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Bracket Analysis: South Region


Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona

The Top Seed: Arizona Wildcats

Arizona has long been one of college basketball's powers on the West Coast, but it was clear they needed a change of pace under Sean Miller, as the program had slipped to mediocre in an underwhelming Pac-12. Enter long-time Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd, who has come on and made a splash, guiding the Wildcats to a No. 1 seed and Pac-12 crown. Does this team have the ingredients to make Arizona's first Final Four appearance in two decades? Bennedict Mathurin is one of the funnest players to watch anywhere in college basketball and an explosive scorer, and he's helped by a supporting cast that includes Azuolas Tubelis, Kerr Kriisa, and Christian Koloko. Lloyd also brought big Oumar Ballo with him from Gonzaga, an elite rim protector who averages over three blocks per 40 minutes. There's more than enough weapons for this offense to put up points, but it's important to note that Kriisa, the team's top passer and probably their best shooter, is banged up. He sprained his ankle on the run to the Pac-12 Championship Game and his status for the Big Dance is a major question mark. With all due respect to backup Justin Kier, the offense takes a significant step back without Kriisa. Even so, the Wildcats still have a nice potential route to the Final Four, even though the two and three seeds, Villanova and Tennessee, are no slouches. I'm not a fan of either Seton Hall or TCU pulling an upset in the second round and both Houston and Illinois are on upset watch below them. Arizona should roll into the second weekend even if Kriisa isn't 100 percent, and they're well-coached and balanced enough to win the entire region.

The Cinderella Possibility: Chattanooga Mocs

Frankly, the Selection Committee's decision to match Illinois up against Loyola-Chicago in last season's NCAA Tournament completely screwed the Illini. How did they return the favor this year? By matching them up against a serious "Cinderella" threat in Southern Conference Champion Chattanooga. The Mocs won the Southern Championship Game on a buzzer beater against Furman, but this is no team of luck. They have legit power conference-level talent in this lineup, spearheaded by high-scoring guard Malachi Smith and big Silvio De Sousa. Smith averaged 20.1 points per game on the year and is the type of fearless lead guard that can have a breakthrough March Madness performance. De Sousa, on the other hand, began his career at Kansas but has proven to be a valuable low-post presence for the Mocs. I'm fascinated to watch him match up against Kofi Cockburn in the first round; these are two gigantic big men with excellent touch around the rim. You really hope that it doesn't become a whistle show and decided by who gets in foul trouble first. If Chattanooga can find a way to overcome the Illini, they match up well with either Houston or UAB in Round Two, opening the door for them to roll into the second weekend.

Don't Forget About: Michigan Wolverines

Michigan entered the season as a Top 10 team and a Big Ten frontrunner, but Juwan Howard's club struggled through a frustrating season. The highly touted freshmen took awhile to acclimate, DeVante' Jones wasn't quite the high impact transfer we thought he would be, and the veteran leadership wasn't quite what hoped. The result was a 17-14 record that included more than a few puzzling losses, but the Wolverines were still able to do just enough down the stretch in Big Ten play to earn a Tournament bid. While you can make the argument they should have been playing in a "First Four" and not Indiana, Michigan earned the 11 spot and goes up against a Colorado State program making their first appearance in a decade. With all due respect to a quality Rams team, the Wolverines are the much more talented team, even with Jones slated to miss the game. In fact, you could make an argument UM might be even more dangerous with Jones on the bench, as freshman Frankie Collins has shown flashes all season and has the potential to have a real coming out party. Even though they've been maddening all season, I like Michigan's chances to advance past Round One and once there, you never know. This has been a program that has routinely proven they can conjure up some March luck and with Howard back on the floor, it could be the motivator they need to finally put things all together.

The Storyline Team: Tennessee Volunteers

It's not often you hear significant uproar when a team receives a three seed instead of a two. Most of that feedback is reserved for NCAA Tournament snubs or the No. 1 seed discussion, but there was an audible gasp from the college basketball community when they saw the SEC Tournament Champion Tennessee Volunteers get a three next to their name. It's understandable why there is confusion about their seeding; the Vols were a fringe Top 10 team prior to the SEC Tournament and then went on an impressive run to secure the SEC Title, including beating a current No. 2, Kentucky, in the Championship. They should have been a two, yes, but now that they've been relegated to the three line, it's up to them to prove the Selection Committee wrong. I think they have a chance to do so; they have an explosive backcourt all with varying strengths, the type of group you want to make a run. They have experience throughout their roster, an efficient frontcourt, and a superb head coach in Rick Barnes. If there is one thing standing in their way, it's their own history. Neither Tennessee nor Barnes has had much recent March success to point to, which always makes you a bit wary this time of year. With that being said, remember how the same thing was said about Villanova through much of the early to mid-2010s? Jay Wright's program responded by winning a pair of National Titles in a three-year span. Why can't Tennessee do the same?

Welcome to the Dance!: Longwood Lancers

It's always a great story learning about some of these smaller schools getting the opportunity to shine on college basketball's biggest stage. Every year, there are one or two programs that typically get their first shot in the Big Dance. This year there are two in the same region in Bryant and Longwood, albeit Bryant lost in the "First Four" at the time of publishing. Longwood is still alive and looking for a shot to take down the three-seeded Tennessee Volunteers. The Lancers have appeared in several NCAA Tournaments at lower divisions, but are eager to show their stuff for the first time in Division I. Obviously, they're a long shot to do any damage this March, but this team isn't a complete nobody either. They went 15-1 in Big South play and beat a respectable Winthrop team by 21 in the Championship Game. Perhaps their NCAA Tournament trip may not be so short after all.

Picking the South

First Round

1 Arizona over 16 Wright State ... Wright State got their first NCAA Tournament win of all-time when they beat Bryant in the "First Four." They won't be getting another one this year.

9 TCU over 8 Seton Hall ... Two fairly evenly matched teams in my mind, but Jamie Dixon is one of my favorite coaches in college basketball, helping get the Frogs over the top.

12 UAB over 5 Houston ... Kelvin Sampson's team won't be returning to the Final Four this season, they get caught by Andy Kennedy and his star, Jordan "Jelly" Walker.

4 Illinois over 13 Chattanooga ... The Mocs do have a chance to make a run if they get past the Illini, but I'm not just sure they have enough scoring to hang with Cockburn, Andre Curbelo, and Trent Frazier.

11 Michigan over 6 Colorado State ... Niko Medved has a legitimate Sweet 16 contender in Colorado State, but Frankie Collins provides the spark UM needs to win.

3 Tennessee over 14 Longwood ... Longwood guard Justin Hill is vastly underrated, the team's top scorer and an excellent distributor. But him alone won't be able to get the Lancers past Barnes and Tennessee.

10 Loyola-Chicago over 7 Ohio State ... People seem to be undervaluing an Ohio State team that has a regular Top 25 team until a cold recent stretch, but this Ramblers team is just so tough and well-coached.

2 Villanova over 15 Delaware ... In a battle of Northeast foes, the Blue Hens simply have no answer for Collin Gillespie and company.

Second Round

1 Arizona over 9 TCU ... TCU proved they can take down top dogs by shocking Kansas earlier this season, but they're no match for Bennedict Mathurin and the 'Cats.

4 Illinois over 12 UAB ... Can the Blazers go on a Cinderella run? Perhaps, but I think Brad Underwood secures his first Sweet 16 trip with the Illini.

3 Tennessee over 11 Michigan ... The Wolverines aren't your typical 11-seed, but the Volunteers keep their hot streak alive here.

2 Villanova over 10 Loyola-Chicago ... A potential hazard spot for Villanova, but they win in what should be a low-scoring affair.

Sweet 16

1 Arizona over 4 Illinois ... Arizona beat Illinois earlier in the season and while the Illini will be scheming for vengeance, I like the Wildcats to keep on rolling.

3 Tennessee over 2 Villanova ... Villanova has one elite guard in Gillespie, but Tennessee's abundance of weapons helps them secure the victory.

Elite Eight

3 Tennessee over 1 Arizona ... Am I buying too much into the Tennessee hype? Possibly, but this team has legit Final Four talent and they match up well against the higher seeds in the South Region.

South Region Champs: 3 Tennessee Volunteers

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