waters last year.

CINDERELLA WATCH

No. 10 Loyola Chicago – The Ramblers are no strangers to March Madness, having made the big dance in three of the last four tournaments.  Loyola is led by Lucas Williamson, who was a freshman during that magical 2018 run to the Final Four.  Make no mistake about it, though; this version of the Ramblers is far from an underdog.  Still, if the glass slipper fits…

No. 13 Chattanooga – The Mocs made the big dance in thrilling fashion, hitting a miraculous, buzzer-beating three-pointer in overtime to take the automatic bid out of the Southern Conference.  The Mocs were no slouches during the season either, finishing with a 27-7 record overall.  The Mocs are led by Conference Player of the Year Malachi Smith, a 6-4 guard who averaged 20.1 points, 6.7 boards and 3.1 dimes per contest.

BIGGEST BUST

No. 4 Illinois – The guard play has been suspect for the Illini this season, and Illinois will need more consistency from Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer.  Of course, having a behemoth in the middle in the form of Kofi Cockburn cures a lot of ills.  However, stellar backcourts usually make for deep runs in March, and Illinois has not proven they can rely on this unit, despite their vast experience.

FIRST-ROUND UPSET

No. 13 Chattanooga vs. No. 4 Illinois – You probably saw this one coming.  While it is always tempting to take the classic 12-5 trap game as an upset, No. 5 Houston has been incredibly impressive despite what they lost from their Final Four squad a season ago.  I believe the Cougars are under-seeded.  Illinois, meanwhile, got the benefit of the doubt from playing in a hyper-competitive conference, but lost some of their swagger during the second half of the season.  Then there is a matchup with the Mocs.  Former Kansas Jayhawk Silvio De Sousa will provide an intriguing opponent for the aforementioned Cockburn, and Malachi Smith will be a handful for the Illini guards.  The No. 13 seed is the new No. 12 seed.

PLAYER TO WATCH

David Roddy, G, Colorado State – We didn't get to talk much about the Rams, but the Mountain West ended up with four entries into the big dance. Roddy was named Mountain West Player of the Year, and CSU beat tourney teams Creighton and Saint Mary's earlier this season.  Roddy did a little bit of everything for CSU, managing 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per tilt.  He posted four double-doubles this season, while pouring in 36 points in the win over the aforementioned Bluejays. Roddy connected on seven treys in that contest. If Roddy gets hot, a top seed (or two) could end up going home.

SWEET 16 PICKS

No. 1 Arizona – The Wildcats have a fairly easy path to the Sweet 16; Seton Hall struggled against superior competition this season, especially towards the latter part of the year.  Meanwhile, TCU had the opposite problem, winning several huge matchups but also losing some maddening contests to dreadful squads.  Which Horned Frogs squad shows up is anyone's guess.

No. 5 Houston - Fabian White does not get enough credit; neither does head coach Kelvin Sampson, as the Cougars are one of the winningest programs over the last few seasons.  Houston only had five losses on the season, and all of them were to tournament teams. Interestingly, unlike last year's Final Four squad, this version of the Cougars is much more consistent offensively. That consistency will ultimately allow them to fend off whoever they face in Round 2.

No. 6 Colorado State – First-round opponent Michigan has been extremely disappointing, and Tennessee can struggle to score at times. The Vols are going to be a chic pick in this region, but familiarity in the SEC could have worked in Tennessee's favor. CSU was ranked this season, and the Rams will not go down without a fight.

No. 10 Loyola Chicago – The Ramblers' magical run from 2018 is still fresh in everyone's mind, but last year's version also made the Sweet 16. Even with a new coach, Loyola is not going to be afraid of the bright lights, and the Ramblers match up well with guard-oriented squads in Ohio State and Villanova.

FINAL FOUR PICK

No. 1 Arizona – This region has a chance to be turned upside down, but the Wildcats are extremely well-balanced and can win in a variety of ways.  Bennedict Mathurin can really score from the wing, they have an NBA-sized front line with 7-1 Christian Koloko and 6-11 Azuolas Tubelis, and a steady hand in the form of floor general Kerr Kriisa, who did not even play in the Pac-12 tournament due to an ankle injury.  Sophomore Dalen Terry does a little bit of everything to round out a sensational starting five. It will be extremely difficult for any of the other squads in this region to keep pace. It is worth noting, though, that Tennessee did beat Arizona earlier this season.  However, Kriisa should be healthy by the time his services are needed next weekend, and there's not a more unselfish offense in the nation. Arizona has not been to the Final Four in over 20 years; the Wildcats should exorcise their demons in 2022.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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