The NCAA tournament selection committee might as well have named the South region the “Blueblood Region.”
The South features no shortage of legendary college hoops programs, with 14 national title banners among the 16 teams. Yet, it’s Baylor — a team that hasn’t reached the Final Four in more than 70 years — that leads the way as the No. 1 seed.
Here’s a preview of the South region.
South region field:
2. Ohio State
6. Texas Tech
8. North Carolina
10. Virginia Tech
11. Utah State
13. North Texas
15. Oral Roberts
South region favorites:
Ohio State (+400)
Texas Tech (+600)
Odds via VegasInsider.com
South region schedule:
First round: Friday, March 19
Second round: Sunday, March 21
Sweet 16: Saturday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28
Elite Eight: Monday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 30
Storyline to watch: Is this the year Baylor finally breaks through?
Undoubtedly, this is the Bears’ best chance to win a national championship, but it certainly isn’t the first time Baylor has entered the tournament with high hopes. Yet, in recent years, they certainly haven’t fared very well when expectations are raised. Six years ago, it was an embarrassing first-round loss to No. 14 Georgia State that sent the Bears home. A year later, as a five-seed, Baylor lost to the 12th-seeded Yale. Even a recent run to the Sweet 16 as a 3-seed came to a crashing end in the form of a 20-point beatdown at the hands of No. 7 South Carolina.
This year, though, feels different for Scott Drew and the boys from Waco. Baylor has been a pretty clear No. 2 team behind Gonzaga pretty much all season with a campaign that featured two signature wins: a 13-point smacking of then-No. 5 Illinois and a 14-point road drubbing of No. 6 Texas. But you don’t have to look any farther than the Big 12 tournament for a reminder of unreached potential when Baylor was bounced in the semifinals by Oklahoma State. Everything feels like it’s on the table for the Bears in Indy.
Player to watch: Moses Moody, SG, Arkansas
Moody had himself a season in Fayetteville. The 6-foot-6 wing picked up some hardware in what should be an abbreviated college stay, not only earning All-SEC first-team honors but also taking home the SEC Freshman of the Year award. He’s the biggest reason for the Razorback resurgence we’ve seen this year, as Arkansas will go as far as he goes. If he’s on his game, it could mean the deepest Razorback run since the Nolan Richardson days. Moody, a projected top-10 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, averaged 17 points and six rebounds this season. He’s certainly feeling it right now, too, scoring 28 points in three of his last four games.
And if you want a deep, deep player to watch, keep your eye on Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas in the 2 vs. 15 matchup against Ohio State. Abmas led the country in scoring.
South region sleeper: Wisconsin
If the Badgers can get by North Carolina and get a little momentum, watch out. If the KenPom rankings do anything for you, Wisconsin is actually the third-ranked team in the region and the No. 10 team in the entire tournament. The Badgers clearly are battle-tested, having slugged it out in the Big 10 all season long. That certainly came with its share of adversity. Wisconsin limped to the Big 10 finish line, losing six of its last eight games.
But the Badgers are uniquely positioned entering the tournament. They’re one of the older teams in the field, with three seniors (who have tournament experience) leading the way. Greg Gard’s team is disciplined, too, ranking fourth in the country in turnover rate, while also playing top-20 defense. They could struggle with Carolina’s size in the first round, but if Wisconsin can put the clamps on and survives the Tar Heels, don’t be surprised if they add to Baylor’s misery in the second round, too.
Sam Panayotovich’s betting pick: Ohio State
I?m really bagging on these No. 1 seeds, huh? If the tournament was played in mid-January, I might have had Baylor winning the whole thing. The Bears were destroying teams and cooking with gas. Then they missed three weeks in February because of COVID-19 cancellations and they?ve been pretty disjointed ever since.
Texas Tech is my sleeper in this region, but I was very impressed with the way Ohio State played in the Big Ten tournament. They were neck and neck with Illinois the entire way and that?s definitely worth something. The Buckeyes are getting hot at the right time which is more than half the battle.