Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 15th, 2016

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On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) 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).

Region: South

Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4, 15-3 Big 12). Who else? With perhaps his least talented squad in recent memory (from an NBA perspective), Bill Self led Kansas to yet another Big 12 regular season title – its 12th in a row – and the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks enter the Dance on a 14-game winning streak and its 30 wins include victories over Kentucky, Oklahoma, West Virginia (twice), and Baylor (twice). One of only two teams with four losses, Kansas possesses such a complete resume, such a cohesive roster, and such strong advanced metrics that it’s hard not to consider the Jayhawks odds-on National Championship favorites, much less favorites in the South. Self’s group ranks #1 in KenPom – with offensive and defensive efficiency numbers near the top – and boasts one of the country’s best players in 6’8” forward Perry Ellis (16.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG). Scoring is seldom an issue with Ellis, Devonte’ Graham (44% 3FG) and Wayne Selden Jr. (13.3 PPG) in tow, and nearly every player on the roster plays consistently stingy, team-oriented man-to-man defense. Even if it faces a high-talent opponent like #4 seed California or an experienced, spread-you-out club like #2 seed Villanova, Kansas easily remains the best bet from the region to reach Houston.

Expect more smiles from Kansas in the coming weeks. (Nick Krug)

Expect more smiles from Kansas over the next few weeks. (Nick Krug)

Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (29-5, 16-2 Big East). If you’re down on the Wildcats, don’t be. Sure, they lost to Seton Hall in the Big East title game, and yes, their recent NCAA Tournament record isn’t great – Jay Wright’s team has not reached the second weekend since 2009 despite being a #2 seed or better three times. But if past performance is no sure indicator of future results, then there’s also no reason to think that Villanova – with one of college basketball’s most balanced rosters – cannot make a very deep run. The Big East regular season champions rank among the top 15 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, with five players averaging more than 9.7 PPG and a true rim protector in 6’11’ senior Daniel Ochefu (7.8% block rate). The bottom half of the South is not swelling with raw talent, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the Wildcats and their spread attack to push deep into March.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Temple (21-11, 14-4 American Athletic). Temple’s inclusion as a #10 seed seems to be proof that the committee simply didn’t give a darn about advanced metrics – nor quality non-conference wins, for that matter. The Owls enter the NCAA Tournament as the lowest-ranked at-large selection in KenPom (#86 overall) by a staggering 26 spots, with perhaps their best non-conference victory being a five-point neutral court win over 8-23 Minnesota. If its KenPom number holds, Temple will finish the season as the lowest-ranked at-large unit since Colorado State in 2012 (95th). Yuck.

Criminally Underseeded: #6 Arizona (25-8, 12-6 Pac-12). What happened here? The committee appeared to be in love with the Pac-12 on Sunday evening… until it got to Arizona. The 25-8 Wildcats – ranked #15 in KenPom and #17 in the AP Poll – received a #6 seed despite finishing tied for third in the league, while conference brethren Oregon (#1), Utah (#3), California (#4) and Oregon State (#7) all received more respect than even Larry Scott could have hoped for. If you’re going to knock Arizona for its relative lack of great wins, fine, but don’t then turn around and give the 12-loss Beavers – which lost to Stanford and UCLA at home – a #7 seed.

Maryland better be ready for the Jackrabbits. (Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

Maryland better be ready for the #12 seed Jackrabbits. (Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports)

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): #12 South Dakota State (26-7, 12-4 Summit League). The Jackrabbits were able to scout Maryland (and vice versa) during the Cancun Challenge back in November, so familiarity will not be an issue for either team in their Friday opener. And neither will fear. South Dakota State has challenged its fair share of high-major opponents dating back to the Nate Wolters days, and this year’s group features a pair of smart, experienced guards in seniors Deondre Parks (14.7 PPG) and George Marshall (14.9 PPG), the latter of whom began his career at Wisconsin. Throw in Summit League Freshman of the Year (and Sixth Man of the Year) Mike Daum (15.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG), whose 7.7 fouls drawn per 40 minutes ranks sixth nationally, and suddenly the Jackrabbits look capable of making a run – especially if Hawaii pulls a shocker on the other side of the pod.

Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower): #7 Iowa (21-10, 12-6 Big Ten). Look, Villanova is really good and we shouldn’t judge it based on past NCAA Tournament performances. But with Iowa lurking in the Second Round, another early exit is still very much in play. The Hawkeyes are tall, fast and talented (there’s a reason they were ranked #1 in KenPom back in January), and boast one of the game’s top offensive weapons in 6’9” floor-spacer Jarrod Uthoff (18.9 PPG). Fran McCaffery’s guys took down Michigan State twice during the regular season by an average margin of 15 points per game, so it’s not hard to envision them taking down the Wildcats, either. And if Iowa does make it Louisville – and regains its offensive mojo in the process – the Hawkeyes are long and athletic enough to compete with any team left in the region, including Kansas.

Carmelo Anthony Award: Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa (18.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG). As mentioned above, Uthoff is a matchup nightmare capable of putting up gaudy offensive numbers. Although Iowa enters the NCAA Tournament in the midst of a major slump, having lost five of its last six games, the Hawkeyes are 4-1 when Uthoff scores 25 or more points – including a road victory at Michigan to end the regular season (29 points on 11-of-19 shooting).  If the senior gets hot and his supporting cast shows up, a team once considered a Final Four threat may re-enter that conversation.

Despite their recent struggles, don't count out the Hawkeyes. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Despite their recent struggles, don’t count out the Hawkeyes. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Stephen Curry Award: Ron Baker, Wichita State (14.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG). Baker might not even be the best guard on his own team, considering Fred VanVleet’s All-American status. But the 6’4” senior’s outside shooting and ability to get to the rim probably makes him the most important offensive weapon on a Wichita State team otherwise known for its defense. If Baker gets on a roll, as he’s been known to do in the NCAA Tournament, the Shockers have First Four-to-Sweet Sixteen (and beyond) potential.

Home Cooking: #2 Villanova and #10 Temple, 100 miles to Brooklyn. Two of three Philly schools in this year’s Tournament might end up squaring off less than two hours from home. Heck, there are businesspeople who make that commute daily. Expect a lot of Brotherly Love in the Barclays Center this weekend.

Can’t Miss First Round Game: #6 Arizona vs. #11 Vanderbilt/#11 Wichita State, 3/17 at 9:10 on TNT. Whether it’s the Commodores or the Shockers, Arizona will have its hands full on Thursday night. Vanderbilt is loaded with talent, including NBA-caliber big man Damian Jones (14.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG), and ranks #27 in KenPom despite its 13 losses. Wichita State boasts the country’s stingiest defense, and we all know what Gregg Marshall’s team has done in March over the last few seasons. As for the Wildcats, they aren’t in bad shape either – as head coach at Arizona, Sean Miller has reached the second weekend in all five of his NCAA Tournament trips.

Don’t Miss This One Either: #8 Colorado vs. #9 Connecticut, 3/17 at 1:30 on TNT. There’s some kind of supernatural charm surrounding this Connecticut program, isn’t there? In 2011, it was Kemba Walker winning five games in five days to win the Big East, then winning six more to win the whole thing. In 2014, it was Shabazz Napier and company turning a #7 seed into an improbable National Title. So after drilling a ¾-court shot to save its season on Friday, who knows what this iteration of Huskies will do? First up: a defensively-tough Colorado club.

Lock of the Year: Iowa will beat the tar out of Temple. Hate to keep ragging on Temple and praising Iowa here, but this game has blowout written all over it. Other than a January home win over SMU, the Owls haven’t done anything this season to indicate they are capable of competing with a team with like the Hawkeyes. Iowa, meanwhile, swept Michigan State and Purdue this season and beat Wichita State by 23 points. This game should resemble the Hawkeyes’ 31-point blowout of #10 seed Davidson in last year’s Dance.

Is Connecticut in for another charmed March? Colorado will have a say in that on Thursday. (Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports)

Is Connecticut in for another charmed March? #8 seed Colorado sure hopes not. (Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports)

Juiciest Potential Matchup – Purists: #1 Kansas vs. #5 Maryland in the Sweet Sixteen. Each of these teams entered the season ranked in the top five of both the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls, with some publications even tabbing them #1 and #2. So while the media would certainly love this matchup, so too would basketball purists eager to watch a true heavyweight bout just a few rounds into the Tournament. Would Perry Ellis be as effective against that huge Terrapins’ front line? Which Melo Trimble would show up? The on-court intrigue will be immense if these two team square off.

Juiciest Potential Matchup – Media: #1 Kansas vs. #11 Wichita State in the Elite Eight. Okay, so we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. But can you imagine the look on Bill Self’s face if he ends up having to face Wichita State again, a year after the Shockers upset his Jayhawks in the Round of 32? Kansas point guard Frank Mason called that game “the worst nightmare for us”, and Self seemed distraught. A rematch, with a trip to Houston on the line, would be succulent.

We Got Screwed: #6 Arizona. Not only was Arizona underseeded but it drew by far the most difficult play-in game winner. While Notre Dame awaits either Michigan (#56 KenPom) or Tulsa (#58 KenPom) over in the East, the Wildcats must prepare for Vanderbilt or Wichita – a pair of much more dangerous teams.

Strongest Pod: Providence (Miami (FL), Buffalo, Arizona, Wichita State/Vanderbilt). Spokane is also mighty strong, with California and Maryland headlining the foursome, but the Providence pod features both strength and depth. Miami (FL), the #3 seed, is deep and experienced and capable of making a Final Four run. Arizona is a west coast blue-blood. Wichita State has become a perennial national contender, and Vanderbilt has enough talent on its roster to beat anyone in the region (outside of maybe Kansas). Even #14 seed Buffalo has a pair of really good guards.

Great Storyline: Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos. Loos’ granddaughter, Rhyan, underwent cancer surgery on the first day of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The 8th-seeded Governors proceeded to win four games in four days – the most improbable run in the league’s history – and clinch an NCAA Tournament berth on Loos’ 69th birthday. Rhyan’s surgery turned out successful, and Loos and his family are “taking it day by day”. No matter what happens against Kansas on Thursday, it’s been an incredible March for Austin Peay.

Tommy Lemoine (206 Posts)


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