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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Zack Greinke earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday's finale agains the Rangers. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the first two wins of the series under their belt, the Astros entered Sunday looking to take care of business before heading on the road. Despite the Rangers taking the first lead of the day, the Astros responded on offense and defense to erase the deficit to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rangers 1

Astros' Record: 61-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (10-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dennis Santana (0-1)

Greinke, with some help, notches a quality start

Zack Greinke was doing well in the early goings of Sunday's finale. Despite allowing back-to-back singles to start the game, he stranded both runners to finish the top of the first. He followed that by erasing two more runners in the second, starting a stretch of eight straight batters which he would retire to make it through one out in the top of the fifth without allowing a run.

Texas finally added a blemish to his day at that point, getting a solo homer to grab their first lead in weeks. Greinke rebounded from it, sitting down the next two batters to finish the frame, then posted a 1-2-3 sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh, but would end his day with a struggle, loading the bases with no outs on a single, hit batter, and walk. That prompted Dusty Baker to bring in Cristian Javier, who saved Greinke's stat line by getting a strikeout and double play to keep the Rangers from scoring. Greinke's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 86 P.

Houston grabs the lead

Houston's starter would leave in line for the win, thanks to the work of Cristian Javier, but also some timely offense in the two innings prior. With not much going for them in the first four innings, the Astros tried to take advantage of Chas McCormick being on base in the bottom of the fifth, sending him for a potential hit and run with Abraham Toro swinging.

That turned into two runs, with McCormick able to slow his run as Toro would launch a two-run go-ahead homer to erase the Rangers lead quickly. They extended the lead to two runs in the next inning, with Yordan Alvarez working a walk and then later scoring on an RBI single by Kyle Tucker, making it 3-1.

Astros finish the sweep

After cleaning up the inherited mess in the top of the seventh, Javier remained on the mound in the top of the eighth and made it through a 1-2-3 inning to give him six outs against five batters. With it still a two-run game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save opportunity. He notched it, sitting down the Rangers 1-2-3 to finish the sweep, handing Texas their twelfth straight loss.

Up Next: The Astros will head out west for an eight-game road trip starting with a three-game set with the Mariners kicking off at 9:10 PM Central on Monday. In the opener, Luis Garcia (7-5, 2.86 ERA) for Houston is slated to go opposite Darren McCaughan (0-0, 1.80 ERA), who will make his second career appearance and first start for Seattle.

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