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2023 March Madness Bracket Analysis: South Region

Brandon Miller, Alabama
The Top Seed: Alabama Crimson Tide

Heading into conference tournament week, Alabama was in prime position to not just earn a No. 1 seed, but to earn the top overall seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The Tide took care of business and won the SEC Tournament, securing top billing and earning them a cushy first round game in Birmingham, Alabama. It hasn't always been smooth sailing on the season for Nate Oats and company, which have dealt with serious off-the-court drama, but in a pure basketball sense, this team is going to be a tough out. They have arguably the best player in the country in Brandon Miller and a host of playmakers, including Jahvon Quinerly, Mark Sears, and Jaden Bradley. What I really like about this team is how they can play on both ends so effectively. Their length and athleticism makes it tough to slow them offensively, and they have a bunch of different players that can defend multiple positions and speed up opposing offenses. They also got a favorable role, in my opinion. Maryland-West Virginia won't be a breeze in the second round, but there are tougher 8-9 seeds, and I think the 4-5 in this region, Virginia and San Diego State, may be the two weakest on the bracket. Things set up nicely for a deep run for Oats team; as boring as it is, they're my pick to represent the South Region in the Final Four.

The Cinderella Possibility: Furman Paladins

Charleston is likely to receive outsized attention as the Cindrella frontrunner out of the South, which makes sense. There aren't many mid-majors who finish a season 31-3 like Charleston, no matter what the non-conference schedule looked like. However, my Cinderella pick in this region is none other than the Furman Paladins, the Southern Conference Champion that will be playing in their first NCAA Tournament since 1980. The Paladins have an explosive offense, one spearheaded by the guard trio of Mike Bothwell, J.P Pegues, and Marcus Foster. They averaged over 82 points per game on the year and essentially everybody in the rotation can step out and hit a three ball. It's a roster that's well-shaped to overcome fourth-seed Virginia and their "pack line" defense. The Cavaliers have a way of cutting off angles and forcing difficult shots, but have occasionally struggled against capable three-point shooting teams. Even if UVA is able to slow down this Furman attack, can the Cavaliers get enough going the other way? Virginia has surpassed the 70-point threshold just twice since late January. I like the Paladins to spring a first round upset, and I think they're good enough to beat the winner of San Diego State/Charleston in the second round, which could set up a "David vs. Goliath" battle with Alabama in the Sweet 16.

Don't Forget About: Creighton Bluejays

The hype was palpable in Omaha, Nebraska, this winter as Creighton geared up for another season. The Bluejays returned nearly every important piece from a team that gave eventual National Champion Kansas all they could handle in the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, and also added talented South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman. Did this team have the tools to earn the program's first-ever Final Four berth? Instead, the start of 2022-23 was disastrous for the Bluejays, as they slogged through a six-game skid to end their non-conference slate, including a real stinker to in-state rival Nebraska. Greg McDermott's team could have folded and turned in a disappointing campaign, but Creighton responded. They finished 21-12 overall and went 14-6 in one of the toughest conferences in America, enough to earn them a six seed. It wasn't the dream season many Creighton fans hoped it would be, but this team showed they could battle through adversity and respond. Looking ahead to their NCAA Tournament hopes, I'm irrationally high on McDermott's squad. I've always been a fan of the Nembhard brothers and the younger one, Ryan, has been the heart-and-soul of this team all season. Alongside him, the Bluejays boast a dangerous scorer in Scheierman, an imposing old-school big in Ryan Kalkbrenner, and capable complementary pieces in Arthur Kaluma and Trey Alexander. Don't be surprised if this team starts playing up to their potential at the right time; they're way more talented than your average six seed.

Don't Touch This High Seed: Baylor Bears

Scott Drew has built one of college basketball's most consistent programs in Waco, and the Bears once again enter the NCAA Tournament with a high seed. Even though the Bears suffered ten losses, wins over Gonzaga and UCLA in the non-conference and the strength of the Big 12 helped them end up on the three line. Even so, this may be the top three seed I feel the least confident in, for several reasons. First off, they're not playing their best basketball hitting March Madness; they've lost four of six and looked uninspired in consecutive losses to Iowa State, one in the regular season and one in the Big 12 Tournament. Granted, all six of those games were awfully tough ones, but you'd like to see a team finish stronger than they did. Second, it feels like there's a real lack of scoring punch beyond dynamic freshman Keyonte George. Adam Flagler and L.J. Cryer are two veteran lead guards who have played in a lot of big games, but neither are the type of players that can take over games. Lastly, I have real concerns about the depth and overall ability of the frontcourt. Flo Thamba and Jonathon Tchamwa Tchatchoua are two experienced options and Jalen Bridges can play bigger than 6'7", but this Baylor team simply is not as strong or as deep up front as previous editions. Tchamwa Tchatchou is still not even 100 percent, still working his way back from a catastrophic knee injury last season. All of this makes me wary of Drew and Baylor, who face Big West Champion UC Santa Barbara in the first round.

The Storyline Team: Arizona Wildcats

College basketball fans and media who love the storylines of March Madness could argue Alabama going deep will create the most intrigue in this region, but I believe the team under the most pressure in the South is the Arizona Wildcats. One of the sport's blue bloods, the Wildcats have been a consistent fixture in March for a long time now and have had plenty of postseason success. Yet, they haven't won a National Title since 1997 under Lute Olson, and haven't made a Final Four since 2001. Tommy Lloyd had his team as a regular in the Top 10 of the national rankings most of the year, but it feels like this team is still a bit overlooked entering the NCAA Tournament. They've proven their worth by beating UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but haven't received as much national attention as other top seeds. It's the guard play that will likely determine how far this Arizona team goes. Kerr Kriisa and Courtney Ramey can be a dominant 1-2 punch when they're on, but they can shoot you out of any game, too. Up front, junior forward Azuolas Tubelis is probably the nation's most underrated player. The Lithuanian averaged 19.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and shot over 57% from the field, but is still looking to build his March resume after a disappointing showing in 2022.

Picking the South

First Round

1 Alabama over 16 Texas A&M - Corpus Christi (First Four winner) -- No 16 seed shenanigans this year, as the Crimson Tide should roll past the Islanders, and Brandon Miller and company will be preserving their energy in the second half.

8 Maryland over 9 West Virginia -- This matchup should be a thriller between two capable teams that will kick off the fun on Thursday. Both can be awfully inconsistent, but I'm more trusting of Maryland and explosive guard Jahmir Young.

5 San Diego State over 12 Charleston -- The Cougars are going to get plenty of love as a mid-major who won 30-plus games, but this is a quality San Diego State team. They're incredibly deep, experienced, and well-coached, who shouldn't have any trouble getting up for this one.

13 Furman over 4 Virginia -- I have the utmost respect for Virginia and the program Tony Bennett has built in Charlottesville. Yet, I detest the way this Cavaliers team has played over the last two months, and Furman feels awfully dangerous.

6 Creighton over 11 NC State -- Although NC State went 23-10 overall, a fine record for an NCAA Tournament participant, it was still fairly surprising they gained entry into the field of 68. Their resume is merely okay, and the Wolfpack are fresh off a 26-point defeat at the hands of Clemson. Needless to say, I like Creighton's chances to move on.

3 Baylor over 14 UC-Santa Barbara -- The Gauchos are playing in their second NCAA Tournament in three years, but hoping for a better ending this time after losing in a heartbreaker to Creighton in 2021. Unfortunately, I don't think they have the guns to outlast Baylor, and their skilled backcourt.

7 Missouri over 10 Utah State -- This feels like a coin flip to me between Missouri, one of the nation's biggest surprises in 2022-2023, and one of four Mountain West teams to gain entry into the field of 68, Utah State. The thing is, Utah State doesn't have a Kobe Brown, who helps put Mizzou over the top in this one.

2 Arizona over 15 Princeton -- Ivy League teams are always dangerous this time of year, but this Princeton team isn't your typical Ivy League Champ. They may be able to give Arizona a battle in the first half, but it's hard to imagine them competing with the 'Cats over 40 minutes.

Second Round

1 Alabama over 8 Maryland -- The Terrapins are a feisty eight seed, one that no No. 1 seed wants to play. Yet, I don't imagine them having any answer for Miller, and I think the Tide have an advantage down low.

5 San Diego State over 13 Furman -- Want a crazy stat? Despite being widely regarded as one of the nation's top mid-majors, the Mountain West has only sent four teams to the Sweet 16 in their history, and never had a team make an Elite Eight. The Aztecs seem like a good bet to help the conference overcome some of their March demons, as they've been responsible for two of those trips.

6 Creighton over 3 Baylor -- As I mentioned, I am very concerned about Baylor's lack of depth in the frontcourt. That's not to discredit Flo Thamba or Jonathon Tchamwa Tchatchoua, but a reality around how their roster is built. They are going to have a real tough time with Creighton, who offers Ryan Kalkbrenner and Arthur Kaluma up front.

2 Arizona over 7 Missouri -- Dennis Gates and Missouri have been a great story regardless of how their March goes, but I'm not sure they have the firepower to keep up with all the pieces Arizona can throw at you, including Kriisa, Ramey, and Tubelis.

Sweet 16

1 Alabama over 5 San Diego State -- San Diego State is a well-built, balanced team that isn't necessarily flashy, but does a lot of things well. Unfortunately, I don't think they're good enough to compete with Alabama over 40 minutes, continuing the MW's Elite Eight dry streak.

6 Creighton over 2 Arizona -- Am I too high on Creighton? Maybe, but I love the roster composition of this team, and I think they match up well with Arizona. Nembhard and Scheierman are better than Kriisa and Ramey in my opinion, and Kalkbrenner outplays Oumar Ballo in a low-post battle.

Elite Eight

1 Alabama over 6 Creighton -- This would be a superb Elite Eight matchup between two programs that have regularly been good, but rarely Final Four good. Should be a back-and-forth duel, but I'm more confident in where Alabama is at entering the NCAA Tournament.

South Region Champion: 1 Alabama Crimson Tide

Boring to pick the top overall seed to survive their region? Perhaps, but a top overall seed is no guarantee, as just three have won a National Title since the Selection Committee started awarding them in 2004. Even with all the drama that has swirled around this team, Nate Oats has kept them laser-focused on the ultimate goal, and they just have so many different ways to hurt you. In a region with somewhat underwhelming 2, 3, and 4 seeds, they are without question the best bet.

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