TOURNAMENT TIME

NCAA South Region preview: Arizona might be main threat to dominant Virginia

A healthy Mo Bamba gives Texas a fighting chance. Chris Covatta/Getty Images

THE TOP 4 SEEDS

Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Arizona

WHO SHOULD WIN

Virginia

The Cavaliers are the No. 1 team in the country, the No. 1 team in Ken-Pom ratings, and the No. 1 defense in the country by a mile. It is next to impossible to run on them, and this may be the best offensive team Virginia has had in the Tony Bennett era. They lost twice this year, and have only lost once since Dec. 5. They rolled to an ACC title and held three teams under 40 points on the season. The only thing not to like about Virginia is that they got a horrible draw that will match them up against a vastly under-seeded and ultra-talented (albeit distracted) Arizona team unless someone can pull an early upset. 

IF NOT THEM

Arizona

Arizona is an odd case study, as 5 of their 7 losses this year came against non-tournament teams, with an early season loss to Purdue being the only exception. They had massive pre-season expectations that revolve around DeAndre Ayton. The likely first pick in the draft has rounded into a complete monster. He is averaging over 20 points per game to go along with 11.5 rebounds. Allonzo Trier (18.4 PPG) would be the shining star on most teams, but is glad to play second fiddle to the super freshman Ayton. This season has been a whirlwind, with Trier losing games to doping allegations and coach Sean Miller being under investigation for paying Ayton. If they can keep their heads in the game, and not let their defense cost them a close game, the Wildcats are incredibly dangerous. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

DeAndre Ayton- Arizona

As discussed, Ayton is headed towards the NBA draft lottery, and he has scouts salivating. At 7’1” and 250 lbs, Ayton has drawn comparisons to a young Shaquille O’Neal. He is on a tear right now, averaging 32 points and 16 rebounds in the PAC 12 semi-finals vs. UCLA and finals vs. USC. If Ayton is on his game, and he usually is, Arizona is going to be a tough out, even against the incredible pack-line defense of Virginia.

Kyle Guy- Virginia

Apparently, Kyle Guy was nursing a sprained MCL during the ACC tournament. If you watched him play, and register his first two career dunks, you wouldn’t know it was an issue. At first glance, Guy doesn’t wow you. He is undersized and not particularly athletic. He is an excellent catch and shoot guy, though, and gritty enough to lead the nation’s best team in scoring at 14 PPG. He needs to stay healthy and effective for UVA to reach their potential. 

Mohamed Bamba- Texas

Bamba says he is 100% healthy, and Texas needs that to be the case if they are going to pull an upset against Nevada. Bamba is a double-double machine, and a complete force on the defensive end. On top of his 4 blocks per game, he forces hesitation to go inside against the Horns. As good as Bamba is, someone on Texas will have to hit some shots for us to see more than one Bamba appearance. 

BEST FIRST ROUND MATCHUP

Kentucky vs. Davidson

Here we have two teams who are playing their best basketball of the season. Kentucky is obviously the much more talented team here, but Davidson can shoot. Kentucky has been up and down this season, and when they have been bad it has been because they haven’t been able to defend the 3 (see the Florida blowout where the Gators hit 10 3-pointers). Davidson shoots 40% from deep as a team, and Peyton Aldridge is one of the best players in the Atlantic-10. 

UPSET THREAT

Loyola-Chicago

Loyola-Chicago is 42nd in the KenPom ratings and 24th in adjusted defense. They also happen to have a high-major caliber point guard in Clayton Custer, who will give problems to a switching Miami defense. The Ramblers already have a win over Florida on their resume, and will look to bump Miami en route to a likely matchup with another SEC opponent in Tennessee. 

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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