2019 NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region

March 20, 2019
By K. Becks

This Region can affectionately be known as the “Turtle Region” in reference to the way that a lot of these teams like to play. Virginia, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Villanova, Cincinnati, Saint Mary’s and Oregon are all among the teams with the lowest adjusted tempo according to KenPom.

Thus, we can expect lots of low scoring, close basketball games. On one hand, it makes them hard to watch for their entirety. On the other hand, you’re looking at the Region with an opportunity to create plenty of late game drama.

Let’s hope that the latter is the more correct assumption.

Round of 64 Games to Watch

#7 Cincinnati vs. #10 Iowa (Friday, 12:15 PM ET)

An interesting first game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio pits two teams with contrasting styles that should both bring a strong supporters group to the venue. Mick Cronin’s Bearcats may have been a bit underseeded following an impressive 28-6 season capped by an AAC Tournament championship, but will be tasked with stopping the Big Ten’s second best scoring attack behind Michigan State. Fran McCaffery’s squad struggled to wrap up the regular season, but feature several options in the starting five and a deep bench, with 10 players averaging double-digit minutes per game.

While Cincinnati is primarily a defensive-minded team under Cronin, the Bearcats do shoot from both inside and behind the arc at a rate similar to Iowa, so expect them to contest all of Iowa’s shots and try to slow the game down to their pace. If they can do that, Iowa may have trouble adjusting, similarly to the way it did in conference games where its opponent was able to slow things down. In a close game, expect Cincinnati’s Jarron Cumberland to have the ball in his hand a lot down the stretch as the most pure scorer in this game.

#4 Kansas State vs. #13 UC-Irvine (Friday, 2 PM ET)

For the first time in 14 seasons, the Kansas Jayhawks didn’t win or share the Big 12 regular season title. Fittingly enough, little brother took advantage, besting the rest of the conference with stifling defense. In this game, the Wildcats will take on a UC-Irvine team that is firing on all cylinders and keen on winning in the same fashion. This game is one of two in the Round of 64 between two teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in terms of points allowed per contest. However, according to KenPom metrics, the Wildcats are far more efficient on that end of the floor, at fourth in the country compared to the Anteaters at No. 58.

Although the Wildcats may have the edge in the advanced metrics, Bruce Weber’s team will be without its leading rebounder and second leading scorer Dean Wade, the second time in as many years he will miss the Tournament. Wade would have been an interesting matchup against Jonathan Galloway, UC-Irvine’s leading board getter and a handful at 6’10”, 235 pounds. Makol Mawien will take on that role instead. Even though Kansas State managed to make it to the second week of the Tournament last year without Wade, it could be tough to do that again. The Anteaters gobble up rebounds better than most teams and are riding a 16-game winning streak, suggesting they’re capable of pulling off the upset.

Players to Watch

Kyle Guy, Virginia

The leader for the Cavaliers this season is Guy, and he’ll make sure that Tony Bennett’s team doesn’t come close to suffering the same historic fate of the 2018 Virginia squad. The 6’2” junior benefits heavily from Virginia’s catalytic point guard Ty Jerome, often setting up behind the three point line in anticipation of a Jerome drive and dish. Guy is a lethal three point shooter, making 46 percent of his shots from behind the arc. He also leads the ACC in three pointers made, with 106 during the regular season.

While Guy is the type of player that can generate runs for the Cavaliers, he’s also an extremely smart player and is very good at melding his personal skills with Coach Bennett’s style. You won’t see Guy take many bad shots or ones too early in the shot clock cycle. And when (if) the game is tight near the end, he’s the last Cavaliers player an opponent wants to foul, shooting nearly 84 percent from the line.

Payton Pritchard, Oregon

The junior from West Linn, Oregon was one of the main reasons why the Ducks, currently one of the hottest teams in the country, ran through the Pac-12 Tournament en route to a surprising Big Dance appearance. His 16 PPG and 5.5 APG marks were above his season average, but his strong ball handling skills all season suggest he can absolutely carry those averages into the NCAA Tournament as well. Watch a highlight reel of his crossovers and you’ll understand.

What makes Pritchard such an important part of Oregon’s success, though, is that he is tenacious on both ends of the floor. His 1.9 steals per game leads a team that averages nearly 8 per game, second in the Pac-12 behind Washington. Pritchard’s ability to turn defense into offense will be key in the Round of 64 against a Wisconsin team that doesn’t provide opponents a ton of offensive possessions or turn the ball over often.

Team That Could Make a Run

Villanova

Perception is a funny thing, but Jay Wright has seen the transition happen over the years while head coach at Villanova. Before the Wildcats won the national championship two out of the last three seasons, Wright & Villanova were the coach & school that consistently flamed out early. This season, as defending champions, the ‘Cats are the team that underwhelmed.

Keep in mind that this squad still won the Big East regular season and conference tournament titles, allowed the fewest points per game in the conference and are in the top quadrant of Tournament teams in terms of KenPom’s offensive efficiency rating. This team’s leadership knows how to get things done in the Big Dance, the only thing a Villanova squad used to lack, so why is everyone assuming they won’t? Around The Corn doesn’t understand, either…

My Picks

Round of 64

#1 Virginia over #16 Gardner-Webb

#8 Mississippi over #9 Oklahoma

#12 Oregon over #5 Wisconsin (upset alert)

#13 UC-Irvine over #4 Kansas State (upset alert)

#6 Villanova over #11 Saint Mary’s

#3 Purdue over #14 Old Dominion

#7 Cincinnati over #10 Iowa

#2 Tennessee over #15 Colgate

Round of 32

#1 Virginia over #8 Mississippi

#12 Oregon over #13 UC-Irvine

#6 Villanova over #3 Purdue (upset alert)

#7 Cincinnati over #2 Tennessee (upset alert)

Sweet 16

#1 Virginia over #12 Oregon

#6 Villanova over #7 Cincinnati

Elite 8

#1 Virginia over #6 Villanova

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