The best three weeks in the sports’ world is officially here. The NCAA Tournament field is ready. Teams and fans know their fate and route to get to Minneapolis for the Final Four. The field is in place for the four regions. In this March Madness series, we are going to breakdown the South Region of the NCAA Tournament.
In the South Region, eight of the 16-team bracket are conference champions. Six of them would not have made it without winning their conference tournament. The four seeds in the South are not conference tournament champions. The top-seed n the South is the Virginia Cavaliers, a team that looks to write a new chapter.
This region is very compelling. Seven of the top 20 defensive schools in points allow per game are in this region, headlined by the top-seed Cavaliers at 55.1 PPG. Six schools in this region average 75+ points per game headlined by the second-seed Tennessee Volunteers at 82.3 PPG.
Here’s how the South Region breaks down:
As mentioned earlier, the Virginia Cavaliers are the top-seed once again. The regular season champs from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) with a 29-3 record. The Cavaliers are a staple of the ACC and NCAA Tournament under head coach Tony Bennett.
However, Bennett and the Cavs look to forget last year’s tournament appearance and write a new chapter. Last year the Cavaliers were upset in the round of 64 as a one-seed. The most unforgettable moment in tournament history. As a number one seed a year ago, the Cavs lost to 16th seeded UMBC. That was the first time that a 16-seed knocked off a 1-seed.
The Cavaliers look to right that historic moment in this year’s tournament as they are a one-seed again. They have ten wins against teams that made the tournament that includes North Carolina (UNC), Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), and Virginia Tech twice.
Senior, Kyle Guy leads the Cavaliers in scoring at 15.6 PPG on 47.2% shooting and 43.6% shooting from 3. De’Andre Hunter, a junior, scores 15.1 PPG on 53% shooting with 45.7% from 3-land. The Cavaliers lead the nation in points allow at 55.1 PPG, but they know how to score the ball just as well. The Cavs score about 71.8 PPG. Virginia should definitively make a much better run in the tournament this year.
Next, the second-seed in the South comes from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in the Volunteers of Tennessee. The Volunteers are lacking their wounds as the Auburn Tigers just smashed them in SEC Championship Game. Nevertheless, head coach Rick Barnes has brought the Tennessee program back to relevancy since the Bruce Pearl days. Ironic right.
The Volunteers are coming off a 29-5 record with nine wins against tournament teams. One of those wins came against the current 1-seed in the West Region in the Gonzaga Bulldogs and two wins against SEC rival and 2-seed in the Midwest Region in the Kentucky Wildcats.
The Volunteers are led by senior, Admiral Schofield and juniors, Grant Williams, Jordan Bone, and Jordan Bowden.
Williams leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 19 PPG on 56.5% shooting and 7.6 RPG. Schofield averages 16.2 PPG on 47.6% shooting with 41.7% beyond the arc while averaging 6.1 RPG. The starters of the Vols all average double-digits in scoring thus why they are one the highest scoring teams in the country at 82.3 PPG. These guys will be NBA players.
UC Irvine Anteaters
To start, UC Irvine Anteaters, winners of the Big West Conference and the 13-seed in the South could make so noise this year. 30-5 on the season as a 13-seed is mind blowing. UC Irvine is ranked 19th in the country in points allowed at 63.3 PPG. The Anteaters hold two wins against tournament teams in the St. Mary’s Gaels and Montana Grizzlies, both conference champions.
UC Irvine scores about 73 PPG to go along with the 19th ranked points allow defense. Juniors, Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard led UC Irvine to their second tournament appearance since 2015. Hazzard averages 12.5 PPG on 41.8% shooting and Leonard averages 11.1 PPG on 44.1% shooting. Both guys shoot around 40-41% beyond the arc.
Now, UC Irvine has a date with 4-seed Kansas State. This will be a defensive game as the Wildcats out of the Big 12 are ranked third in the country in points allow at 59.2 PPG. The Wildcats will be without their senior big man, Dean Wade. Before suffering a foot injury, Wade was averaging 12.9 PPG and 6.2RPG for the Wildcats.
Old Dominion Monarchs
Next, the 14-seed in the South are the Conference USA Champs in Old Dominion. The Monarchs are back in the tournament for the first time since 2011. Old Dominion ruled the C-USA on their way to a 26-8 record. Not a big scoring team only averaging 66.2 PPG, but are ranked seventh in the country in points allow at 60.9 PPG. Holding victories over two tournament teams in VCU and Syracuse.
The Monarchs are led by senior, B.J. Stith and junior, Ahmad Caver. Both average around 16-17 PPG on about 40% shooting.
Now, Old Dominion will meet 3-seed Purdue. This is probably your 14 over 3 upset. Purdue has struggle lately mainly, Carsen Edwards, their leading scorer. For those looking for an upset, Old Dominion is a good start.
Saint Mary’s Gaels
Now, probably the best of the Cinderella group in the tourney is Saint Mary’s. Winner of the West Coast Conference by stunning the West Region’s top-seed, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Gaels also have a win over New Mexico State, who are in the tournament as well.
With a 22-11 record, the Gaels come into the South Region as the 11-seed. Averaging 72.9 PPG and allowing only 64.4 PPG (ranked 29th), the Gaels are a dangerous team. Led by junior, Jordan Ford, averaging 21.3PPG on 49.4% shooting and 42.3% on3-pointers. Sophomore, Malik Fitts averages 15.3PPG on 47.6% shooting and 40.3% from deep. Fitts leads the team in rebounding, averaging 7.6RPG.
The Gaels have a very interesting matchup in Hartford on Thursday. Saint Mary’s get the first opportunity to take down the defending champs and Big East champs in the Villanova Wildcats. This could very well be a 11 over 6 upset. If UC Irvine takes down K-State, you could have St. Mary’s versus UC Irvine in the Round of 32 in a 11 vs. 14 matchup.
There are about five to six dark horses in the South Region, but three really standout. The top one is the defending champs and the 6-seed, Villanova Wildcats. The Wildcats are not being looked at as a favorite with Virginia and Tennessee being the top seeds.
Villanova struggled throughout the season, but put it together in route to win the Big East Conference. The third consecutive year winning the Big East and now the Wildcats are on the mission to defend their national crown. It begins Thursday against Saint Mary’s.
Probably one of the hottest teams entering the tourney and PAC-12 champions, the Oregon Ducks are a dangerous team. Winning four games in four days, Oregon is hot and have a favorable 5 vs. 12 matchup as the 12-seed.
A matchup that will very defensive against 5-seed, Wisconsin Badgers. Both a ranked in the top 20 in points allow, Wisconsin 9th at 61.4PPG and Oregon ranked 17th at 62.9PPG. Wisconsin has struggled of late and Oregon is on a tear after defeating Washington by 20 points in the PAC-12 Championship.
Now a team that no one wants to face right now is the American Champs, Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bearcats, a 7-seed in the South, is a team riding high and confident after defeating the Houston Cougars in the AAC Championship by double-digits.
Ranked 12th in the country in points allow at 62.4 PPG, the Bearcats will face the 10-seed, Iowa Hawkeyes from the Big Ten. Iowa can score the ball, averaging 78.3 PPG against a very good Bearcat defense. However, the Hawkeyes struggle defensively, allowing 73.6 PPG which ranks 239th. With junior, Jarron Cumberland coming off a 30-point performance against Houston, Iowa will have a hard time contain the American Conference Player of the Year.
The South Region has interesting dynamic to it. The best defensive team is the top seed. One the of top scoring teams is the second seed. The Gardner-Webb Bulldogs making their first-ever tournament appearance, as a result of winning the Big South. The Patriot champs, Colgate Raiders, in the tournament after 23 years. There are dangerous Cinderella teams can make serious noise.
There are dark horse teams that are hot off strong conference championship performances. Not to mention, the defending National Champs are in this region.
There will be chaos in the tournament, because they always are chaos. Upsets will take place. So be prepared to see the South Region contribute to the chaos that is March Madness.