NCAA South Region preview: Arizona might be main threat to dominant Virginia
THE TOP 4 SEEDS
Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Arizona
WHO SHOULD WIN
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 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.
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.