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March Madness bracket: Can Arizona escape Tennessee, South Region?

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March Madness bracket: Can Arizona escape Tennessee, South Region?

March Madness is upon us, and the release of Sunday’s 2022 men’s NCAA tournament field of 68 means it’s time to start analyzing seedings, matchups and potential Cinderellas. 

Over in the South Region, Arizona leads the way in the program’s first Big Dance appearance since 2018. Its challengers, though, include always-dangerous Villanova, a surging Tennessee team and Illinois. So with the path to the Final Four set, we’re sizing up the players, teams and games to watch in each region.

Who will make it out of San Antonio and punch a ticket to New Orleans? Here’s our South Region preview and prediction

MORE REGIONS: West | Midwest | East

Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin

Bennedict Mathurin averages 17.4 points for the Wildcats.

State of the No. 1 seed: Arizona

The Wildcats swept the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles en route to the top seed for the seventh time in program history. First-year coach Tommy Lloyd posted an impressive 15–3 record against Quad 1 and 2 opponents, including both USC and UCLA twice.

It’s no secret that the Wildcats can score the ball, with Bennedict Mathurin’s 17.4 points a game leading four double-digit scorers that are capable of 20-plus on any given night. The Wildcats’ depth is relentless with a capable second unit that manages to maintain and, at times, eclipse the intensity for Lloyd.

That should overwhelm Arizona’s first two opponents, but a potential matchup with No. 5 Houston in the Sweet 16 could be particularly intriguing. Kelvin Sampson’s “lunch pale” crew has been resilient this season after losing Marcus Sasser, plus teams with playmakers have given the Wildcats issues at times this season. Defensive lapses in their losses have them checking in at No. 20 in defensive efficiency in KenPom, a stat that means more as you advance. Blocking their road to New Orleans could potentially be No. 2 Villanova or No. 3 Tennessee, who beat the Wildcats earlier this season. No rest for the weary.

Toughest draw: No. 3 Tennessee

The Vols probably shouldn’t have been a No. 3 seed after winning the SEC title with wins over Auburn and Kentucky twice, let’s start there. Still, they’ll face a talented Longwood team fresh off a dominant 79–58 win over Winthrop to take home the Big South title. Then, they’ll likely face a Colorado State team with a 13–4 record against Quads 1 and 2, only to potentially see March darlings Loyola Chicago or a rematch with Villanova, which spanked the Vols earlier this season. If Rick Barnes and Co. can get past all of that they’ll likely get another shot at top-seeded Arizona, which they knocked off before Christmas. Winning the tournament title in arguably the toughest league in college hoops deserved better from the committee, but here we are. 

Team that could bust your bracket: No. 10 Loyola Chicago

You knew this was coming, right? The Ramblers are a household name at this point after winning at least two games in each of their last two tournament appearances and have tournament-darling Sister Jean in their corner. First-year coach Drew Valentine’s squad is constructed of everything that makes March “mad,” with a host of blue-collar workers led by Lucas Williamson, one of the best two-way guards in the country. The Ramblers have the perfect setup game in the first round against an Ohio State team that has lost four of its last five games, including an upset loss to Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. The Ramblers don’t have great size, but they’re skilled and scrappy, a dangerous combination come March.

Player to watch: David Roddy, Colorado State

Roddy is one of the most complete guards in the country, with elite playmaking ability, efficiency on all three levels and great size at 6’5”. Roddy’s true gift is his ability to star as the stakes get higher, which obviously bodes well for the Rams. His 45.5% mark from the three-point line this season is nearly doubled from last season and one of the key reasons he’s able to keep the defense off balance with his offensive attack. If the Rams advance, Roddy will be a household name similar to Max Abmas last season.

Most intriguing matchup: No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 13 Chattanooga 

No, the Mocs haven’t won in the NCAA tournament since 1997, but Lamont Paris’s crew has its best chance to get over the hump with a balanced offensive attack led by its dynamic backcourt of Malachi Smith and David Jean-Baptiste, who combine for 34.8 points a game. Silvio De Sousa pumps in 11 points and seven rebounds a game and, more importantly, gives the Mocs a legitimate inside presence and the big body (6’9”, 250 pounds) they’ll need to contend with Kofi Cockburn in the paint. The Mocs were the SoCon’s top defensive team, holding opponents to 64.7 points a game, and their scrappy nature (7.2 steals a game) on the perimeter could give the Illini a legitimate fit in round one.

Regional finalists: No. 1 Arizona and No. 3 Tennessee

The Wildcats have had brief stints with defensive lapses over the course of the season and Tennessee can tend to get erratic at times on the offensive end and show its youth, but in the end, both teams have found a way to remain consistent this season. For better or worse, trends tend to carryover into the NCAA tournament, and that bodes well for Barnes and Lloyd. Tennessee forced 17 turnovers the first time these teams met and won 77–73. Since then, the Wildcats have climbed to No. 5 in offensive efficiency on Ken Pom and the Vols have knocked off Auburn and Kentucky twice.

Pick to win the region: Tennessee

The Vols are playing their best basketball of the season against the toughest stretch of their schedule and have won in a variety of different ways with different variations of players stepping up in big games. Those capabilities advance you in March and will send Barnes to his second Final Four. 

Full South Region:

No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 16 Wright State/Bryant

No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 TCU

No. 5 Houston vs. No. 12 UAB

No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 13 Chattanooga

No. 6 Colorado State vs. No. 11 Michigan

No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Longwood

No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Loyola Chicago

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Delaware

More March Madness Coverage:

Expert Brackets: SI Writers’ Men’s Tourney Predictions

Top-50 Men’s Players of the CBB Season

Holmgren Is Ready for His March Madness Close-Up

original source: March Madness bracket: Can Arizona escape Tennessee, South Region? – Sports Illustrated

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