The South Regional of the NCAA Tournament is one of two brackets that have teams playing in the First Four on Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton. It’s only the 16-seed line, as Mount St. Mary’s and Albany will tip off in about seven hours. Florida is the top seed in this region and the #1 overall seed in the 68-team field. Here’s a rundown on all 17 teams placed in the South Region, a brief summation of notable aspects in their body of work and key personnel…
#1: Florida—Billy Donovan’s Gators lost at Wisconsin and at UConn, but haven’t tasted defeat since December 2. They’ve got non-conference wins over Kansas and Memphis, in addition to sweeping through the SEC schedule at 18-0 and then winning the league tournament. It’s a primarily perimeter-oriented team, with Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II all sharpshooters from behind the arc. But there is balance—Patric Young and Dorian Finney-Smith are respectable rebounders, and four players (all except Finney-Smith average in double figures).
#2: Kansas–The health of Joel Embid is the big question mark for the Jayhawks. He won’t play this weekend and would be questionable for the regionals next weekend. The presumption is he would certainly be available if the team makes the Final Four. Even without him, Kansas has two great forwards in Andrew Wiggins (17 points/6 rebounds) and Perry Ellis (14/6), to say nothing of a nice point guard in Nadir Tharpe and a future NBA player in two-guard Wayne Selden.
#3: Syracuse–After a 25-0 start that included more than a few hair-raising wins, the Orange slumped at the end of the year, losing five of seven and going out in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. Jim Boeheim has a pair of talented forwards in C.J. Fair (17/6) and Jerami Grant. The backcourt is a little iffy—Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney each score in double figures, but neither is a great three-point shooter or distributer. Maybe they can get Michael Carter-Williams back from the Philadelphia 76ers, since the Sixers are committed to tanking the rest of the NBA schedule.
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#4: UCLA—It’s Steve Alford’s first year in Westwood and he finished second in the Pac-12 and then won the league tournament. How good you think the Bruins are is going to have to depend on your opinion of the Pac-12, because there’s nothing—good or bad—outside the league to provide any clues. Jordan Adams knocks down 17 ppg at guard, Kyle Anderson is a physical beast at power forward and Zach LaVine can hit the three-ball.
#5: Virginia Commonwealth—Shaka Smart’s crew upset Virginia early in the year, although that was before the Cavs really got going. VCU then finished second in the A-10. Briante Weber has a great reputation for his perimeter defense and the Rams have two good forwards in Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham who combine for a 28/15 per-game average.
#6: Ohio State—A 15-0 start was deceiving, because the schedule didn’t prove as good as Thad Matta undoubtedly intended, with Marquette, Notre Dame and Maryland having bad years. The Buckeyes then finished fifth in the Big Ten. LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith are wing players and the key scorers. Aaron Craft is a tough defender and distributor at the point guard and the rebounding of Amir Williams is likely to be crucial in deciding this team’s NCAA fate.
#7: New Mexico—There are several teams for whom I’ll mention solid inside combinations. Cameron Bairstown and Alex Kirk are just that for the Lobos, but take whatever previous words of praise I’ve written about other teams and double it for these two. They led New Mexico on a strong run down the stretch and dominated the Mountain West tournament last weekend. Kendall Williams is an excellent point guard, who scores, passes and hits the trey. New Mexico also beat Cincinnati outside the league.
#8: Colorado–The Buffs played three good Big 12 teams (Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor) and got one win, then had a fairly pedestrian run through the Pac-12. Askia Booker is a nice offensive player at guard and 6’10” Josh Scott is big and tough down low. But the loss of guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who not only scores, but can move the ball and it from behind the arc is an injury even more important to Colorado than Embid’s is to Kansas, because the Buffs don’t have the Jayhawks’ depth.
#9: Pitt–An 18-2 start gave way to rough finish to the regular season before Pitt was able to win two games in the ACC tournament, including a victory over North Carolina. The Panthers won’t be scared of close games—they seemed to be down to the wire and often into overtime every time you looked, although they did lose seven such games. Lamar Patterson is a great player at forward, seemingly able to play big in the post or distribute on the perimeter, whatever you need.
#10: Stanford–This team has more talent than its 10-8 record in the Pac-12 would suggest. Chasson Randle averaged 18 ppg in the backcourt, with Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis providing an imposing presence in the post. Anthony Brown is a 44 percent three-point shooter than can loosen defenses up. But Stanford hasn’t put it together, either in league or in non-conference losses to Pitt, BYU and Michigan.
#11: Dayton–It was a questionable non-conference, with a win over Gonzaga negated by losing to Baylor and then a bad USC team. Then the Flyers started poorly in A-10 play. Finally, they closed on a rush, winning 10 of their last 12. It’s not a team whose talent makes you go “wow”, but the combination of Jordan Siebert in the backcourt, Dyshawn Pierre on the wing and Devin Oliver down low, all double-figure scorers, does provide a nice balance.
#12: Stephen F. Austin—The Lumberjacks won 28 straight to end the year and have gone 58-6 over the last two regular seasons/conference tournaments. Last year, a heartbreaking loss in the conference tourney final cost them an NCAA bid. Now they get the chance to Dance.
#13: Tulsa—If you give credit for effort, salute Tulsa for stepping out and playing Wichita, Creighton, Oklahoma and UW-Green Bay. They’ll at least be used to the speed of the game that big-time opponents play at. If you’re looking for positive results to give hope…can’t help you there.
#14: Western Michigan—Two really good seniors, guard David Brown (19 ppg) and 6’11” Shayne Whittington (16/9) carry the Broncos.
#15: Eastern Kentucky—They took Virginia Commonwealth to overtime, and at least played N.C. State and Wisconsin, albeit not successfully. Naturally, all three big non-conference tests were on the road. Similar to Tulsa, they’ve played some good teams. They have to hope they can find something to build on in the VCU game.
#16: Albany—Peter Hooey is a 16 ppg scorer and a good three-point shooter that will look to light it up in Dayton tonight.
#16: Mount St. Mary’s—Rashad Whack and Julian Norfleet combine for 35 ppg. I used to live about an hour from this campus and it’s got some beautiful hiking areas. I don’t know what predictive value that has, but a 16-16 team better grab at any straw they can.