South Region: Bracket Advice 101
I get flooded with texts this time every year: what should we do with our bracket? Who are the right upsets to pick? What inside information can you give us that would help?
While it's flattering, I'll be the first guy to tell you that my bracket is no better than anyone else's. The NCAA Tournament is just as frustrating for those of us who use KenPom religiously, study and understand the film/ players and let that perspective get to our heads. In reality, your guesses are as good as mine.
But what I can do is save myself (and you) some time by typing up all the advice I'd give and putting it in one place. We'll do a quick region-by-region breakdown with some information on each team, just to see what the tournament might be like. Now we dive into the South Region, where Baylor has a wide open field and some tough, early matchups in their path.
Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell are both excellent pro prospects who shoot over 40% from 3 and are strong defenders. Throw in MaCio Teague as a good third guard, Mark Vital a do-it-all forward and interior upside with 6'10" Flo Thamba, and Baylor is complete enough to withstand a poor shooting night. Their aggressive no-middle defense, combined with intense ball pressure from their monster 3-guard backcourt, provides so much havoc. It ran through the Big Twelve, kept the Bears at #2 for most of the season and secured them a top seed.
That said, a team like North Carolina is a dismal matchup for them in the second round. Carolina's size, athleticism, gradual improvement and relentless crashing of the glass really challenge three-guard lineups. I'm not necessarily picking the upset, but holy moly does this group scare me if I'm a Baylor fan.
Beyond UNC is a nice combo of matchups. Purdue is dangerous yet undertalented individually. Villanova is without senior leadership in the backcourt, an area the Bears could easily exploit. Look far ahead and the tough offense of Ohio State would provide a slugfest, while the tempo of Arkansas a really fun matchup. Outside the second-round game with Carolina, it's a favorable schedule for Baylor.
2. Ohio State
I've said it before: Chris Holtman runs the best practice in America and is incredibly detail-oriented. That tends to manifest itself in teams who aren't prone to major upsets. The Buckeyes lost in the Big Ten championship and may still be hungry after not getting that result. This guard-heavy roster can bomb away from deep; they need to if they're going to overcome what has been a defensive fall-off lately. Oral Roberts, their first-round opponent, plays with a ton of pace. The defense will be tested.
Head to the second round and both Florida and Virginia Tech are fairly similar. 3-seed Arkansas is the fastest pace of them all. The point being: the Buckeyes will be in some shootouts. I think that suits them right now.
Duane Washington is coming off a monster Big Ten tournament. EJ Liddell is a monster of a mismatch option, and he's the one guy none of the teams above really have an answer for. I don't predict an early exit for the Buckeyes and think the Sweet Sixteen, at a minimum, is where they're headed. That's why they get my Golden Certificate of Trust for the region.
Moody Mafia stand up!
Moses Moody might be my favorite player in college basketball. He's a knockoff Klay Thompson who continues to get better every game. If you want to have a fun afternoon, watch this Arkansas-Colgate game in the first slot of the tourney. There's usually one big upset early, and this might be it: Colgate is really good. Arkansas is dependent on shooting and pace; at one point this year, Colgate led the nation in 3-pt. percentage against.
It's a really hard game to pick since both teams rely on shooting so much. But what's scary is knowing a really different team in Texas Tech could lie waiting in the second-round. As much as I like Musselman, Moody and the structure of this team, their system compensates for a lack of great talent. One cold shooting night (they're 27.7% from 3 in losses) could dislodge them early. I think the Razorbacks are a fairly vulnerable 3-seed.
Grit. Motion offense. Identity. And perhaps some home cooking. The only Indianapolis-area team to make the field, there's some comfort with the Boilermakers having proximity to home. I'm not sure if that counts for anything, but Matt Painter will find a way to get it to motivate his team.
Purdue is huge: Trevion Williams and Zach Edey are two massive interior threats who can finish alley oops at any time. The shooting of Sasha Stefanovic off screens in their motion is really hard to guard, and the emergence late of Jaden Ivey as a legitimate pro prospect gives them some gas at the point. There's just a lot of talent here, more than most Boilermaker teams.
North Texas has a really stingy defense. It could be an ugly game both ways, but it would take a poor showing from Ivey to falter in the first round. A cushy 5-12 matchup awaits them, and at that point for a 4-seed, they're playing with house money.
You won't find someone with more respect for what Villanova does as a program than me. Jay Wright is my absolute favorite. That said, the absence of leadership with the Collin Gillespie injury has the Wildcats trending downward. They lost to Georgetown in the Big East tournament and limped to the finish line.
The culture and fundamentals they boast might be disrupted against the pressure defense of Winthrop -- especially without a real point guard. Best player Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has struggled shooting of late without his backcourt creator. There's still enough talent and shooting to win a game in the tournament, but expecting a deep run from the Wildcats would be underestimating the overall impact someone like Gillespie has.
6. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders are dangerous in March. We've seen it before under Chris Beard, as the 2019 Red Raiders made a deep NCAA Tournament run. Mac McClung and Terrence Shannon are a really good one-two punch, while two others score in double-figures. Experienced big man, VCU transfer Marcos Santos-Silva, is a different element on the interior than we're used to seeing in Lubbock. It's funny to see them in the same bracket as Purdue; they're really turning into Purdue South.
I like the Red Raiders for a fairly deep run, and like their path to get there. Utah State is all about stopping Neemias Queta down low. Arkansas is a good matchup for them, and I like the Red Raiders in a game with Ohio State. Dark horse Elite Eight pick right where....
Florida has been up-and-down throughout the entire Mike White era in Gainesville. They're on the rise right now as lead-guard Tre Mann starts to play better and consistently carry this offense from deep. They face a Virginia Tech team who rises to the challenge, is constantly overlooked and can hang punch-for-punch with them offensively. This is as close to a toss up as you'll find in the tournament.
8. North Carolina
The Tar Heels are underseeded. They've gotten so much better throughout the year. Two solid young guards who are figuring things out in Caleb Love and RJ Davis. A ton of athletes and length up front; the best offensive rebounding team in the country. Wisconsin is a really unique matchup for them; the Badgers control tempo, have size and shoot it decently well. If the Tar Heels can get past that game, I can see them giving a ton of pressure to Baylor and pulling off an 8-over-1 upset.
This is the most talented Wisconsin team since their National runner-up team in 2015. Greg Gard has figured out who he is/ wants to be as a coach, and the backcourt play is sensational. The Badgers have five seniors who get regular minutes, a lot of size (who can shoot it) and like to win grind-it-out ugly ones -- the Carolina game will be that way. This is a pretty good 9-seed, but it's so hard to pick them past a hot UNC or the elite guard play of Baylor.
10. Virginia Tech
All hail Mike Young. This team overachieves and overachieves. The Hokies are 4-0 against top 25 teams; they're the best threat to Ohio State in the second-round. But they'll have to rely on forward Keve Aluma to get the job done. The Hokies don't shoot it great from the charity stripe, which worries me in a close game, but the magic of Coach Young cannot be underestimated.
11. Utah State
Shocked to see them in the field, Neemias Queta finally has a national stage to try and play on. He's a do-it-all monster big man who can take over games. This isn't the typical Craig Smith team who shoots it insanely well around him, though. Queta is a shot blocker who helps protect the paint and deter easy ones; they'll have to generate their own easy looks against a stingy Red Raiders defense if they hope to beat Texas Tech. This could be the icing on the cake for Smith's hope to move to Utah in the Pac-12.
I have a tough time rooting for Pat Kelsey, but these guys are 23-1 and have an unbelievably ripe first-round matchup with Villanova. Three seniors lead the way, they don't give up second-chance points and can win games in the 50s or in the 80s. Those traits can get them a win or two in March.
13. North Texas
The stingy defense of the Mean Green helped right the ship at the perfect time; they won four games in four days to get into the Big Dance. Other than that run, it's been somewhat underwhelming for North Texas this year. Because they play a little more deliberately and have a strong half-court defense (they force a ton of mid-range jumpers, an excellent sign for tourney success) they have a shot against Purdue. They'll just need to come up with an answer for the Boilermakers' twin towers down low.
Matt Langel is one of the better coaches in America nobody talks about. They're really undertalented on the national stage, but have a real identity with how fast they play. They're also an underrated defensive group. Remember, this team beat Tennessee in 2019, and there are many holdovers from that experience. A dangerous 14-seed, no doubt.
15. Oral Roberts
ORU is a one-man show on the floor. They score 82 a game and are led by guard Max Abmas, a 6'1" guard who scored 25.8 points during the five-game win streak to close the year. The Buckeyes will have to account for him and slow down this pretty fast-paced attack if they want to breeze through the first round.
The America East conference tournament was topsy-turvy, and the result saw Hartford return to the Big Dance. They've won seven of their last ten, but don't have the offensive firepower to keep up with Baylor. Austin Williams is a good guard by any measure, there just isn't a ton around him to soften the blow from being guarded by Davion Mitchell.
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Assistant Men's Basketball Coach, Dickinson College.