2022 NCAA Tournament Bracket South Region: March Madness predictions, upheavals, players to watch

The 2022 NCAA Tournament South Region is arguably the toughest of the four due to the quality of play by its top teams. No other region has more than one of its top three seeds coming out of a conference tournament title. But in the South, No. 1 seed Arizona, No. 2 seed Villanova and No. 3 seed Tennessee enter the Big Dance after cutting the nets last weekend.

Number 5 Houston — a Final Four team in 2021 — also leads with an AAC tournament title. Beyond the top seeds, the South Region is full of quality depth. Loyola-Chicago, seeded No. 10 on the Black Horses, and Michigan, No. 11, have been seasoned since second-weekend appearances in last season’s NCAA Tournament.

There’s even buzz surrounding 13th-seeded Chattanooga as the Mocs take on 4th-seeded Illinois after catching the nation’s attention last week with a blowout victory over Furman in the SoCon tournament final. No. 8 seed Seton Hall and No. 9 seed TCU each have battle scars from navigating brutal conferences, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see that experience pay off in a potential matchup. second round with Arizona.

6-seeded Colorado State, 7-seeded Ohio State and 12-seeded UAB all have individual superstars in David Roddy, EJ Liddell and Jordan Walker, respectively. Any one of the three is capable of leading their team to success that exceeds their ranking expectations.

Finally, the long strokes. No. 14 Longwood is making his first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and No. 15 Delaware is looking for his first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. Wednesday’s top four game between No. 16 seeds Wright State and Bryant will mark the first-ever NCAA Tournament win for the winner.

Let’s break it down further as we approach the 2022 NCAA Tournament openers.

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Best match of the first round

(7) Ohio State vs. (10) Loyola-Chicago: The Ramblers need no introduction at this point. They are the same disciplined and defensively solid team as always, even after the coaching transition from Porter Moser to Drew Valentine. An Ohio State team entering with four losses in its last five games is the wild card here. The Buckeyes were upset in the NCAA first round as the No. 2 seed by Oral Roberts last year, and they certainly won’t overlook Loyola-Chicago. Ohio State was recently beaten, but may have the best player in the southern region (Liddell), who will likely have redemption in mind.

Best Potential Match

(1) Arizona vs. (2) Villanova: Arizona has previously faced No. 3 Tennessee (77-73 road loss Dec. 22) and No. 2 Illinois (83-79 road win Dec. 11), but the Wildcats have not not played the No. 2 seed Villanova. If they met in the Elite Eight, it would be a total contrast of styles. The Wildcats are one of the fastest teams in the sport, while Villanova is one of the slowest. The bet here is that Arizona would win due to their ability to score inside the arc against a Villanova team lacking an elite rim protector.

Upset regional lockout

(5) Houston bounced back early: It’s amazing that the Cougars won the AAC regular season and AAC tournament titles after losing guards Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark to season-ending injuries. Eighth-year coach Kelvin Sampson has made Houston a national powerhouse, and the Cougars will soon be in another NCAA Tournament. But UAB is on the rise under second-year coach Andy Kennedy and is hosting a special end-of-season run. The Blazers looked like a doomed team as they earned a three-overtime victory over MTSU in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament. It’s a matchup between UAB’s 3-point shooting prowess (38%) versus Houston’s 3-point shooting defense (29%), and the bet here is that the Blazers get hot.

The Cinderella team that will surprise

(13) Chattanooga: Mocs are a Cinderella trending choice and for good reason. Kansas transfer Silvio De Sousa is big enough to take on Illinois star big man Kofi Cockburn, who is the type of luxury most mid-sized teams don’t have. With the ever-essential ingredient of veteran guard play also present in the form of Malachi Smith and David Jean-Baptiste, the Mocs are a dormant pick to make the Sweet 16. Don’t be surprised if their fifth-year head coach Lamont Paris, a former aide from Wisconsin, is becoming a household name in power conference vacancies over the next few weeks.

Team that will exit far too soon

(11) Michigan: At 17-14, the Wolverines are lucky to be here after losing to Indiana in their Big Ten Tournament opener. It’s been over a month since they’ve won back-to-back games, and there’s no reason to think they can string back-to-back wins on this stage. Michigan started the season ranked No. 6 in the AP Top 25, but a heavy reliance on youngsters proved more of a problem than expected, and coach Juwan Howard’s postgame behavior drew more attention than anything his team has done on the pitch recently.

Six players to watch

Jared Rhoden, Seton Hall: Honored with the All-Big East first team, Rhoden is capable of exploding offensively as legends so often do in March. He scored 29 points on just 15 shots from the field against Ohio State in November and has scored 25 or more four times this season. Don’t be surprised if you look up and see this 6-foot-6 guard causing problems for TCU and/or Arizona in the first weekend.

Malachi Smith, Chattanooga: The Southern Conference Player of the Year is a 6-foot-4 physical guard who shoots an incredible 50.5% from the floor on 14.1 shots per game, which includes a 41.5% mark on 4, 2 3-point attempts. Smith can seriously fill it, and he’s a big reason the Mocs are a hot pick to upset fourth-seeded Illinois.

Josiah-Jordan James, Tennessee: The 6-foot-6 junior winger sometimes gets lost in the shuffle for the Volunteers, but his offensive emergence has been the driving force behind their 12-in-13-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Tournament. James’ size, versatility, defensive prowess and recent 3-point shooting skill make him an X-factor.

Jordan Walker, UAB: The C-USA Player of the Year is a “bucket,” as the kids say. He has two 40-point games this season and scored 27 in Saturday’s C-USA title game on just 11 shot attempts. He often goes to the free throw line and makes 88.3% of his attempts there. The 5-foot-11 guard also leads UAB in assists. It’s a March superstar waiting to happen.

Jameer Nelson Jr., Delaware: Does the name sound familiar to you? This might be for those who remember St. Joseph’s Elite Eight race in 2003. Nelson is the son of that team’s star, Jameer Nelson. Young Nelson is a guard, just like his dad, and he leads the Blue Hens in scoring. He’s hit double numbers in 12 of his last 13 games and will have Villanova’s attention.

David Roddy, Colorado State: At 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds, the Mountain West Player of the Year is a human bowling ball that presents game problems for everyone. Roddy scores at all three levels and does everything else for the Rams as well. Mountain West’s defenses know his game well and still can’t defend him. NCAA tournaments don’t know him well and don’t have much time to prepare for his unique skills.

Winner South Region

(1) Arizona: For a team as dominant as Arizona has been this season, the Wildcats have somewhat slipped off the radar due to playing in the Pac-12, which returned to mediocrity in 2021. make no mistake, however. Arizona is an elite college basketball team with all the makings of a national title winner. With an excellent duo of rim protectors in Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo, the Wildcats tick the defensive box. However, the offense is where they thrive. First-year coach Tommy Lloyd has implemented Gonzaga’s philosophy perfectly after a long career on the Zags staff, and he has a deep rotation of quality guards and wings capable of carrying it out. The group is led by a potential lottery pick in Bennedict Mathurin, and his top-notch talent is a key part of the formula.

The Wildcats have already faced two of their top competitors in the region, beating Illinois on the road. They lost in Tennessee, but the Volunteers went undefeated at home and a rematch on neutral ground would likely produce a different outcome. The No. 2 seed in that area, Villanova, would be unable to match Arizona on the inside, and it’s hard to imagine any of the other candidates having the talent to sustain that offense for 40 minutes. .