The South Region of the NCAA Tournament, which will go through Arlington, TX, may have the toughest collection of teams seeded 1 through 4. Michigan was once the top-ranked team in the country and now they find themselves as a 4 seed. Florida is easily the most talented 3 seed in the tournament, and the Gators also have a lot of experience returning from back-to-back trips to the Elite 8.
Meanwhile, Kansas and Georgetown are arguably the combination of 1 and 2 seeds in the tournament this year. In addition to those heavy weights at the top, traditional powers UCLA and North Carolina are also found in this region a little lower on the seed line than usual. With a slew of name-brand programs, as well as a few tough and talented mid-majors, there should be no shortage of entertainment coming out of the South Region.
Top seed: Kansas
The Jayhawks were able to bounce back from a three-game losing streak at the beginning of February to win 10 of their final 11 games and earn a number 1 seed. Kansas boasts one of the more experienced teams in the tournament, as four of their top five scorers are seniors. It’s a senior class that has a 9-3 record in the NCAA Tournament, including a run to the national championship game last year. The Jayhawks' band of seniors have gotten a big lift this year from freshman Ben McLemore, the team’s leading scorer with 16 points per game. Kansas has 13 wins against this year’s tournament field and has had few slip ups all season. They haven’t been talked about as much as some of the other top seeds in the tournament, but they’re just as capable of making a deep run and returning to the Final Four.
Main competition: Georgetown & Florida
Georgetown and Florida are arguably the toughest combination of number 2 and 3 seeds in this year’s bracket, just a little tougher than Duke and Michigan State in the Midwest Region. The Hoyas won a share of the Big East regular season title and are a terrific defensive team. On offense, Georgetown runs a version of the Princeton-style offense and shares the ball as well as any team in the country, as everyone on their team is an effective passer. As for Florida, the Gators are one of the top teams nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They have made back-to-back trips to the Elite 8 and have a roster full of juniors and seniors that were a part of those teams that came close to reaching the Final Four. Florida was rarely at full strength during the season, but they have everybody healthy heading into the tournament. If they both advance out of the tournament’s opening weekend, Georgetown and Florida are scheduled to meet in the Sweet 16, which would be an epic matchup, but also a shame because both are Final Four caliber teams.
Shake Smart’s “Havoc” is back, this time as a 5 seed, which makes them the perfect sleeper. With all the chaos and commotion their pressure defense creates, the Rams are one of the most unpleasant teams to go up against in this year’s tournament field. They play fast and furious, and they create turnovers that lead to easy points. As a 5 seed, VCU will have to deal with being a favorite for at least the first round, and they’ve got a tough draw in Akron, but if they win that game they’ll be able to move back to being an underdog, which is vintage VCU. It just so happens that lurking as a possible Sweet 16 opponent is Kansas, the team they knocked off to book their ticket to the Final Four two years ago; and on the other side of the bracket is Georgetown, another team the Rams upset during that magical run in 2011. Whether they make another deep run or not, VCU should be considered dangerous and will be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in this year’s tournament.
Tough out: South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits put up a strong fight in the first round of the tournament last year against Baylor, and they should do the same again this year. South Dakota State is undoubtedly the best 13 seed in the field, and has a win against New Mexico on their resume. They have four players that shoot well from the outside, which enables them to spread the floor and makes them difficult to defend. The Jackrabbits are rather similar to the Michigan team they’ll be playing in the first round in that both are perimeter oriented. If South Dakota State can make outside shots they’ll be able to stay competitive with the Wolverines and make a game of it; and a potential upset shouldn’t be counted out either.
Possible Cinderella: Villanova
Jay Wright’s Wildcats don’t have the most impressive resume in the tournament with 13 losses, but they have piled up quality wins all season long, with victories against Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown, and Marquette, all teams that are top 4 seeds. The Wildcats have been giant killers all season, and they have a chance to continue that in the tournament with a matchup against powerhouse North Carolina in the first round and a potential second round game against top-seeded Kansas. Villanova is a young team that is more frontcourt oriented than most teams that have success in the NCAA Tournament, so they face an uphill battle, especially considering how far the program has fallen since their Final Four appearance in 2009. However, the Wildcats are fearless and will come out fighting in the NCAA Tournament, which might enable them to scratch out a couple wins and make a run.
Upset alert: Minnesota over UCLA
The resume’s and the record’s for Minnesota and UCLA are rather different, with the Golden Gophers playing in a deep and difficult Big 10 conference and the Bruins playing in a weak Pac 12 conference. However, on the court Minnesota may be the better team. UCLA will be without second leading scorer Jordan Adams, who scores 15 points per game, which will change how its offense works. Without Adams on the floor, the tempo of the game should be slower and the amount of scoring in the game should be lower, both of which will benefit Minnesota. The Golden Gophers will be able to focus a lot of its attention on slowing down Shabazz Muhammad, and by doing that they’ll be able to pull off a first round upset.
Player to watch: Otto Porter, Georgetown
Porter is the best player in this region and he is arguably the best player in the country. He can do anything on the floor that can be asked of a basketball player. Porter is a lock down defender, can make shots from anywhere on the floor, rebounds well at both ends, and can pass as well as any forward in the country. Georgetown’s offense flows through Porter, and he is nearly impossible to slow down, especially without opening up opportunities for the other Georgetown players. Porter isn’t the flashiest player in the country, but he’s fundamentally sound and incredibly effective, and he’s capable of carrying Georgetown a long way in this tournament.
What to watch for:
This region contains what could be the most competitive pod of the opening weekend with VCU taking on Akron and Michigan facing South Dakota State. Akron and South Dakota State are two of the better double-digit seeds in the tournament and both are plenty capable of pulling off an upset, possibly two. Like most regions, the top seed in the South can expect a challenge in the second round, as Kansas will have to face either a surging North Carolina team or a young and scrappy Villanova team that could create matchup problems for the Jayhawks with their size. The bottom half of the bracket should be dominated by Florida and Georgetown, leading up to their inevitable matchup in the Sweet 16, if either team falls before then it would be a major surprise. There could be some upsets in this region, but the top 3 seeds are too strong for one of them not to end up going to Atlanta.