Now that I’ve profiled all 68 teams in the field and previewed each region, it’s time to go game-by-game and look at the matchups. I will also reveal my picks to win each game before posting my full predictions later this week.
First up is the South Region.
South Region Info
- South Region Team Capsules
- South Region Bracket Breakdown
- Tickets to South Regional in Atlanta (March 23rd and 25th)
South Region First Round Game Predictions
#1 Kentucky vs. #16 Mississippi Valley State/#16 Western Kentucky
First off, if you’re picking the first four game, go with Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have a number of impressive young players like Derrick Gordon and George Fant, and the team has improved significantly since Ray Harper took over as coach in the middle of the year.
Aside from that, I’m not so sure that Kentucky couldn’t knock of both off their potential foes even if they were forced to play them both at the same time.
Predicted Winner: Kentucky
#2 Duke vs. #15 Lehigh
Lehigh has a star in guard C.J. McCollum, but I don’t see him pulling a Harold “The Show” Arceneaux-esque performance out of his hat. Duke should be able to get whatever they want on offense and advance to the second round.
Predicted Winner: Duke
#3 Baylor vs. #14 South Dakota State
I really like that on Kenpom, Baylor’s defensive footprint is categorized as “inconclusive.” Is that a veiled way of saying they don’t play any? All kidding aside, Baylor ranks 34th in adjusted defensive efficiency, and the only area they really struggle is keeping opponents off the offensive glass.
South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters is a terrific player, but the Jackrabbits just don’t have the firepower to compete with the likes of Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III inside.
Predicted Winner: Baylor
#4 Indiana vs. #13 New Mexico State
While I don’t see the Aggies pulling the upset here, there are a couple of areas where they could give Indiana some trouble.
New Mexico State ranks first in free throw rate with an absurd 52.8 mark, although to some extent that was skewed by some gaudy non-conference numbers. However, guys like Wendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman have propelled the Aggies to an extremely high offensive rebounding percentage, while the Hoosiers have struggled on the defensive glass at times.
That being said, the Hoosiers appear to have an advantage in virtually every category on the offensive end, including two-point shooting, three-point shooting, and free throw rate. As has been the case all season, IU’s offense will carry them to a victory.
Predicted Winner: Indiana
#5 Wichita State vs. #12 VCU
This is one of the first round games I am looking forward to the most. It’s too bad that the selection committee has a cruel sense of humor, because they set up this early matchup between two of the best mid-majors in the field.
Defense will be the name of the game in this one, with both teams ranking in the Top 30 in defensive efficiency. The Rams want to press and push the tempo, but with veteran guards like Toure’ Murry and Joe Ragland, don’t expect Wichita State to get rattled easily. The difference here will be Wichita State’s offense, which has been much more efficient than VCU’s this season, particularly on the interior where guys like Garrett Stutz and Carl Hall should be able to hit the glass and take advantage of VCU’s relatively poor two-point defense.
The Shockers just have too much experience and too many offensive weapons, and VCU’s poor shooting will plague them against Wichita State’s equally stingy defense.
Predicted Winner: Wichita State
#6 UNLV vs. #11 Colorado
Colorado ripped off four straight wins to earn the Pac-12 automatic bid, but I don’t see them extending that streak in the Big Dance.
The Rebels are the better defensive team, and Colorado’s only real advantage on offense is its high free throw rate. I wouldn’t expect a tournament game to be called too closely though, which negates a bit of that advantage, and I also think Mike Moser can help to neutralize Colorado sophomore Andre Roberson.
I also think UNLV’s depth and experience will be a factor, and I simply can’t see the Buffs being able to score enough to win.
Predicted Winner: UNLV
#7 Notre Dame vs. #10 Xavier
Of all the games in the region, I think this has the most upset potential.
I loved the Musketeers early in the season, but the Crosstown Brawl set them back and I’m still not sure they have truly recovered. However, they started to show signs of life in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and strong backcourt play is always important in March, which bodes well for a Xavier team with two senior guards, Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, who ooze toughness and aren’t afraid to take big shots.
The other key factor here is X’s three-point defense, which is in the Top 30 nationally and could slow down a Notre Dame offense that is at its best when long-range jumpers are falling. The Musketeers also have a strong defensive rebounding percentage, and they’ll need it to keep Jack Cooley off the offensive glass.
Predicted Winner: Xavier
#8 Iowa State vs. #9 Connecticut
I can’t wait for this matchup, in large part because I just love watching Royce White play. The Iowa State forward does it all for the Cyclones and should prove to be a matchup problem for virtually any opponents based on his versatility and unique skill set. UConn has also struggled to defend the three-point line, which will be an issue against an Iowa State team that takes (and makes) a lot of shots from long range.
On the other end of the floor, the Cyclones have a strong defensive rebounding rate, but they’ll need to find a way to maintain it against the likes of Andre Drummond on the offensive glass. The Huskies need to pound the ball inside to take advantage of their size and ISU’s poor two-point defense, but based on what I’ve seen from UConn this year, I question their ability to recognize that. The Cyclones may also want to consider playing zone against a Connecticut squad that has struggled from beyond the arc.
I fully expect a close game, but I will side with Royce White and Iowa State, who has certainly played with more heart throughout the season.
Predicted Winner: Iowa State
South Region Bracket, TV Schedule, Sites, Announcers, Point Spreads
|Western Kentucky def Miss Val St. 59-58||Tue, 3/13||6:40 ET||Dayton||Nantz-Kellogg-Kerr||truTV||WKU -4.5|
|1||#1 Kentucky def #16 Western Kentucky 81-66||Thu, 3/15||6:50 ET||Louisville||Lundquist-Raftery||TBS||UK -24.5|
|2||#8 Iowa State def #9 UConn 77-64||Thu, 3/15||9:15 ET||Louisville||Lundquist-Raftery||TBS||CON -2|
|3||#4 Indiana def #13 New Mexico State 79-66||Thu, 3/15||9:40 ET||Portland||Anderson-Bonner||CBS||IU -6.5|
|4||#12 VCU def #5 Wichita State 62-59||Thu, 3/15||7:15 ET||Portland||Anderson-Bonner||CBS||WICH -6|
|5||#15 Lehigh def #2 Duke 75-70||Fri, 3/16||7:15 ET||Greensboro||Nantz-Kellogg||TBS||DUKE -12|
|6||#10 Xavier def #7 Notre Dame 67-63||Fri, 3/16||9:40 ET||Greensboro||Nantz-Kellogg||TBS||ND -2.5|
|7||#3 Baylor def #14 South Dakota State 68-60||Thu, 3/15||7:27 ET||Albuquerque||Dedes-Wenzel||truTV||BAY -8|
|8||#11 Colorado def #6 UNLV 68-64||Thu, 3/15||9:52 ET||Albuquerque||Dedes-Wenzel||truTV||UNLV -5|
|9||#1 Kentucky def #8 Iowa State 87-71||Sat, 3/17||7:45 ET||Louisville||Lundquist-Raftery||CBS||UK -11.5|
|10||#4 Indiana def #12 VCU 63-61||Sat, 3/17||7:10 ET||Portland||Anderson-Bonner||TBS||IU -6|
|11||#10 Xavier def #15 Lehigh 70-58||Sun, 3/18||7:45 ET||Greensboro||Nantz-Kellogg||truTV|
|12||#3 Baylor def #11 Colorado 80-63||Sat, 3/17||8:40 ET||Albuquerque||Dedes-Wenzel||TNT||BAY -7.5|
|13||#1 Kentucky v #4 Indiana||Fri, 3/23||Atlanta||UK -9|
|14||#3 Baylor v #10 Xavier||Fri, 3/23||Atlanta||BAY -6|
|ELITE 8 - REGIONAL FINAL|
|15||Game 13 Winner v Game 14 Winner||Sun, 3/25||Atlanta|