The South Region of the 2018 NCAA Tournament features a unique blend of teams and talents, and the spread of different playing styles and offensive assets is sure to make for a pretty hectic week for the squads involved.
Virginia is a deserving top seed in the region, having faced numerous challenges in the ACC and came out the other side somewhat unscathed. But there is plenty of quality defense among the 16 teams, and numerous teams outside of the Cavaliers (Arizona, Cincinnati, Kentucky and Tennessee to name a few), are no slouches, either, leaving the South very much up for grabs.
Here’s a complete preview of the South Region.
Player to Watch: DeAndre Ayton, Forward, Arizona
There’s a reason the 19-year-old Ayton is regarded as one of the top players in the 2018 draft: he’s the real deal. Scoring 20.3 points per game while grabbing 11.5 boards, he’s an absolute mammoth in the paint, and has overwhelmed teams that don’t have a big body that can even somewhat neutralize him. He’s also coming into the tournament as hot as he’s been, dropping a career-high 32 points in his second-most recent game, and matching it in his most recent.
Best First-Round Game: No. 11 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 6 Miami (Fla.)
This makes for a compelling matchup because of the way the two sides play. Loyola has one of the best defenses in the nation, posting the fifth-best scoring defense (62.2 points allowed per game). Meanwhile, Miami — who also can quiet opposing offenses — is able to spread the scoring out well. Its top scorer, Lonnie Walker IV, averages just 11.5 points per game, so shutting down one player won’t get Loyola far, because the Hurricanes have a plethora of creative offensive players. Tough as it may be, however, there is a legitimate chance the Ramblers can get an upset, but no matter what, the way these two match up makes for quite the compelling first round tilt.
Best Chance for an Upset: No. 10 Texas vs. No. 7 Nevada
Mo Bamba indicated that he feels he’s 100 percent from his sprained toe injury, and if that’s the case Nevada better look out. The Wolfpack have scored the 18th-most points per game in the nation (83.1), but that was in the Mountain West Conference, and that offense has shown real potential to go quiet quickly (see their matchup against San Diego State in the conference semifinal, when they got dusted by the Aztecs 90-73) and lay down against teams they should beat. Bamba can clean the glass and block shots better than most everyone in the country, so doing anything in the paint largely will be a no-go for the Wolfpack. Nevada is going to need to perform real well from the perimeter if it wants to fight off an upset.
Region Winner: Virginia
Losing De’Andre Hunter hurts a lot. Even still, they are such an impressive team defensively, and in a region that features such quality defense (Cincinnati, Loyola, etc.) it’s hard to believe that the Cavaliers will do anything other than continue to ride the wave that led them to the ACC Championship crown. They’ve proven time after time this season that they are legit, making it hard at this point to pick against Kyle Guy, Devon Hall, Ty Jerome and the rest of the Cavs.
Prediction: Virginia defeats Tennessee in the Elite Eight.
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