Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2015


Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

South Region

Favorite: #1 Duke (29-4, 16-4 ACC). The top-seeded Blue Devils are rightful favorites in the South region. Not only are the Blue Devils REALLY good (they are a #1 seed for a reason), but they were fortunate enough to avoid a region with Arizona or Virginia in a year where six teams could stake legitimate claims to #1 seeds. Ignore Duke’s ignominious recent NCAA Tournament history: The Blue Devils are favorites to book the flight from Houston to Indianapolis.

Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor have to wonder which way Duke is heading after a tumultuous week (

Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Duke are the favorites to get out of the region. (Getty)

Should They Falter: #3 Iowa State (25-8, 15-6 Big 12). We’ll leap the second-seeded Zags to label Iowa State as the next most likely team to win this region. Frank Hoiberg’s club finished with a flourish, knocking off Kansas in the Big 12 championship game to put the finishing touches on a tidy resume. The bulk of this Cyclones core were contributors when they lost to eventual champion Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. There are some flaws here, particularly on the defensive end, but Hoiberg is undoubtedly anxious to push a team deep into the NCAA Tournament. This bunch could be the one to do it.

Grossly Overseeded: #4 Georgetown (21-10, 13-7 Big East). The Big East got a lot of respect this Selection Sunday. Four of the six league teams to make the field were seeded at least a line above Joe Lunardi’s final projection, while the other two (Villanova and St. John’s) were at the number Lunardi projected. Georgetown received a #4 seed from the committee (two lines above the #6 Lunardi expected) and there’s little about the Hoyas – both on the resume and on the court – that indicates they are that deserving. Their best non-conference victory came in overtime on a neutral court against Indiana. Big East work, although headlined by a defeat of Villanova, was only marginally more impressive. John Thompson III guided the Hoyas to a solid bounce-back season after missing the NCAA Tournament a year ago, but they are overvalued at this seed line.

Grossly Underseeded: #5 Utah (24-8, 14-6 Pac-12). As recently as March 6, Joe Lunardi listed Utah as a #3 seed. The Utes dropped a pair of games in the 10 days since, but that shouldn’t de-legitimize them as a Final Four contender. Delon Wright is, quite sadly, still the best player many fans don’t know; his presence alone makes the Utes a team to watch. Efficiency numbers also favor Utah. If Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system decided the NCAA Tournament field, Larry Krystkowiak’s team would have been a #2 seed. Unfortunately KenPom has yet to be named the college basketball czar, just one of the many circumstances that has led to the Utes’ underseeding.

Delon Wright: The Real Pac-12 Player of the Year (Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune)

Delon Wright might still be the best player no one knows about. (AP)

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): #12 Stephen F. Austin. It would be easy just to talk about last year’s Lumberjacks, a group that got halfway to the Sweet Sixteen when it upset VCU in the second round. Instead, lets focus on the merits of this Stephen F. Austin team. It won 29 of 33 games with three of their four losses coming to top-six seeds (Xavier, Baylor and Northern Iowa). KenPom’s ratings list the ‘Jacks as the 35th-best team in the land – 11 spots ahead of Oregon (an #8 seed) and just two spot behind Maryland (a #4 seed). Thomas Walkup, Jacob Parker and Ty Charles are owners of three of the 33 best individual offensive ratings. The team is 19th nationally in offensive efficiency. This group has already proven as capable as their predecessor, so don’t let that victory over VCU be the sole reason you slide them into the third round of your bracket.

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): #5 Utah (24-8, 14-6 Pac-12). This region sets up nicely for Utah. An overvalued Georgetown team is the likely opponent in round three (if the Hoyas can get by Eastern Washington in the second round) before a presumptive matchup with Duke. Beating the Blue Devils wouldn’t be an easy chore, but there isn’t a team in the field that won’t be tasked with beating a great team at some point. Delon Wright looms as a tricky matchup for the smaller Duke guards and Utah has big men with the defensive wherewithal to slow down Jahlil Okafor. The #5 seed may scare off many folks who would have considered the Utes a sleeper Final Four team as a #2 or #3 seed, but don’t let it dissuade you. This is the same team that went toe to toe with Arizona for most of the Pac-12 season, and Wright is the kind of player you want on your team this time of year.

Carmelo Anthony Award: Nic Moore, SMU. In the entire history of college basketball, the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year has never failed to lead his team to a national title. Can Moore keep the (one-year) streak alive this season? Okay, okay — probably not, but that doesn’t mean you should sleep on SMU’s diminutive leader. The 5’9” Moore was the main catalyst in SMU’s return to national relevance, and with a manageable draw ahead of the Mustangs (UCLA and then likely Iowa State) he could, like Shabazz Napier before him, wind up an AAC POY turned March star.

Nic Moore Has Been Sensational In Leading The SMU Back To The NCAA Tournament. Can He Lead The Mustangs Even Deeper Into March?

Nic Moore Has Been Sensational In Leading The SMU Back To The NCAA Tournament. Can He Lead The Mustangs Even Deeper Into March? (USA Today Sports)

Stephen Curry Award: Tyler Kalinoski, Davidson. Well, this category fell together nicely. Kalinoski is not Steph Curry, but he is a Davidson lead guard with a propensity for putting the ball in the basket. He did so 42 percent of the time he took a shot from three-point range, 52 percent of the time he hoisted a field goal from within the arc, and 79 percent from the free throw stripe. The bracket sets up nicely for Davidson, too. First up is an Iowa team that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2001. Win and the Wildcats likely get a crack at Gonzaga, who have also had their share of recent troubles in the Tournament’s early rounds. Oh, and the last time Davidson was a #10 seed in this event, Bob McKillop’s group made the Elite Eight. I don’t think I need to remind you who was running the show for those Wildcats.

Home Cooking: #1 Duke, 145 miles to Charlotte. The trip will be short for Coach K’s squad, who only need jump across the state for its first weekend games in Charlotte. Gonzaga has also been treated to a favorable geographic draw (at least in the first weekend), as Zags’ supporters can stay in-state by making the 275 mile drive from Spokane to Seattle. As far as travel considerations beyond the opening weekend go, the region features two Texas teams that would have things easier if they are able to make it to Houston. Neither SMU nor Stephen F. Austin is expected to advance to the Sweet Sixteen so it may be a moot point, but SMU in particular could be a dangerous foe if it manages to reach Houston. The Mustangs’ Dallas campus is 251 miles from NRG Stadium.

Can’t Miss Second Round Game: San Diego State vs St. John’s, 3/20. There may be a rule that precludes San Diego State from being included in a basketball game termed “can’t miss,” but we are going to ignore that. Athletes will be everywhere in this game and the tempo clash – the slow-down of the Aztecs vs. the Johnnies’ quicker approach – adds a dose of intrigue. Furthermore, whichever team emerges will be fully capable of pushing Duke. It’s everything an #8/#9 game should be: two evenly matched foes battling for the right to take a shot at a #1 seed.

Don’t Miss This One Either: Georgetown vs Eastern Washington, 3/19. This game is interesting because Georgetown has a tremendous history of winning opening round NCAA Tournament games and should cruise to victory in impressive fashion. Or is this game interesting because Georgetown has lost opening round games to VCU, Ohio and Florida Gulf Coast within the last five years and Eastern Washington has already beaten Indiana in Assembly Hall this year? It’s definitely one or the other, so keep an eye on the proceedings in Portland.

Lock of the Year: Utah in the Sweet Sixteen. This bold claim is equal parts endorsement of the Utes, acknowledgment of a favorable matchup with SFA, and condemnation of Georgetown. Utah is a good basketball team – it’s proven that at almost every juncture of this season. The Utes’ size will prove too much for pesky but undersized Stephen F. Austin (no Lumberjack over 6’6” plays more than 15 minutes per game), who landed a far better second round matchup in VCU last year. If Georgetown doesn’t take Eastern Washington seriously the Hoyas won’t be waiting for Utah in the third round, but the Utes won’t have any issue with them even if they are. Defense and discipline will get Utah past a Georgetown team that struggles to create offense, landing them their first Sweet Sixteen appearance in a decade.

Juiciest Potential Match-up – Purists:  Duke vs Gonzaga, Regional Final. Forget the fact that both programs are perennial fixtures near the top of the polls – this game would be fun purely from a basketball perspective. Both the Zags and Blue Devils are among the six most efficient offensive units in college basketball. Each have legitimate post presences (Przemek Karnowski and Jahlil Okafor), but the guard play steers the ship for both teams. A battle of the best (maybe) backcourt in college hoops (Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook) vs. the most experienced (Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell) would lead to many, many points in this potential regional final. Gonzaga couldn’t receive a better opportunity to chance their national perception surrounding the postseason than this.

Juiciest Potential Match-up – Media: Iowa vs Iowa State, Regional Semifinal. These intrastate rivals already see each other annually, but why not add a second meeting this season? The Cyclones got the better of Iowa in Iowa City on December 12, and while the Hawkeye State has seen much transpire since then, the hierarchy remains the same: Iowa State is the residing big brother in this rivalry. A hot Hawkeyes team would surely seek to reverse the relationship if afforded the opportunity in the Sweet Sixteen.

We Got Screwed: #4 Georgetown (21-10, 13-7 Big East). The committee traded Georgetown a #4 seed they didn’t deserve for an absolutely terrifying draw. First, the Hoyas must tackle an Eastern Washington team that won at Indiana earlier this season, and in the Pacific Northwest no less. If they are able to survive that game, their most likely third round opponent is Utah. As recently as two weeks ago the Utes were serious contenders for a #2 seed. What’s more, Salt Lake City is more than 2,000 miles closer to Portland (where this game would be played) than Georgetown’s Washington D.C. digs. Given the seed gift, it’s hard to say that Georgetown deserves a dramatically better draw, but life is usually easier than this for #4 seeds. If you see the Hoyas in Houston, congratulate them on earning their trip to the Lone Star state, because they will have.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera Will Aim To Help Georgetown Avoid More Tournament Heartbreak (AP)

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera Will Aim To Help Georgetown Avoid More Tournament Heartbreak. (AP)

Strongest Pod: Duke/North Florida or Robert Morris, San Diego State/St. John’s. Two dangerous teams in a #8/#9 game make this group the strongest of four quartets in the region. It also doesn’t hurt the cause that Duke is Duke, and North Florida is actually pretty dangerous for a First Four participant (just ask Purdue). But it’s San Diego State and St. John’s that earn this pod its stripes. The Aztecs’ defense (fourth nationally in defensive efficiency) makes them a dangerous quantity no matter where they lie in the bracket, while St. John’s has used a blend of experience and athleticism to spark their inclusion in the field. The Johnnies could definitely push Duke (they already have once this season) if afforded the opportunity, but we’re rooting for a Steve Fisher-Coach K coaching duel in round three. The Aztecs are a dangerous team.

So-Called Experts: Doug Gottlieb wasted no time in predicting another early NCAA Tournament departure for Georgetown, and a significant portion of the masses will likely follow suit in endorsing Eastern Washington. Gonzaga is getting a lot of early love as a Final Four team – five of seven ESPN experts have the Zags as a national semifinalist. Duke and Iowa State have their share of supporters as well, while Stephen F. Austin’s second round victory a season ago seems to be engendering belief in a repeat performance – the Lumberjacks look to be a trendy upset pick.

BHayes (244 Posts)

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