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NCAA Tournament South Region Preview

It’s Wednesday and you’re scrounging for information to verify your picks. There’s a lot on the line in your personal pool, I get it. You’ve come to the right site for March Madness coverage. Though we yearn for upsets and glass slippers, the NCAA Tournament South region is full of good teams.

Baylor and Ohio State Headline NCAA Tournament South Region

The NCAA Tournament is finally here after a two-year break. The madness began last week during the league tournaments. The South region is headlined by two teams who didn’t take home their respective conference crowns. The Baylor Bears were ousted in the Big 12 semifinals by Cade Cunningham and a solid Oklahoma State squad. The Ohio State Buckeyes made it to the Big Ten championship game, grinded and forced overtime against Illinois, but eventually ran out of steam and ended up finishing second.

Both results didn’t affect either team’s projected seeding, however. Baylor is the one-seed and OSU is the two-seed in the South region. Yet, it did land them in a regional bracket with two very strong schools sitting at three and four. Arkansas and Purdue pose as potential threats to the top-two seeds in the South. Don’t count out some dangerous second-round matchups for all, however.

South Region Breakdown

Top Four Seeds

No. 1 Baylor Bears

Baylor is not only a favorite to win the tournament, they were once flirting with an undefeated season. They finished the year with two losses: Kansas and Oklahoma State. Both teams are in the NCAA Tournament as a three- and four-seed, respectively. Baylor can score the basketball. Led by Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell, their offense is a juggernaut. If an opponent dares to get into a shooting match with the Bears, they better be on fire. Baylor is the best 3-point shooting team in the country at 41.82 percent per game.

Baylor can be defeated if they are thrown off their game, so the Bears should be wary of a potential second-round matchup with North Carolina or Wisconsin. The Tar Heels control the game inside the paint, especially on the offensive glass, and the Badgers rely on shots from beyond the arc and have a solid turnover margin.

No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes lost a heartbreaker in the Big Ten championship game. They did end the regular season on a four-game losing streak but found their stride in the conference tournament. However, losing a close game to Illinois and falling short of the title could be devastating mentally. Not for OSU, actually. The Buckeyes are a very disciplined and balanced team. They average only 10.4 turnovers per game which ranks 12th in the nation and shoot an exceptional 76.32 percent from the free-throw line. Offensively, they are dangerous, led by All-American E.J. Liddell and guard Duane Washington Jr.

The issue with the Buckeyes is that they don’t defend the three well. Unfortunately for OSU, Oral Roberts loves to shoot the long ball, and they are eighth in the country at making them. They are an aggressive team that can cause problems. If the Buckeyes survive and eventually reach the Sweet 16, they are going to run into the same problem with a better team in Arkansas.

No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas likes to shoot and they like to score. The Razorbacks have scored 2,307 points this season and average 82.4 a game. That ranks seventh in the nation. They also rebound the ball well, finishing second in the SEC with 39.9 per game. Their offense is electric, but they are balanced defensively as well. Six players average at least one steal per game. Moses Moody, Justin Smith, and JD Notae lead a very dangerous squad into the NCAA Tournament.

On the other hand, the Razorbacks could go either way. They could make a deep tournament run or they could have an off night. Their draw could hurt them because the winner of Texas Tech and Utah State would await them in the second round. Both those squads are incredibly good at defense and slowing the pace of the game.

No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers

The Boilermakers are big. They have the top rebounding rate in the Big Ten and finished fourth in what was a loaded conference. The offense works through Trevion Williams who averages 15.6 points per game and also grabs the most rebounds at nine. Purdue, as a whole, ranks in the top 25 for both offensive and defensive efficiency. They are a solid squad, but susceptible.

When the Boilermakers lose, they seem to lose big. And when they win, they seem to win close. Their matchup against North Texas may not be the most entertaining game, but if they advance, there are going to be tough challenges ahead.

Any of these teams can get to the Final Four. Baylor is the favorite, OSU has a legitimate shot, and if Arkansas controls the pace of the game, they could win the South Region. Purdue can possibly do just enough to squeak by, but they need to find some more firepower.

Potential Upset

No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 12 Winthrop- Friday, March 19, 9:57 p.m. ET

Ah, the famed 12-five pairing. A 12-seed taking down a five-seed almost always happens in the NCAA Tournament, and the field has some very good programs slotted in that 12-spot. The Winthrop Eagles post a 23-1 record heading into the NCAA Tournament. Sure, they didn’t play anyone of note, but they took care of business when needed. Their scoring margin is 12 points a game which is 15th in the country. They also have one of the best players in the nation in Chandler Vaudrin. The guard leads the team in points, rebounds, and assists per game, and has the ability to earn a triple-double on any given night. Villanova suffered a huge loss when star guard Collin Gillespie went down with a knee injury, and Justin Moore‘s status is still up in the air. The Wildcats would have already had trouble against the Golden Eagles, but now they may be entering as the underdog. Winthrop uses 11 players a game regularly and four players average in double-digit scoring. Look for the Eagles to wear down a depleted Villanova team and win this game.

Best Game

No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 Utah State- Friday, March 19, 1:45 p.m. ET

I’ve been an advocate for Utah State most of the year. I think Neemias Queta should have gotten more national recognition for his play. He will just have to showcase his abilities in the tournament. Before the seeding, I thought the Aggies were prone to shock someone in the first round and go on a bit of a run. I also thought Texas Tech was a dangerous team. Now, here they are playing each other in the first round.

Utah State is an experienced and very good rebounding and defensive team. Queta averages 10 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a game. Something also to remember about Utah State is that they beat San Diego State in the 2019 Mountain West championship game. That was one of just two losses the Aztecs suffered that year. Craig Smith’s squad also beat San Diego State, who finished the year ranked No. 19, twice more this season.

Texas Tech, need I remind you, is the defending national runner-up. It just seems so long ago. Chris Beard has a very efficient team on both sides of the ball. The Red Raiders also have a variety of team leaders. Mac McClung leads Texas Tech in scoring at 15.7 points per game, Marcus Santos-Silva grabs the most boards at 6.5 a game, and Kyler Edwards accrues the most assists with 2.7 a game. The Red Raiders saving grace is that Utah State isn’t going to blow anyone away offensively. Unfortunately, the Aggies are also used to winning that way.

Here are two fun stats that are going to make this game close. Texas Tech averages 73 points a game and only gives up 63.4. Utah State averages 73.3 points a game and only gives up 62.3. By that math, the Aggies will win by 1.4 points. Okay, one or two points make more sense.

It may not be the prettiest game in the South region, but it may just be the best. I’m staying loyal to my belief in Utah State, but wouldn’t be surprised if I was wrong.

South Region Sleeper

Texas Tech or Utah State

Didn’t we just talk about this? We sure did. Either of these teams will be in the second round, and either of them can beat Arkansas. If Texas Tech or Utah State can control the pace of the game, the Razorbacks will be in trouble. A potential Sweet 16 matchup against OSU would be more trying because the Buckeyes have fewer flaws than Arkansas. Both the Red Raiders and Aggies love exploiting flaws in opponents. Don’t be surprised if either of these teams makes it to the Sweet 16 or beyond.

To stir things up a little, here’s a quick note. The 10-seed Virginia Tech Hokies are undefeated against Top 25 teams this season (4-0). Unfortunately, Florida is not ranked in the Top 25. If they can get by the Gators, the Hokies could do some damage.

South Region Prediction

Though there are some teams in the South region that can cause concern for the top tier, look for one of the top four to reach the Final Four.

South Region Winner: Baylor Bears

OSU is going to have trouble defending Arkansas, and if they get by the Razorbacks, they will have even more trouble defending Baylor. Both schools like to shoot the ball from outside and are very good at doing so. OSU has some bad matchups in the South region, and Baylor is on a mission. Don’t discount Arkansas either. We could see a wild regional final if the Bears and Razorbacks play.

In the end, Baylor is just too good on both sides of the ball. If they get into a shootout they can win. If they get into a defensive battle, they can also pull it off. Scott Drew has a complete squad. It will be tough, but look for the Bears to head to the Final Four.

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