Virginia was unquestionably the No. 1 overall seed after dominantly winning the ACC by four games and owning a country-best 31-2 record. If Tony Bennett is going to reach his first Final Four, he’s going to have to go through a region that includes defensive-minded Cincinnati and Tennessee and surging Arizona and Kentucky. Here are the teams that make up the South Region.
Editor’s Note: Big wins are typically going to be wins against Top-25 Kenpom teams, whereas bad losses include losses to teams that either didn’t make the tournament or are outside the Top 50 in Kenpom. There is some subjectivity in the bad losses department.
1 – Virginia Cavaliers (31-2, ACC Regular Season and Tournament Champions, Kenpom Ranking: 1)
Big Wins: North Carolina (x2), Clemson (x2), Duke
Bad Losses: None
The Breakdown: The Cavaliers will look to defend their standing as the top seed in the tournament using their best asset: Defense. Virginia plays at the slowest pace in the country, but is still efficient in its offensive, with the No. 21 adjusted offensive efficiency according to Kenpom. While an athletic Arizona or Kentucky team could await in the Sweet 16, Virginia is the favorite to reach the Final Four from the South for a reason. However, the Cavaliers’ chances took a hit when it was announced Tuesday that ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter would miss the tournament with a broken wrist. Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds.
2 – Cincinnati Bearcats (30-4, AAC Regular Season and Tournament Champions, KR: 4)
Big Wins: Houston (x2), Wichita State
Bad Losses: None
The Breakdown: Cincinnati continues the strong defense at the top of the South with the No. 2 defense in Kenpom. And while it’s offense is not quite to Virginia’s level, the Bearcats have put together an impressive resume. Cincinnati hasn’t lost a game to a team outside of the top 23 in Kenpom all year, so an early exit would mean an uncharacteristic loss to a team the Bearcats are expected to beat.
3 – Tennessee Volunteers (25-8, Shared SEC Regular Season Champions, KR: 11)
Big Wins: Purdue, Kentucky (x2), Florida,
Bad Losses: Alabama, Georgia
The Breakdown: Not even the SEC saw this season coming from the Volunteers, as Tennessee went from being picked No. 13 in the conference preseason poll to sharing the regular season title with Auburn at 13-5. SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams leads the way for the Volunteers averaging 15.3 points and 6 rebounds a game.
4 – Arizona Wildcats (27-7, Pac 12 Regular Season and Tournament Champions, KR: 21)
Best Wins: Arizona State (x2), Alabama, Texas A&M
Bad Losses: SMU, Colorado, Washington, Oregon
The Breakdown: If you’re looking for storylines, look no further than Arizona. From the FBI investigation and Sean Miller’s future to DeAndre Ayton being a top 10 player in the country and Allonzo Trier being suspended and then cleared for a banned substance, the country has discussed the Wildcats more off the court than on it. Looking at the team’s performance, Arizona got swept in three games in the Bahamas in November and quickly bounced back, although the team still doesn’t have any top 25 Kenpom wins. The talent is there, but can this team play consistently enough? That’s the question.
5 – Kentucky Wildcats (24-10, 4th in SEC, KR: 18)
Big Wins: West Virginia, Tennessee
Bad Losses: South Carolina
The Breakdown: The Wildcats are the youngest team in the country, have grown throughout the season and are now playing their best ball of the year. Kentucky has a ton of talent and is long and athletic, which has led to the Wildcats enhancing its defense in the second half of the year. Outside shooting is still a struggle for the Wildcats. And unfortunately for Kentucky, it will face Davidson, which is probably the hottest No. 12 seed that shoots it well from 3.
6 – Miami Hurricanes (22-9, 5th in ACC, KR: 36)
Big Wins: North Carolina
Bad Losses: Georgia Tech, Boston College
The Breakdown: The Miami that takes the floor this week is not the team it’s had for most of the year as Bruce Brown is out for the NCAA Tournament. Brown averaged 11.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4 assists, which is a big loss for the Hurricanes that lost four of its nine games after Brown’s injury on Jan. 30.
7 – Nevada Wolfpack (27-7, Mountain West Regular Season Champion, KR: 24)
Best Wins: Davidson, Rhode Island, San Diego St.
Bad Losses: San Francisco, Wyoming, UNLV
The Breakdown: Unlike St. Mary’s, who was left out of the tournament in part because of a weak non-con schedule, Nevada was not shy about scheduling quality opponents early in the year. The Wolfpack beat tournament teams Rhode Island and Davidson, and also faced two Big 12 schools, Texas Tech and TCU, away from home and lost by a combined 10 points. Nevada has a top-10 offense in Kenpom, shoots nearly 40% from 3-point range, and only turns the ball over on 14% of its possessions.
8 – Creighton Bluejays (21-11, 4th in Big East, KR: 27)
Big Wins: Butler, Villanova
Bad Losses: Providence, Marquette
The Breakdown: Creighton is an offensive-minded team that plays exceptionally well at home but has lost nine of its 11 games at either neutral or true away sites. The Bluejays have an intriguing first-round matchup against Kansas State mainly because Creighton leading scorer Marcus Foster, who averages 20.3 ppg, will be facing the team for who he began his college career.
9 – Kansas State Wildcats (22-11, 4th in Big 12, KR: 44)
Big Wins: TCU (x2)
Bad Losses: Tulsa
The Breakdown: K-State’s hopes of advancing in the tournament depend on the health of the Wildcats’ best player Dean Wade. Wade leads the team in scoring (16.5) and rebounds (6.3) per game and missed K-State’s Big 12 Tournament semifinal game against Kansas with a foot injury. The Wildcats finished fourth in the Big 12, thought by many to be the best conference in the country, after a weak non-conference schedule. Kansas State held its own in the Big 12, but went 0-6 against the top teams in the league: Kansas, West Virginia, and Texas Tech.
10 – Texas Longhorns (19-14, 7th in Big 12, KR: 39)
Big Wins: Butler, TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Bad Losses: Oklahoma State
The Breakdown: Texas is another team who needs a healthy star for the tournament. It sounds like Mohamed Bamba will be at full strength after missing three games with an injury before returning in limited capacity for Texas’ Big 12 quarterfinal game against Texas Tech. The Longhorns were fully on the bubble a few weeks ago but late wins against West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State was enough for a Texas to be comfortably in the tournament.
11 – Loyola Chicago Ramblers (28-5, Missouri Valley Conference Regular Season and Tournament Champion, KR: 42)
Big Wins: Florida
Bad Losses: Milwaukee, Missouri State, Indiana State, Bradley
The Breakdown: Loyola Chicago is the first team to benefit from Wichita State leaving the Missouri Valley, but don’t think the Ramblers didn’t earn their spot. Loyola has a signature win at Florida and hasn’t lost since Jan. 31. The Ramblers have the eight best effective field-goal percentage in the country and will be a popular pick to upset a short-handed Miami team.
12 – Davidson Wildcats (21-11, 3rd in Atlantic 10, Atlantic 10 Tournament Champions, KR: 43)
Best Wins: Rhode Island (x2), St. Bonaventure (x2)
Bad Losses: Appalachian State, Hawaii, Richmond, Dayton
The Breakdown: Ten years after Steph Curry took Davidson to the Elite 8, the Wildcats are back with a talented freshman in Kellan Grady who has been doing his best Steph impersonation averaging 18 points per game, shooting 50% from the field and 38% from 3. Davidson has been tested plenty this season, playing tournament teams North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, and New Mexico State in the non-con slate. Bob McKillop’s offense should worry teams, but if you want an important stat come tournament time: Davidson is the best free-throw shooting team in the field at 79.7 percent.
13 – Buffalo Bulls (26-8, Mid American Conference Regular Season and Tournament Champions, KR: 75)
Best Wins: Toledo, UAB
Bad Losses: Kent State, Northern Illinois, Miami OH
The Breakdown: Buffalo played a tough non-conference schedule, with five of its eight losses coming against teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls lost to Cincinnati and Syracuse by single digits and kept it relatively close to South Dakota State (14), St. Bonaventure (11), and Texas A&M (16). It wouldn’t be crazy to think Buffalo could keep Arizona from running away with a win.
14 – Wright State Raiders (25-9, 2nd in Horizon League, Horizon League Tournament Champions, KR: 135)
Best Wins: Georgia Tech, Toledo, Northern Kentucky (x2)
Bad Losses: Miami OH, Milwaukee (x2), Cleveland State, IUPUI
The Breakdown: Wright State is in the tournament after Horizon League regular season champion Northern Kentucky lost in the conference tournament. The Raiders are seeking its first NCAA Tournament win in its third appearance, and its first since 2007.
15 – Georgia State Panthers (24-10, 2nd in Sun Belt Conference, Sun Belt Tournament Champions, KR: 96)
Best Wins: Montana, Louisiana Lafayette
Bad Losses: Prairie View A&M, Southern Alabama, Louisiana Monroe
The Breakdown: If Georgia State sounds familiar, it’s because the Panthers put their name on the map in 2015 when coach Ron Hunter’s son R.J. Hunter hit a 3-pointer in the final five seconds to beat Baylor in the round of 64.
16 – UMBC Retrievers (24-10, 2nd in American East Conference, American East Tournament Champions, KR: 184)
Best Wins: Northern Kentucky, Vermont
Bad Losses: Colgate, Army, Stony Brook
The Breakdown: UMBC is in the tournament for the second time in program history, the first coming in 2008.