NCAA Tournament South Region preview: Can Arizona tame the tide?
College basketball analyst and writer
The NCAA Men’s Tournament South Region is full of intrigue.
It contains the best No. 1 seed in Alabama and all the drama that followed the Crimson Tide. He has another very talented team in 2-seeded Arizona, the Pac-12 champions who are packed with talent.
He also has an intriguing 5-seed in San Diego State and a Cinderella darling you’ll want to know all about.
And then of course there’s Baylor, a 3 seed who had a season of ups and downs, but also a team that won it all just two seasons ago.
Here is a guide to the terrain in the South.
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Of the top four seeds, which ones have the best path?
Alabama and Arizona: Alabama is playing its best basketball of the season after coming through the SEC all the way to the tournament title. The same goes for Arizona after winning the Pac-12. I could definitely see a 1-2 game in the Elite Eight at Louisville.
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Alabama should be able to get past the winner of Maryland-West Virginia. Neither team has the right game for Brandon Miller. The state of San Diego and Virginia are also not as equipped to deal with it.
Arizona is well built with its mobile bigs and matchup problem comparable to Miller in Azuolas Tubelis. Both of these guys are legitimate USA first-team contenders. Arizona should qualify for the Elite Eight by eliminating Missouri and then Creighton in a Maui Invitational rematch.
Which team in the number 5-9 range could be a dark horse?
San Diego State has the best path to a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Alabama due to its vaunted defense. The Aztecs won the regular season and a tournament title in the Mountain West, a league that challenged them in every outing. Could the Aztecs bring down Alabama? Of course. They have the defense to do it. The concern will be whether they can score with the Tide.
Does this area have Cinderella?
Charleston is the obvious choice as the Cougars have won 31 games. The game against San Diego State is definitely winnable. But facing Virginia and then potentially Alabama would be a daunting task.
The best match of the first round?
Maryland-West Virginia. It’s the best 8-9 game on the pitch. Both teams can play extremely hard. They’re going to push each other, and the play from point guards Jahmir Young and Joe Toussaint is going to be one of the best in the first round. Expect this game to be a slugfest, with how the game is called likely being a critical factor.
Baylor is the choice here with its matchup with UC Santa Barbara. Joe Pasternack’s crew have won the Big West a few times now, and they have a seasoned squad that’s ready for a possible upset in a 3-14 game. 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 being shocked by Houston in the Sweet 16. Arizona has the big and the wings to beat Alabama. I say the Wildcats do it.
Andy Katz is a longtime college basketball writer, analyst, and broadcaster. It can be seen on the Big Ten Network, as well as March Madness and NCAA.com, and he hosts the “March Madness 365” podcast. Katz worked at ESPN for nearly two decades and, before that, at newspapers for nine years.
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