The South Region is home to a number of teams that play very different styles of basketball. Teams like Arizona, Alabama, NC State, Missouri, and Charleston love to push the pace all ranking inside the top 100 in tempo. On the other hand, we have Virginia who plays at the slowest pace in the country as well as San Diego State, UCSB, and Maryland who also rank near the bottom. This region is also home to some top future NBA talent and should be full of exciting games and matchups.
Why #1 Seed Alabama Wins
There is a lot to like about the Alabama team. For starters, they have the top NBA prospect in all of college basketball in Brandon Miller. Miller has had one of the best freshmen seasons we’ve seen over the last couple of years. His on-court performance has been overshadowed at times by off-the-court issues but I don’t think anyone can deny that on the court Brandon Miller has been phenomenal. For Alabama though it’s not just Miller that makes this team so good. Head coach Nate Oats has done a great job bringing in talent through the transfer portal over the last couple of years. Noah Gurley, Jahvon Quinerly, and Mark Sears have all come in from other schools over the last two seasons and made a massive impact in Tuscaloosa. Oates has also brought in a ton of talented freshmen like Brandon Miller who we mentioned earlier as well as Jaden Bradley and Noah Clownery. A mix of talented freshmen as well as experienced starters is often something you look for when trying to identify a potential national champion and there is no doubt that Alabama has that. They are also an extremely well-balanced team. They rank 3rd in the country in defensive efficiency and rank 19th in offensive efficiency. They also are the best rebounding team in the entire country. They pull down an average of 44.4 boards per game which is 4 more than any other team in the country. Now as a bonus for this Alabama team, their first two games will be played in Birmingham, Alabama just under an hour away from Tuscaloosa. So, a quick recap. Alabama is a deep team with experience and NBA talent that is extremely good on both ends of the floor and rebounds better than anyone in the country and will be playing home games in the first two rounds. There is a lot to like about this Alabama team.
Why #1 Seed Alabama Won’t Win
One thing that worries me the most about this Alabama team is their turnover differential. The Tide turn the ball over on 19% of their possessions and only forced turnovers on 16% of their defensive possessions. That ranks outside of the top 230 in the country in both those stats. Every team in the region with the exception of Alabama, Arizona, and Creighton rank inside the top 150 in creating turnovers. Now of course that is not the only stat that matters in basketball and Alabama has statistical advantages in a lot of other categories, but it is one that teams could look to exploit to pull an upset. Another thing to worry about with this Alabama team is their reliance on their freshman. Brandon Miller takes 22.5% of all of Alabama’s shots and has accounted for 24% of their scoring this season. Miller is a star and has been fantastic all year but there have been plenty of freshmen just as good or even better than Miller who have struggled in the NCAA Tournament. While none of these weaknesses should raise the panic meter too high for Bama fans, they are things to look out for.
Sweet 16 Sleeper
The Missouri Tigers are an elite offensive team ranking 10th in the nation in offensive efficiency and put up 79.5 points per game which ranks 29th in the country. They are led by senior guard Kobe Brown who has taken a massive step forward as a scorer this year. In his first three years at Missouri, Brown shot around 45% overall and just around 23% from behind the three-point line. This year that all changed, and Brown is shooting 44.7% from three and 55.2% overall. This bump in percentage isn’t from cutting down on shots either. Brown took a career-high amount of FGs and Threes and has hit at a much higher rate. Brown is surrounded by a combo of 6 juniors and seniors who are all versatile scorers. What makes this team really interesting however, is their defense. They allow 74.6 points per game which ranks just 306th in the country but force just over 17 turnovers which ranks 9th in the country and is the most by any team in the tournament. What that shows is this is an ultra-aggressive defense that plays a high-risk high reward style. With a defense that gives up so many points, it’s far from a guarantee but if Missouri is shooting well and creating turnovers there aren’t many teams that will be able to keep up with them. One team that doesn’t fear shootouts is the Arizona Wildcats who the Tigers would most likely have to play in the second round. However, while Arizona also has an elite offense, they have an extremely weak defense that doesn’t create many turnovers and are also fairly loose with the ball on offense which would favor the Tigers. It will require a bit of luck but the in March teams that play this high-risk high reward style and get hot at the right time often end up going on runs so we’ll see if Mizzou is one of those teams.
Final Four Sleeper
It’s hard to see anyone outside of Alabama or Arizona making it out of this region but a 1 or 2 seed isn’t a sleeper so let’s take a look at a longshot. Creighton has been one of my favorite teams to watch all season long. They play a really fun style of basketball that is well-balanced and steady. Creighton is a team with a lot of size that shoots the ball very well and is solid on the defensive end. The team is anchored by back-to-back Big East Defensive Player of the Year, center Ryan Kalkbrenner. Kalkbrenner is an imposing presence in the paint. At 7’ 1,” Kalkbrenner ranked 19th in the country in blocked shots averaging 2.2 swats per game. Kalkbrenner also leads the team in scoring and is a strong post-scorer. Kalkbrenner is surrounded by the three highest-ranked recruits in school history in sophomores Arthur Kaluma, Ryan Nembhard, and Trey Alexander as well as one of the nation’s top transfers Baylor Scheierman. All four shoot the ball very well and outside of PG Ryan Nembhard, all have great size. If the Bluejays can get past NC State I think Creighton would have an excellent chance to get past the Baylor Bears and into the Sweet 16. Kalkbrenner would be a nightmare for Baylor to guard who have an extremely weak frontcourt this season. I think NC State will actually be a tougher matchup for the Bluejays than Baylor would be although I think Creighton is more than capable of getting through both.
Top 1st Round Matchup
(6) Creighton vs (11) NC State
As soon as I saw this matchup announced during the selection show I already couldn’t wait. This game has serious potential to be the most exciting game of the entire first round. Creighton is an extremely well-balanced team that spreads the ball, plays at an average tempo, and gets contributions from all five of their starters. NC State on the other hand is a team that relies heavily on its guards and likes to push the pace and get out in transition more than almost anyone in the country. Guards Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner are lightning-quick dynamic shot-makers who are not afraid to let it fly from deep or attack anyone off the dribble. Joiner and Smith also have a steady option to kick out to in sharpshooter Casey Morsell who has shot 40.7% from behind the three-point line this year. This game features many great positional battles. NC State’s guards will face off against Creighton’s guard duo of Ryan Nembhard and Trey Alexander. Nembhard and Alexander are very good players but are not as dynamic or athletic as Joiner and Smith so it will be interesting to see if Creighton will be able to slow them down. While those four battle around the perimeter another battle will be going on in the paint between Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner and NC State’s D.J. Burns Jr. Burns is a unique player. Standing at 6’ 9” and 275 pounds you’d probably think he played on the football team. For his size, Burns has incredible footwork and great touch around the basket. As good as Burns is he is going up against back-to-back Big East DPOY who has also been named a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award given to the nation’s top center. While those two matchups will be extremely close Creighton will have an advantage on the wings. Arthur Kaluma and Baylor Scheierman will need to take advantage if Creighton wants to win this one because NC State doesn’t really have anyone that can hang with them. Overall, I think Creighton is the better team and as long as they stay out of foul trouble they should be able to pull out a win but NC State will not make things easy and are more than capable of winning this game.
Best Under the Radar Matchup
(3) Baylor vs (14) UC Santa Barbara
When you’re filling out your bracket don’t write off the 14-seed Gauchos just yet. While they haven’t faced much tough competition at all this year, they do have an edge against Baylor in one key area. Baylor will go as far as their outstanding trio of guards can take them and all three are elite 3-point shooters. Baylor makes the 14th most threes per game in the country and relies on threes for a lot of their offense. UCSB on the other hand allows the 27th fewest amount of threes in the country. On offense, UCSB finds a lot of success scoring in the paint. This is an area Baylor has struggled to defend this year. UCSB defiantly matches up well against the Bears but have not played against a team ranked inside the top 100 all year long and have 6 quad three and four losses. Baylor has a ton of talent which may overwhelm the Gauchos but the gameplan is defiantly there to give Baylor a scare.
Top Potential Player Matchup
Terquavion Smith vs Keyonte George
What a second-round matchup this would be if NC State and Baylor win their opening-round games. This year’s draft class is loaded with guards and George and Smith are two of the best out there. Both are versatile and dynamic scorers who can score from anywhere on the floor. Neither are elite defenders yet, although George is probably a little more developed on that end, so both would be able to show off their elite offensive ability. While these two would be the headliners both teams have other outstanding guards that would face off in this one. NC State’s Jarkel Joiner and Baylor’s LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler are also exciting players who are all capable of taking over a game.
Top 5 NBA Prospects
1. Brandon Miller, F, Alabama Crimson Tide
Brandon Miller is not just the top prospect in the region but the top prospect in all of college basketball. At 6’ 9” Miller has an elite combination of size, ball handling, and shooting ability. He has drawn a lot of comparisons to last year’s number three overall pick Jabari Smith and for good reason. Miller is an elite three-point shooter that can also attack the rim and score off the dribble. His length and athletic ability make him a strong defender that is capable of getting steals and blocks and can also guard more than one position. Miller will be a top 5 pick over the summer with the potential to go as high as 3rd overall.
Player Comp: Brandon Ingram with Kevin Durant-level potential
2. Keyonte George, G, Baylor Bears
Covering the Big 12 this year I’ve gotten to watch a lot of Keyonte George and I absolutely love his potential. He is an absolute scoring machine. He’s an elite shooter that can hit from anywhere and is not afraid to drive and finish at the rim. George has extremely talented, but he does have some weaknesses in his game. He has a tendency to play out of control sometimes on offense and force some bad shots. His insane talent as a scorer can sometimes bail him out of those situations but he would often be better off looking to find an open man in some of those situations. When George is in the zone smooth is the perfect word to describe his game. When he is on, he just looks so comfortable and in control, and if he could just find that mode a little more consistently, he will be a problem in the NBA. He’ll no doubt be a lottery pick and could sneak inside the top 10.
3. Terquavion Smith, G, NC State Wolfpack
Smith is an electric player to watch. He’s an extremely dynamic athlete and uses his athleticism to create space and get shots off. He does most of his scoring off of three-point shooting and mid-range jumpers. He can get in the lane and attack the rim but doesn’t often due to being a bit underweight. He’s 6’ 4” which is great size for a point guard but only 165 pounds which could be a problem when he reaches the NBA. Smith is a high-volume shooter and while he does knock down a lot of shots, he also takes some that are a little questionable. While he does take excellent care of the ball, he is not an elite passer which is another thing he could improve on. Smith will most likely be taken in the first round, but I expect him to go outside of the lottery.
4. Noah Clowney, F, Alabama Crimson Tide
Noah Clowney is another Alabama freshman having a strong season. He’s been a bit overshadowed by Brandon Miller, but Clowney is having a really solid season averaging 10 points and 8 rebounds a game. Clowney is a guy that plays really hard and crashes the glass on both ends of the floor and defends really well. At 6’ 10,” he’s a really good shot blocker and is a strong athlete who can move well and defend the paint and guard out on the perimeter. On offense, Clowney is a solid post player who can handle the ball and shoot better than most big men but is in no way elite at either. He has the potential to be a good floor spacing option for an NBA team but needs to improve his shooting in order to play at the NBA level. Clowney will most likely be taken in the late 1st or early 2nd round.
5. Azulas Tubelis, F, Arizona Wildcats
Tubelis is one of the most unique fun to watch players in all of college basketball. The 6’ 11” 245-pound power forward is not your typical back-to-the-basket big. Tubelis is a player that can get out in transition and run the floor as well as attack the basket. He is not the typical NBA stretch four however because he still does most of his scoring in and around the paint and not from behind the three-point line. Tubelis is a strong rebounder but needs to improve a lot as a defender. As smooth as he is with the ball at times he’s not an elite athlete and that can hurt him on defense. His unique offensive and playmaking ability will make him an intriguing 2nd round prospect but unless he can improve on defense, he will have trouble sticking around in the NBA.