The 2019 NCAA Tournament is upon us. After a thrilling Championship week that saw some teams come out of nowhere to earn bids to the Big Dance and other favorites sweep their way to titles, March Madness is here. Over the next two days before the Tournament tips off we’ll be taking a look at each of the four regions in the Tournament. We start today with the South Region where the #1 seed is the Virginia Cavaliers who are looking to avenge their upset by UMBC last season. Other notable squads include the defending champion Villanova Wildcats and the Tennessee Volunteers who spent some time at #1 this season. Of the 16 teams in this region, 8 won their conference tournament.
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1. Virginia vs 16. Gardner-Webb
Virginia once again rode their snail’s-pace offense and pack line defense to the top seed line. The Cavaliers are looking to put last year’s debacle against UMBC behind them. Unfortunately, they will have to face a Gardner-Webb team playing just 115 miles from their campus and making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. That makes for a bona fide road game for the Cavaliers, which is not the ideal environment, even against a team that finished 4th in the Big South. Unlike last year, Virginia should be fully healthy with the trio of Kyle Guy (15.6 PPG), De’Andre Hunter (15.1 PPG), and Ty Jerome (13.0 PPG, 5.4 APG) all available. Virginia’s only losses during the regular season came against Duke, but the Cavaliers struggled against Florida State’s length and athleticism in the ACC Tournament. These are two of the top 3-point shooting teams in the nation with Virginia shooting over 40% and Gardner-Webb at 39%. The Bulldogs are used to scoring in bunches and average 78.3 PPG. Their downfall is on the defensive end where they rank 250th in efficiency. The backcourt duo of David Efianayi (18.4 PPG) and Jose Perez (15.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG) could cause problems for Virginia if they knock down their outside shots. DJ Laster (13.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG) is one of the team’s best outside shooters though he doesn’t attempt them often.
8. Mississippi vs 9. Oklahoma
Ole Miss shuffled along in the middle of the SEC pack all season. The Rebels swept Auburn and won at Mississippi State, which combined with no bad losses was enough to send them to the Tournament. Ole Miss is a guard-heavy team led by Breein Tyree (18.2 PPG) and Terence Davis (15.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG). They do not have a great inside presence and rely on outside shooting for most of their points. As such, they can run hot and cold on any given night. This figures to be a game of relative strength on strength and weakness on weakness. Mississippi is the more efficient offensive team while Oklahoma is the more efficient defensive squad. Oklahoma’s offense and Mississippi’s defense are relatively inefficient. Oklahoma similarly had victories over Kansas and Wofford which got the Sooners into the Dance. Two losses at the hands of West Virginia sunk them towards the bubble. Oklahoma’s leading scorer is Christian James (14.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG). While Ole Miss relies on their backcourt, Oklahoma is strong in the front with the tandem of Brady Manek (12.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG) and Kristian Doolittle (11.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG). Oklahoma’s top three scorers also average more rebounds per game than every player on Ole Miss’ squad, which could give the Sooners a distinct advantage on the boards and for second-chance points.
5. Wisconsin vs 12. Oregon
San Jose, CA
Wisconsin is a quality team that got the short end of the stick from a seeding and bracketing standpoint. The Badgers had 10 Quad 1 wins but only 1 of them came against the top half of Quad 1. Despite good efficiency metrics (including the 3rd best defense in the country), Wisconsin not only fell to the dreaded 5-seed line but also has to travel across the country to face a red hot Oregon team that is coming off a Pac-12 Tournament title. From a geographic standpoint, Wisconsin is at a massive disadvantage here as they have over 1500 miles further to travel than Oregon. This game seems ripe for an upset. Wisconsin is not an incredibly high-scoring team (69.1 PPG) but they do feature one of the best players in the Big Ten in Ethan Happ who leads the Badgers in most major categories (17.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.1 SPG). Guards D’Mitrik Trice (11.7 PPG) and Brad Davison (10.7 PPG) are the only other players averaging in double-figures. Oregon enters the Tournament as one of the nation’s hottest teams. After a 3-game losing streak in late February, Oregon has won 8 straight, including two wins over both Washington and Arizona State. After needing overtime to get past Arizona State in the Pac-12 semis, they drubbed Washington by 20 points in the tournament final. The Ducks are also a defensively sound team, ranking in the top 20 in defensive efficiency. On the offensive end, Louis King (12.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG) and Payton Pritchard (12.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) lead the way.
4. Kansas State vs 13. UC-Irvine
San Jose, CA
Kansas State split the Big 12 regular season title with Texas Tech, becoming the first time in 14 years that in-state rival Kansas did not win at least a share of the conference title. The Wildcats are coming off a successful 2018 NCAA Tournament run that carried them to the Elite 8 before they fell to Loyola-Chicago. The top four scorers all returned from that team and K-State should be considered capable of making another deep run. In the backcourt, Barry Brown (14.9 PPG) and Kamau Stokes (10.8 PPG, 3.3 APG) have been the primary scorers while Dean Wade (12.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG) and Xavier Sneed (10.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG) have handled the frontcourt. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Wade injured his foot in the regular season finale against Oklahoma and missed the Big 12 Tournament so his status for the NCAA Tournament is unknown. Like with the other matchup in San Jose, the higher-seeded team is at a bit of a geographic disadvantage. Kansas State has over 1700 miles to travel while UC-Irvine is less than 400 miles away outside of Los Angeles. The Anteaters are a guard-heavy team led by two deadly outside shooters in Max Hazzard (12.5 PPG) and Evan Leonard (11.1 PPG) who both average 40% from beyond the arc. UC-Irvine is a deep squad that will go as many as 9 deep on their bench and they have the size inside to match up with anyone. Irvine averages over 40 rebounds per game, ranking 11th in the nation. They have experience against quality opponents with road wins over St. Mary’s and Texas A&M on their resume. Both of these teams prefer to play at a slow pace, so don’t be surprised if this is a tight, low-scoring game.
6. Villanova vs 11. St. Mary’s
The Defending National Champions once again won the Big East regular season and conference tournament titles. However, on Selection Sunday you could tell they were visibly displeased with the seeding they were given by the Committee. After losing their top 5 scorers from last year’s team, the Wildcats’ resume hinged on a neutral court victory over Florida State and a head-to-head split with Marquette, their only two top 50 victories. Villanova is now led by Phil Booth (18.6 PPG, 3.8 APG) and Eric Paschall (16.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG). St. Mary’s has one of the longest trips of any team in the nation, nearly 3000 miles from the Bay Area to Hartford. A year after getting snubbed by the Committee, the Gaels took themselves off the bubble by upsetting Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference championship and earning the automatic bid. These teams have very similar styles in that they play at a slow tempo (both rank in the bottom 20 in the nation) but have efficient offenses (both rank in the top 25). Like the Wildcats, the Gaels rely on two primary scorers – Jordan Ford (21.3 PPG) and Malik Fitts (15.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG). St. Mary’s top 3 scorers all average over 40% from beyond the arc.
3. Purdue vs 14. Old Dominion
Purdue was home court heroes this season with a perfect 15-0 record in West Lafayette. Outside their home gym the Boilermakers were a below-.500 team with neutral court losses to Notre Dame, Minnesota, and Virginia Tech. Junior guard Carsen Edwards (23.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG) was one of the best players in the Big Ten this season and combined with Ryan Cline (11.9 PPG, 3.3 APG) for a formidable backcourt tandem. The Boilermakers ranked in the top 5 in the nation in offensive efficiency and averaged 76 points per game. Old Dominion will look to carry on the tradition of the Conference USA Champion going on to win their first NCAA Tournament game. The last four C-USA champions have pulled such an upset. Last year Marshall knocked off 4th-seeded Wichita St. The two years prior Middle Tennessee topped 5th-seeded Minnesota and 2nd-seeded Michigan State. In 2015 UAB topped 3rd-seeded Iowa State. The Monarchs have the backcourt talent to pull such an upset with BJ Stith (16.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and Ahmad Carver (16.5 PPG, 5.6 APG). Old Dominion is a slow-tempoed team that can bottle things up defensively with one of the top 50 defenses in the nation. Their downfall is on the offensive end where they rank in the 200s in offensive efficiency, the fourth-worst mark in the Tournament. Old Dominion is a deep team that can throw 9 players into the rotation, but they don’t have a lot of size or scoring depth behind their top guards which could be troublesome against Purdue.
7. Cincinnati vs 10. Iowa
These teams are stylistically nearly polar opposites. Cincinnati, as has become their M.O., has a stifling defense and plays at a slow pace. The Bearcats topped Houston in the AAC Championship Game to earn the automatic bid. Jarron Cumberland (18.8 PPG) and Keith Williams (10.1 PPG) lead the way out of the backcourt. Iowa, on the other hand, plays an up-tempo game with an offense that ranks in the top 15 in efficiency but have struggled to stop anyone on the defensive end. The Hawkeyes season has been marked by a number of thrilling late-game combacks spurred by the 3-point shooting of Jordan Bohannon (11.3 PPG, 3.4 APG). If you watched any Iowa games this year, the Hawkeyes may have seemed to be down and out until Bohannon went on a tear in the last 5 minutes and hit nearly every shot he took, including dagger 3s to seal up victories. Iowa was one of the teams I mis-seeded in my bracket projection, having them pegged two lines higher than the Committee mainly due to their lack of bad losses (only 1 loss outside of Quadrant 1). With Fran McCaffrey back on the bench after a 2-game suspension, Iowa can score in both the frontcourt with Tyler Cook (14.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG) and Luka Garza (12.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG) and in the backcort with Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp (10.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG). Iowa has the offensive firepower (78.3 PPG) to make a deep run but ultimately it will come down to whether or not the Hawkeyes can stop anyone on the defensive end to see if they can make it out of the first round. Cincinnati does have a distinctive geographic advantage in this pod with the games being played in Columbus.
2. Tennessee vs 15. Colgate
Tennessee spent some time atop the polls as the #1 team in the nation and was also in the conversation for a 1-seed over the last week. The Volunteers are a talented squad with five players averaging in double-digits. They have the third most efficient offense in the nation and average over 82 points per game. Grant Williams (19.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG) leads the way with Admiral Schofield (16.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG), Jordan Bone (13.5 PPF, 6.0 APG), Lamonte Turner (10.6 PPG, 3.7 APG), and Jordan Bowden (10.5 PPG) offering significant scoring depth. Tennessee is one of the best teams in the nation at sharing the ball and average 18.5 assists per game. The Volunteers split the regular season series with Kentucky and beat the Wildcats again in the SEC semifinals to go with a neutral-court win over Gonzaga early in the season. However, their hopes for an SEC Championship were dashed at the hands of Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl in a 20-point drubbing. None of Colgate’s players were born the last time the Raiders reached the NCAA Tournament (back-to-back years in 1995 and 1996). Colgate stole the top seed and home court advantage in the Patriot League from Bucknell by winning their last 8 regular season games. The Raiders then defeated the two-time defending champions Bucknell in the tournament final for their 11th straight victory and their first trip to the Big Dance in 23 years. Colgate has a decent offense which averages 75.8 points per game and ranks in the top 70 in efficiency. However, their defense ranks below the 200-line and against an offensive juggernaut like Tennessee that could spell trouble. The Raiders are going to need monster games from Rapolas Ivanauskas (16.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG), Jordan Burns (15.8 PPG, 5.8 APG), and Will Rayman (13.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG). Three of Colgate’s top 5 scorers shoot above 41% from 3-point range and the Raiders are going to need to hit the outside shot to hang with Tennessee.
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