The South region of the 2018 NCAA Tournament houses No. 1 overall seed Virginia. It also features second-seeded Cincinnati, which won 30 games (including its conference regular-season and tournament titles), as well as blue bloods Arizona (No. 4) and Kentucky (No. 5), which have multiple players that will be drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft. Meanwhile, Tennessee can be dangerous but is a weak No. 3 seed.
This region is deep and has several contenders that can advance to the Final Four, as arguments can be made for teams such as UVA, ‘Zona and UK having the talent and ability to cut down the nets, while Cincinnati and Tennessee can be dangerous with improved shooting. Virginia against the winner of Arizona-Kentucky would be a dynamite Sweet 16 contest.
It’s crazy to think that Arizona-Kentucky is a potential round-of-32 game, but that’s exactly the scenario that can arise if both teams win their opening matchups. Arizona’s 7-foot-1 Deandre Ayton is a possible No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, and he has been tabbed as the next Joel Embiid. He has a star running mate, too, in Allonzo Trier.
Meanwhile, UK is led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and a cast of youngsters that are on the radars of NBA scouts. It will be interesting to see if Jarred Vanderbilt can come back for UK. The 6-foot-9 athletic freshman missed the SEC Tournament after spraining an ankle, but he was a key contributor to the team’s strong play late in the year. His offensive rebounding prowess could provide key second-chance opportunities in close games.
As for Jim Larranaga and No. 6 Miami, the Hurricanes face a very difficult opening test against Loyola (IL), which is in the Big Dance for the first time since 1985 and remains the only Illinois-based men’s college hoops team to claim a national title. The Ramblers haven’s lost since January, while the Hurricanes have not been the same type of team since losing sophomore guard Bruce Brown to injury.
Meanwhile, as dangerous as Tennessee can be, the Volunteers could struggle against Scott Nagy’s No. 14 seed Wright State as well as in the round-of-32 against the 11th-seeded Ramblers if they pull off the upset over the ‘Canes.
Potential Cinderellas: It is easily Loyola, which won 28 games, because it has a deep pool of dangerous perimeter shooters and some of the best passers in the region. Along with big man Cameron Krutwig, the Ramblers are difficult to guard. But the overlooked aspect of this team is the way it competes on the defensive end, and it has a good chance of knocking off Miami if it can force turnovers.
Meanwhile, Davidson has been on the big stage before under Bob McKillop, whose team is once again fun to watch on the offensive end with precision passing and strong shooting. The No. 12 Wildcats will give Kentucky’s Wildcats a test, but UK will have such an advantage athletically.
Other notes: Shaka Smart’s Texas squad really struggles from long range and at the free-throw line, but the Longhorns do have future NBA lottery pick Mo Bamba. Still, those shooting struggles likely will end up in a short stay.
Nevada junior Jordan Caroline will give Texas all it can handle after leading the regular-season Mountain West champions to the tournament. He has logged five straight games of 20-plus points and will look to spur a 10-7 upset.
Virginia has two fewer losses than any other team in Division I as well as the ACC regular season and tournament championships, but the 31-2 Cavaliers still seem to be a bit overlooked despite being the top overall seed in this tournament. Can UVA get to the Final Four for the first time since 1984?
The selection committee didn’t do the Cavaliers any favors in this region, as Cincinnati’s defense is nasty, while Arizona and Kentucky are just about as talented and explosive as any group in the country.
My pick: Arizona