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Bracket Analysis: South Region

Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Head coach Tony Bennett has built something special at Virginia, but one big thing is still missing from his resume: a Final Four appearance. He has a number of teams that have gotten close, but none have really been able to get over the top. This year's Cavaliers team just seems different. Defensively, they are as good as ever, and have length and athleticism. The big difference is their offense, which is perhaps the most dangerous it has been since Bennett took over in Charlottesville. Versatile guard Kyle Guy has had a breakout sophomore season, fellow guard Ty Jerome is one of the most clutch players in the nation, senior Devon Hall is shooting 45 percent from three, and they have a number of big guys that can also contribute. The big concerns are offensive consistency and the fact the region they landed in just happens to be probably the hardest of the four. When UVA does struggle, it generally is because they have experienced long bouts where their offense just can't really make anything. It has been the main reason why past Virginia teams have been unable to get to that elusive Final Four. Dealing with the winner of Arizona/Kentucky, two teams that went out this weekend and won their conference tournaments, in the Sweet 16 will be a big challenge but I like this Cavaliers team. They have depth, plenty of playmakers, experience and discipline. Picking the No. 1 overall seed to win it all seems boring, but in a year that has been incredibly unpredictable, the Cavs have been one of the few constants. They are indeed my pick to cut down the nets in San Antonio. 

John Calipari-coached teams tend to have a common trend. Of course, there have been some outliers (2012, 2014-2015), but generally his youthful Kentucky teams struggle early on in the season before they start to figure things out and play great basketball by the time March rolls around. This UK team certainly seems to fit that trend. Maybe the youngest team Calipari has had since he arrived in Lexington, the 'Cats really struggled in the non-conference and early on in SEC play but they are clearly trending up, winning a hard-fought SEC Tournament. The big reason for their recent success has been the growth of top scorers Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, along with improved play from the "veterans" Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones. Knox has evolved into the type of player that can really lead a Final Four squad, which is saying something considering the ups-and-downs he experienced earlier in the year. Gilgeous-Alexander has surpassed expectations since joining the Wildcats, Gabriel's three-point shooting has been huge in terms of spacing, while Killeya-Jones has been a force on the glass. If those guys continue to play the way they have, and the bench steps up, this is definitely a team that can make some noise. Davidson, who is playing incredibly well right now and just won the Atlantic 10, will be a tough early test, as will future meetings with Arizona and Virginia, assuming they get their jobs done. Even so, this UK team looks dangerous and it would not be surprising at all to see them come out of the South.

A popular preseason No. 1, Arizona had a rough start to the season, losing three straight in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. However, there is no denying how incredibly talented this Wildcats team is, and they are coming off a dominant conference tournament. The big advantage Arizona possesses is big man DeAndre Ayton, who has a great shot at being the top selection in this June's NBA Draft. Ayton has the size and strength of a seasoned NBA vet, and there is no team in this region with a frontline that can match up well against him. Add in the scoring of wings Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, who can take nearly any team off the dribble, and 'Zona has all the makeup of a scary team. Buffalo will be another early test for this team, but obviously the real challenges come later on against Kentucky/Virginia. Talent-wise, Arizona may be the best of the trio but of course, that doesn't necessarily mean they are set to come out of this region. Much like Bennett, Sean Miller is a great and accomplished coach but he still lacks a Final Four berth on his resume. If this team plays up to their talent level, the 'Cats should be able to change that. 

If you're looking for a real dark horse in the region, Loyola-Chicago would be a great move. The 11 seed in the region, the Ramblers swept both the Missouri Valley regular season title and the conference tournament and have great overall balance. Experienced guards Donte Ingram, Clayton Custer and Marquez Townes can cause defenses real troubles with their shooting (all hitting 40 percent or better from three-point), and the Ramblers have five players all scoring in double digits, which means they won't fall apart if someone is having an off day. Loyola beat Florida on the road earlier on in the season, which shows they can beat teams with premier talent, and it looks like they will be able to beat in-state rival Miami, who they open the Tournament with. Moving on, the bottom half of the region looks ripe with opportunity. Cincinnati is maybe the weakest two seed in the field, and while they are incredibly talented, the three seed, Tennessee, is very beatable. If the Ramblers can seize this opportunity, there is a great chance they can make a very deep run and maybe, just maybe, be this year's mid-major Cinderella.

Shaka Smart has had a Cinderella run before while at VCU, and it seems the energetic head coach always has his teams playing the best when March rolls around. Now at Texas, the Longhorns definitely have the look of a team that can make some serious noise. An imposing frontcourt, headed by stud freshman Mo Bamba will give UT a major advantage over some opponents, as will an athletic group of guards that play hard, aggressive defense. The Longhorns also have a big motivation factor, as they are playing for guard Andrew Jones, who was diagnosed early on in the season with Hogdkins Lymphoma. Much like Louisville did after Kevin Ware's scary injury a few years ago, that motivation can really make the difference late in the Tournament. As a 10 seed, the Longhorns will begin play against Nevada. The Wolfpack will be quite a challenge led by NC State transfers Caleb and Cody Martin, but this Texas team should be able to handle them. From there, possible meetings with Cincy and Tennessee will of course be quite a tough test, but this Texas team has the makeup to come out on top. This team won't have the same feel as the one at VCU when Smart went on his improbable Final Four run, but they can still cause plenty of damage.

Picking the South
First Round

1 Virginia over 16 UMBC... Someday a 16 seed will beat a one seed and become the ultimate Cinderella. This UVA team is not going to let UMBC be the first.

9 Kansas State over 8 Creighton... They didn't get much attention in the loaded Big 12, but this Kansas State is skilled and disciplined. They should be able to roll past the Bluejays.

5 Kentucky over 12 Davidson... Davidson is playing great basketball right now, but they just don't have the talent to overcome this Kentucky team stocked with future pros.

4 Arizona over 13 Buffalo... Buffalo is appearing in their second straight tourney under head coach Nate Oats, but they just don't have anybody on the roster that can contain DeAndre Ayton.

11 Loyola-Chicago over 6 Miami... A classic 6-11 upset here. The Ramblers are skilled enough and balanced enough to take down Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes.

3 Tennessee over 14 Wright State... After being picked 13th in the SEC in the preseason by media, Tennessee has been a huge surprise. They should be able to hold off Wright State.

10 Texas over 7 Nevada... The Martin twins will be a load to handle for UT, but Mo Bamba and the 'Horns quality backcourt puts them over the top. 

2 Cincinnati over 15 Georgia State... They don't play a pretty brand of basketball, but this is a superb Cincinnati team, and one that won't fall to a 15 seed.

Second Round

1 Virginia over 9 Kansas State... Barry Brown and Kansas State will cause UVA some issues, but Tony Bennett's "pack-line" defense keeps the Cavs from the upset.

5 Kentucky over 4 Arizona... Jared Vanderbilt, Kentucky's best big man, will hopefully be healthy for this one, enabling UK to contain Ayton enough to win this game.

3 Tennessee over 11 Loyola-Chicago... The Ramblers are definitely a dark horse, but Tennessee's size and head coach Rick Barnes' experience holds them off.

10 Texas over 2 Cincinnati... Both Cincy and Texas are great defensive teams, but Bamba and the Longhorns' superior offense sparks the upset.

Sweet 16

1 Virginia over 5 Kentucky... Kentucky's offense has been burning hot as of late, but they have not seen a defense with the length and skill of Virginia's group.

3 Tennessee over 10 Texas... It should be a great battle between two teams with great frontcourts, but superior shooting and overall depth should guide the Vols to the win.

Elite Eight

1 Virginia over 3 Tennessee... The Volunteers may not be quite as steep as a challenge as Kentucky or Arizona, but UVA will still need to play great basketball to secure a Final Four bid.

South Region Champ: 1 Virginia Cavaliers


applemcg said...

thanks for the South Bracket. I'm using it all the way. (and picking VA over Duke in the Final Four)

and eagerly awaiting the other brackets.

i've picked the others but haven't submitted it yet. my other pair in the final four: 'nova and UNC.?! somewhere a 3,4, 5, 6 sneaks in though. who? Michigan? Wichita St?

~ Uncle Marty

Mike McGowan said...

==>Someday a 16 seed will beat a one seed and become the ultimate Cinderella. This UVA team is not going to let UMBC be the first.

And it wasn't even close - Who a thunk!

Heard on the local news today - ESPN has 17.3 M entrants in the bracket challenge. Not one picked this game correctly. You might have thought that at at least one person would have accidentally picked UMBC.

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