NCAA Tournament Group Picks: South Region
Can the Baylor Bears regain their charm? Look, this isn’t nearly as drastic as the Monstars stealing Barkley, Ewing, and LJ’s talent in the original “Space Jam,” but Baylor lately hasn’t been the devastating defensive team it once was. Many trace it back to the show’s three-week COVID hiatus that consumed most of February, but it actually goes back further. Every opponent who has met since the return has scored at least one point per possession, but so did three of the Bears’ five opponents beforehand, and Oklahoma State only missed by a pinch in their first meeting. This is a program that allowed the opposition just 0.88 points per trip last season, which was fourth in Division I, and that’s how the team started this year. It is conceivable that this group of Baylor players peaked sometime around January this season. Or it’s possible that facing the same group so often gave Big 12’s coaches a chance to adjust. Which won’t be a problem in this tournament, at least for a while.
Team from all over the region
|Butler of jared||guard||Baylor|
|EJ Liddell||Forward||State of ohio|
Butler, Mitchell and Robinson-Earl were part of the Sporting News 15-man All-America team. It was painful to leave out dynamic Arkansas freshman Moses Moody.
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Best First Round Game
No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Wisconsin. The Badgers recovered the majority from a roster that shared the 2020 Big Ten championship but appeared to stagnate; they went .500 in league games and lost all nine games to conference opponents who are seeded above them on the NCAA field. They didn’t get to play in the NCAA as league champions a year ago, so this is the closest they’ll come to getting that experience back, if they can remember what made them special. They will have a tough challenge against a North Carolina team that responded to an impressive home loss to Marquette with four wins in their next five, as the young Tar Heels greats joined veterans Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks in lo which has become the deepest frontcourt in college hoops.
Sown too high
No. 7 Florida. This line seems too rich for the Gators, whose profile seems almost designed to give up a spot in an 8-9 game. The Gators were apparently rewarded for avoiding Quad 4 opponents (they only faced one) and for a SEC / Big 12 Challenge win over West Virginia. They finished 14-9, with KenPom rankings in both offense and defense around 40th place. The strange thing, though, is that they’ll be playing a No. 10-seeded Virginia Tech team that also appeared to be in an 8-9 game. The only difference is that instead of the winner facing a No. 1 seed in the second round, he will almost certainly see No. 2 Ohio State.
Sown too low
No. 14 Colgate. The committee had little to base its decision on with the Raiders, who played no games outside of conference and thus gave everyone very little data to judge the team. The NCAA’s own NET rankings placed the Raiders at No. 9 in the nation through some statistical quirk that no one who understands is likely to explain. They also rank 84th on Ken Pomeroy’s ratings on KenPom.com, making them the 52nd tallest team to enter the field, making them a 13th seed. It’s unclear what he gave the North Texas a bonus for that place.
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Purdue over Baylor in the Sweet 16s. The Boilermakers have a wide variety of ways they can play, including using Trevion Williams as a low-post specialist or 7-4 freshman Zach Edey as a complete change of pace. Freshman wing Jaden Ivey is becoming a game changer; Since February 1, he has wagered in double digits in all but one game. He’s not a steady shooter yet, but he’s up for great shots, and he does a lot of them.
Best potential game
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Texas Tech at Sweet 16. It seems every game the Buckeyes play is a classic, from the late February shootout with Michigan, the Big Ten regular-season champion, to the conference tournament semifinal against Purdue and the game’s loss to the Big Ten. title against Illinois, which needed extra time. It seems like every game Tech plays is a classic, from its December one-point loss to Kansas to its 76-71 return to LSU and its one-point Big 12 Tournament loss to Texas. If we get this game, what should we expect but a classic?
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Better match of potential players
Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl vs. Purdue’s Trevion Williams, second round. Robinson-Earl hasn’t had the season he was capable of; the fact that Sporting News voted him their third All-America team shows just how enormous his talent truly is. He’s a more mobile big guy than Williams, capable of operating as a flight four as well as working on the baseline. Williams is a great player who returns to the basket with a full package of skills, particularly his low post moves, and he also has tremendous vision as a passer. Wildcats coach Jay Wright might want to keep Robinson-Earl away from Williams to avoid the risk of fouls, but it would probably be the most appropriate matchup.
Get to know
Arkansas freshman wing, Moses Moody. The 6-6 Moody conveniently grew up in Little Rock and, unlike many players rated above him in the recruiting class of 2020, he performed well above his projections. He was ranked 45th in his class by 247Sports, but Moody immediately became indispensable to the Razorbacks, averaging 34 minutes, 17.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game and shooting 37.9 percent from long range. He was named SEC Freshman of the Year and a member of the league’s conference team (eight men). He would have done it if the league had done what it had to and picked just five.
Don’t be surprised if. . .
No. 12 seed Winthrop Eagles can beat Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats, who have won two of the most recent four NCAA championships. The Eagles broke into their schedule with a 23-1 record, but were only able to play two games outside of the conference. One of them was a victory over the Southern Conference champion UNC-Greensboro, who was ranked 13th in the Eastern Region. The Eagles won all three of their conference tournament games by an average of 26 points. This type of dominance is rare in a league like the Great South, but apparently this is a special group. And he will play a Villanova team that lost twice after star point guard Collin Gillespie was lost for the foreseeable future with a knee injury.
No. 8 North Carolina. We’ve heard all year how terrible the ACC is compared to other leagues and especially to its own history. Well, there is definitely no Jordan-Worthy-Perkins in the league, or a Laettner-Hurley-Hill. But no one has teams like that anymore, rich in experience and top-10 picks in the draft. What matters is how ACC compares to the competition. This Carolina team got more from its freshmen (Caleb Love, Day’Ron Sharpe, RJ Davis, and lately Walker Kessler) than most. A prolonged NCAA career would accelerate his development.
Final Four selection
Purdue. It’s a risk to go that deep down the field for a Final Four pick. To get to that stage of the tournament, the Boilers will likely have to face Big East champion Villanova, Big 12 champion Baylor, and likely Arkansas, Texas Tech, or Big Ten Ohio State runner-up. So yeah, it won’t be easy. They’re young, deep, and maybe a year away from having a true championship contender. They would not have been chosen in any other group. But the lineup of opponents seems perfect for the required four games to pass.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.