NCAA Tournament: South Region Preview

The South region is headlined by some big-name programs. Florida sits atop the bracket as the No. 1 overall seed. Kansas and Andrew Wiggins will have to avoid an upset without Joel Embiid to reach the second weekend in Memphis. A struggling Syracuse team looks to revitalize its defense in hopes of making the Elite Eight for the third year in a row. Dayton, Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin will all be looking to upset some other big-name universities in Ohio State, UCLA and VCU.

Check below for a full breakdown of the South.

[RELATED: Midwest Region Preview]

[RELATED: West Region Preview]

[RELATED: East Region Preview]

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First Round Upsets:
(12) Stephen F. Austin over (5) VCU
This is a very popular pick for a 5-versus-12 upset. VCU brings along the sixth-ranked defense in the country and their full-court pressure is not something opponents can simulate in practice. The Rams get easy buckets off turnovers and are very good on the offensive glass when they are forced to play in the half-court. However, the Lumberjacks also are very good on defense. They force a turnover on 24.4 percent of their opponent’s possessions (third in the country) and are very effective on the offensive glass as well.

Stephen F. Austin can shoot the ball effectively and can light it up from behind the arc. Even though they don’t have a starter over 6-6, they rank 11th in offensive rebounding. If Stephen F. Austin can outplay VCU at its own game, the Lumberjacks may be moving on to the round of 32.

(13) Tulsa over (4) UCLA
UCLA is rolling into the tournament after just topping No. 1 seed Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament finals. They can score at will and shoot the lights out, ranking 14th in offense. However, they don’t do a great job on the offensive glass grabbing rebounds. Tulsa is on an 11-game winning streak and is very effective on the defensive end of the floor. The Golden Hurricane ranked in the top 40 in both defense and defensive rebounding. If Tulsa can get stops and some easy buckets in transition, the Bruins might be ousted early.

(11) Dayton over (6) Ohio State
The battle between two Ohio schools will make this game one of the best of the day on Thursday. Ohio State isn’t the same team we saw make a run to the Elite Eight last season. Ohio State simply just doesn’t have a scorer like it did last year in Deshaun Thomas. If LaQuinton Ross struggles on offense, the Buckeyes really don’t have another option to score.

Dayton has won ten of their last 13 games heading into the tournament and those last three losses were all at the hands of the A-10 Tournament champions St. Joe’s. Dayton is efficient on offense and can shoot the ball well from long range. If the Buckeyes get behind early, they might be headed home early.

Potential Key Matchups:
(1) Florida vs. (5) VCU
Florida and VCU are very similar in that they ramp up their defense to win tough games. VCU uses their full-court press to give offenses a headache and get easy buckets off turnovers. The Gators use different defensive sets throughout the game. They run half-court traps, different types of zones, man-to-man and some full-court press to constantly force teams to adjust during the game.

I think Florida has the leadership and talent at all five positions to win this year’s national championship. I can’t see the Rams pulling a shocker here but Florida will be tested if they have trouble scoring because of the Rams’ pressure. If VCU can create a fast tempo, it may work in their favor and give them the best chance to pull the upset.

(2) Kansas vs. (3) Syracuse
The battle between these two historic programs would be a fun one to watch. Both teams strolled to the finish line of the regular season after getting off to hot starts. Syracuse lost five of their last seven games after starting 24-0 and Kansas has struggled without Joel Embiid. The Jayhawks will need Embiid to defeat the Orange’s 2-3 zone. If Embiid is unavailable, Andrew Wiggins will have to carry the load on offense. It will be interesting to see how the zone affects Kansas due to their struggles shooting the ball. Kansas ranks 144th in three-point shooting and without Embiid, they’ll have a tough time scoring in the paint against the zone.

Syracuse needs to get back to playing their stifling defense and extend their zone if they want to win games in the tournament. Easy buckets off turnovers are the best way for Syracuse to score as they struggle in their half-court offense. The health of Joel Embiid will go a long way in deciding the outcome of this potential matchup.

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(1) Florida vs. (2) Kansas
These two teams squared off earlier in the season and the Gators up-ended the Jayhawks, 67-61. A rematch would result in two of the country’s best teams from start to finish facing off. Kansas won the Big 12 and if Joel Embiid was healthy, could have won the Big 12 Tournament.

Andrew Wiggins has been sensational in the second half of the season and is making an argument to be the No. 1 overall pick in June. Florida has performed at a high level night in and night out and a perfect record in conference play is remarkable.

Florida jumped out all over Kansas in the first half of their matchup early in the season, but Kansas recovered well in the second half. Kansas was still a bunch of young freshmen at that point in the season and now with a full schedule of experience under their belt, the Jayhawks will be looking for revenge.

Players to Watch:
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
With Joel Embiid missing time due to his back injury, Wiggins has taken over the Jayhawks offense. He is playing his best basketball on offense late in the season and has shown the development in his game throughout the year. Wiggins had 41 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and 5 steals against West Virginia to end the season. In the Big 12 Tournament, he had 30 points and eight rebounds against Oklahoma State and 22 points and seven rebounds in the Jayhawks loss to Iowa State. It’s important for Wiggins to continue his offensive momentum into the NCAA tournament, especially without Embiid for the first weekend. If Kansas wants to survive and make it to Memphis, Wiggins will have to lead them.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Wilbekin is the definition of a floor general and has been a stable part of Florida’s success this year. Wilbekin knows when to get out and push the tempo and when to pull the ball out and set up the offense for a good possession. He is shooting 40 percent from long range and averages 13 points a night for the Gators. Wilbekin won’t jump out of the box score but he does the little things on offense and defense that make him such a great player. Florida will need Wilbekin to be on top of his game against potential teams that pressure the ball, such as VCU, and take command on offense against Syracuse’s zone.

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, UCLA
UCLA can be a dark horse to make a run because of their one-two punch on offense. Kyle Anderson is a 6-9 point guard, making him a mismatch for just about every opposing guard in the country. He averages 14.9 points and 6.6 assists per night, while also grabbing 8.8 boards a game. Jordan Adams is a lethal shooting guard, adding 17.2 points and 5.3 rebounds a night. The combination of Anderson and Adams has resulted in UCLA being the 12th-ranked offense. They rank fifth in assists and tenth in field goal percentage. Adams shoots 36 percent from three, while Anderson makes 48 percent of his. If this duo can get hot shooting the ball, watch out for the surging Bruins.

C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Fair is one of the most underrated players in the country. He had a fantastic season last year and helped Syracuse advance to the regional finals during the NCAA tournament. This year, he is Syracuse’s best option to score on offense and rebounds the ball fantastically. Fair is averaging 16.7 points and 6.2 rebounds a night. He will have to continue to play at a high level and score in order to avoid Syracuse being upset early.

Who will make it out of this bracket?

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