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2019 Bracket Analysis: South Region

Kyle Guy, Virginia
After making history as the first ever No. 1 seed to lose to a 16, Virginia enters this 2019 NCAA Tournament eager to prove themselves. They were once again awarded a top seed after going 29-3 overall, with a 16-2 mark in the ACC. The Cavaliers have an extremely similar core as last year's group, but are blessed with a healthy De'Andre Hunter this time around. Hunter was the Sixth Man of the Year in the ACC a season ago but went down with a broken wrist just days before the opener against UMBC. A skilled, well-built wing, Hunter has been crucial to this offense all year long and will be leaned on heavily during this Tournament. Guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome have been the stars all year long, with both of them hitting from deep at impressive rates (Guy is at 46%, Jerome 40%). Yet, they've also been known to be streaky, which could be a concern going forward. Virginia will also showcase their patented "pack-line" defense, which has been Tony Bennett's signature during his time in Charlottesville. That defense has been so stingy and versatile all season, allowing just 55 PPG, tops in the entire D1. Top to bottom, this Cavaliers team is pretty identical to last year's group, but I think the end result will be different. Judging this team on one game from last season when they're in a different situation in 2019 would be foolish. This team has enough talent, and Bennett is a good enough coach, they have the tools to finally make a long awaited run this March.

A late Pac-12 Tournament Title run by Oregon helped them sneak into the field as a 12 seed, poised as a potential bracket-buster. Many assumed the Ducks season might be over when star freshman Bol Bol went down with a season-ending foot injury, but they've been able to survive behind a strong defense and good-shooting backcourt. Veteran guard Payton Pritchard is really what makes this team go, a skilled passer who can also lock down at the other end of the court. He had three superb showings in their conference title run, and will have to play well if Oregon is going to continue their hot streak. Freshman Louis King and senior Paul White are two other crucial components of this lineup. King is the youthful, explosive scorer while White is a former Georgetown transfer who is the type of steady, intelligent playmaker any coach loves to have on their team. Will that trio do enough to take down fifth-seeded Wisconsin, who they open up with? The Badgers may have star forward Ethan Happ, but they lack a ton of scoring punch beyond him, and Happ is notorious for his struggles on the free throw line. Oregon can certainly pull a first round upset if they force Happ, who had a bad Big Ten semifinals showing against Michigan State, into mistakes and continue to shoot the way they have down the stretch. It could set up an interesting battle with the winner of Kansas State-UC Irvine, two teams both playing some great basketball as well.

Villanova may have won two National Titles in three seasons, but don't expect the same from the Wildcats this year. Settling in as the sixth seed in the South Region, Villanova could still be a potential dangerous squad, but I think they could also be primed for a first round upset. Their first matchup will be the St. Mary's Gaels, who shocked Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference Tournament. This is not the best St. Mary's team, but it still looks like it has the tools to win a game or two in the Big Dance. The Gaels always have a combo guard that can fill it up, with junior Jordan Ford being the latest in the long line. Ford is averaging 21.3 PPG and has the looks of the type of scorer that can really lead a team in this Tournament. Yet, the real key for this St. Mary's team will be how they play defense and how they rebound. They're a strong defensive team that rotates extremely well and doesn't give up anything easy. They also rebound the ball well; their ability to crash the offensive glass was instrumental in the upset of Gonzaga. Villanova is an extremely beatable team if you play strong defense and contain them in transition. They're also not a very good sized team, which bodes well for the Gaels on the boards. Will this St. Mary's team be able to replicate 2010, when they came very close to an Elite Eight berth? Probably not, but this is yet another higher-seed that could cause some chaos in the South.

There might not be a team I like more in the bottom-half of this region than the Cincinnati Bearcats, who are locked in as the seventh seed. Mick Cronin-coached teams tend to play a similar way: physical on both ends, relying on their strong defense and making their presence felt on the glass. This particular Cincinnati team is no exception, although they offer a little bit more scoring punch than some of Cronin's past teams. Guard Jarron Cumberland is criminally underrated; he has improved every single year in Cincy, and is a versatile playmaker coming off an AAC Title showing where he dropped 33 points. He is the face of this team, but fellow backcourt mates Cane Broome and Keith Williams are just as important, both lockdown defenders that can help this team in more ways than scoring. Another reason to like the Bearcats? They get a very favorable matchup in Round 1, and most likely beyond. Their first meeting will be Iowa, a team that has been struggling as of late and has been very streaky offensively all season. Will they be able to score against such a physical and quality Bearcats' defense? If they're able to down the Hawkeyes, a most likely meeting with the two seed, Tennessee, awaits. The Volunteers are without a doubt a strong team, but they don't shoot much three-pointers, and Cincinnati knows how to lock down the paint. I'm buying into this Cincinnati team, and think they have a very good shot at moving through the bottom-half of this region.

Picking the South

Round One
1 Virginia over 16 Gardner-Webb ... No monumental 1-16 upset this time around. A healthy De'Andre Hunter makes all the difference for the Cavaliers.

9 Oklahoma over 8 Ole Miss ... The Rebels may have an explosive scoring backcourt, but the Sooners' tough defense carries them to the second round.

5 Wisconsin over 12 Oregon ... Tough first round matchup for Wisconsin, but not positive the Ducks have a big man that can stop Ethan Happ.

4 Kansas State over 13 UC Irvine ... Can K-State return to the Elite Eight in 2019? They'll need a healthy Dean Wade, who is questionable for the opening round.

11 St. Mary's over 6 Villanova ... No March run for Villanova this year, as the Gaels and Jordan Ford take down the defending champs.

3 Purdue over 14 Old Dominion ... Purdue needs Carsen Edwards to play smarter down the stretch, along with a productive Tournament from center Matt Haarms.

7 Cincinnati over 10 Iowa ... Can Hawkeyes turn it around at the most important point of their season? Not if Cincinnati plays the way they did in achieving the AAC Title.

2 Tennessee over 15 Colgate ... Don't overlook the Patriot League Champion Colgate, but Volunteers find a way to get it done.

Round Two
1 Virginia over 9 Oklahoma ... Oklahoma will be able to compete, but they just don't have the offense to take down the pack-line defense.

4 Kansas State over 5 Wisconsin ... I really like both of these teams, but Kansas State has more offensive versatility and balance than the Badgers.

3 Purdue over 11 St. Mary's ... Should be a back-and-forth game, but Purdue's superior depth gives them the edge in this one.

7 Cincinnati over 2 Tennessee ... Tennessee will struggle to shoot from downtown, and Bearcats are stingy enough in the post to slow down Grant Williams.

Sweet 16
1 Virginia over 4 Kansas State ... Possible upset alert here, but until Wade is proven 100 percent, I'll stick with the top seed in the region.

3 Purdue over 7 Cincinnati ... Does Purdue have the shooting to overcome the Bearcats? Edwards and sharpshooter Ryan Cline must get the job done to move on.

Elite Eight
1 Virginia over 3 Purdue ... The Cavaliers returning to the Final Four after what happened a year ago? This is a better team in a better situation, and Tony Bennett deserves a Final Four for what he has done in Charlottesville.

South Region Champion: 1 Virginia Cavaliers

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