College basketball analyst and writer
The South Region of the NCAA Men’s Tournament is full of intrigue.
It contains Alabama’s first overall seed and all the drama that has followed the Crimson Tide. He has another very talented team in Arizona, the two-seed Pac-12 champions who are loaded with talent down low.
It also has 5 intriguing seeds in San Diego State and a beloved Cinderella you’ll want to learn all about.
And then, of course, there’s Baylor, a 3-seed that has had an up-and-down season, but also a team that won it all just two seasons ago.
Here’s a guide to the countryside in the south.
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Of the top four seeds, which have the best path?
Alabama and Arizona: Alabama is playing its best basketball of the season after rolling through the SEC to the tournament title. Also Arizona after winning the Pac-12. I could definitely see a 1-2 matchup in Louisville’s Elite Eight.
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Alabama should be able to get the winner of Maryland-West Virginia. Neither team has the right matchup for Brandon Miller. San Diego State and Virginia aren’t all that equipped to deal with them either.
Arizona is well built with their mobile bigs and a matchup problem comparable to Miller in Azuolas Tubelis. Both are legitimate first-team All-American candidates. Arizona should reach the Elite Eight by dispatching Missouri and then Creighton in a rematch of the Maui Invitational.
Which team in the 5-9 bracket could be a dark horse?
San Diego State has the best path to a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Alabama because of its defense. The Aztecs won the regular season and a tournament title in the Mountain West, a league that challenged them at every outing. Could the Aztecs eliminate Alabama? For sure. They have the defense to do it. The concern will be if they can score with the Tide.
Does this region have Cinderella?
Charleston is the obvious choice because the Cougars won 31 games. The game with San Diego State is definitely winnable. But facing Virginia and then potentially Alabama would be a tall order.
Best first-round matchup?
Maryland-West Virginia. This is the best 8-9 game on the field. Both teams can play very hard. They will push each other and the point guard play of Jahmir Young and Joe Toussaint will be one of the best in the first round. Expect this game to be a slugfest with the name of the game likely being a critical factor.
Baylor is the pick here with their matchup with UC Santa Barbara. Joe Pasternack’s crew has won the Big West a few times, and has an experienced group that is primed for a potential upset in a 3-14 matchup. Baylor has been inconsistent this season.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 22 Arizona
My pick: Arizona
The Wildcats had the team to make a Final Four last season before getting blown out by Houston in the Sweet 16. Arizona has the bigs and the wings to beat Alabama. I say the Wildcats get it.
Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst and host. It can be seen on the Big Ten Network as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and hosts the “March Madness 365” podcast. Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, before that, in newspapers for nine years.
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