South Region (Louisville, KY)
Most Vulnerable High Seed:
#4 Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State is solely listed here because the status of veteran forward Dean Wade is still unknown as of now. If Wade can’t suit up for the Wildcats, they are not a team to bet on, but if he does, you can feel somewhat decent throwing some money down on KSU to make a Sweet 16 run. It’s important to remember that these guys are the Big 12 regular season champions, but they wouldn’t have been there without Wade’s help. They are a gritty defensive club, but like Michigan, they struggle to be efficient on the offensive end of the floor. An already inefficient offense without its second leading scorer would spell first round loss to UC Irvine for me, so it is time to wait and see with Dean Wade and the Wildcats.
High Major Player to Know:
Oregon F Kenny Wooten
Wooten may not light the stat sheet with his scoring numbers like many of the other players on this list, but the Oregon sophomore forward does a lot for a Ducks team that wasn’t expected to be here when Bol Bol went down for the year. The 6’9 California native really came through for the Ducks on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass in this past week’s Pac 12 tournament. Wooten had 4 blocks in both the semifinals and championship games, and also grabbed a total of 11 rebounds between the two, while not playing too many minutes. Wooten is one of the best shot-blockers in the country and his ability as a defender could help Oregon have a shot in their first round matchup against Wisconsin.
Mid-Major Player to Know:
St. Mary’s G Jordan Ford
Jordan Ford is probably a name that most people have not heard of, but he is a name that you’ll need to remember when filling out your bracket for the office pool. He’s a 6’1 junior guard who is the Gaels alpha dog, if you will. The California native made a huge jump in his numbers from his sophomore season, going from averaging 11.1 points per game to an astonishing 21.3 points per game this year. The good thing about Ford is that he is very efficient as an offensive player, and he can knock down tough shots when it really counts. He’s shot 49% from the field this year alongside an impressive 42% rate from three point land. If Ford can score at will like he usually does for St. Mary’s, they’ll be able to compete with the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats in the opening round.
Cinderella in the Region:
#13 UC Irvine Anteaters
The Anteaters should be one of the most popular first round upset picks in brackets across the world if Kansas State forward Dean Wade doesn’t play. UC Irvine isn’t great at any one single thing, but rather they are a unit of guys who are solid in every area of the game. If you had to choose something the Anteaters excel at, it is their defense, as they hold opponents to an extremely low two-point field goal percentage, as well as their ability to rebound the basketball, as they are one of the top ten rebounding clubs in the country.
Upset Alert 🚨🚨🚨:
#11 St. Mary’s over #6 Villanova
Originally I shook off the possibility of St. Mary’s getting an upset win here over the defending national champs, but on second/third thoughts, I definitely wouldn’t count the Gaels out. They have a very balanced offensive attack that is led by Ford’s high scoring abilities. They played a tough schedule throughout the year that may have just prepared them for a game of this caliber. They’ll have to continue to hit shots and slow teams down to their preferred pace of play, but an upset here is not out of the realm. If Villanova struggles to hit shots from beyond the arc, their fate might be sealed, because they’ve relied on the three point shot a ton over their past few games. If the Wildcats want to avoid an upset and make another big run, cleaning up the little things on defense and making their threes are the keys to success.
Sleeper in the Region:
#7 Cincinnati Bearcats
Mick Cronin has done an incredible job this season helping the Bearcats maintain NCAA tourney level form as they lost plenty of key players from last season’s two-seed team. Jarron Cumberland has broken out in a huge way for Cincy, as the junior guard is leading his team with an average of 18.4 points per game. Cronin’s teams are always hounding on the defensive end of the floor, but they’ll have to also maintain a focus on rebounding and making shots to keep pace. Plus, Cincy may need a consistent second option alongside Cumberland, who may get a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Can Keith Williams (10.2 PPG) or Tre Scott (9.2 PPG) be that guy? It’s time to find out.
#1 Virginia over #16 Gardner-Webb
#8 Ole Miss over #9 Oklahoma
#5 Wisconsin over #12 Oregon
#13 UC Irvine over #4 Kansas State
#6 Villanova over #11 St. Mary’s
#3 Purdue over #14 Old Dominion
#7 Cincinnati over #10 Iowa
#2 Tennessee over #15 Colgate
#1 Virginia over #9 Ole Miss
#5 Wisconsin over #13 UC Irvine
#6 Villanova over #3 Purdue
#2 Tennessee over #7 Cincinnati
#1 Virginia over #5 Wisconsin
#2 Tennessee over #6 Villanova
#2 Tennessee over #1 Virginia