Making it through the South region will require plenty of firepower. Seven teams rank inside the top 20 in offensive efficiency. Teams in this region drop buckets like Liam Neeson drops henchmen that attempt to mess with his family. It's precise and effective and often time ends with the opposition wondering why they got them started in the first place. Kansas earned the number one overall seed and the number one seed in this region. But, they weren't exactly given a cupcake slate. Teams like California and Maryland pose big time threats with NBA talent. Arizona produced another good year in the Pac-12. Miami looked like the best team in the ACC for large portions of the season. And Villanova likely joins Kansas on the one line if Kris Jenkins' last heave in the Big East Tournament Final finds the bottom of the net. This is staunch opposition for a top seed. However, just about every team outside of the Jayhawks have one other thing in common, inconsistency. All of their biggest competition this season have shown the ability to struggle against teams they shouldn't. They've shown flashes of brilliance followed by periods of concern. Even 29-win Villanova, which prides itself on consistency, had that bizarre blowout at the hands of Oklahoma early in the season. There are some stumbling blocks in place for Kansas, and plenty of teams that have proven they can win at a high level. But, this has been one of Bill Self's most impressive head coaching jobs. This year's version of the Jayhawks isn't full of NBA-ready talent. Kansas plays great team basketball, and Self has proven himself to be a fantastic in-game tactician. He's found a way to expose their opponents flaws and attack them relentlessly. There are more talented teams in college and even in their region, but Kansas might be the most complete team in the entire tournament.
Players To Watch:
There's no shortage of NBA talent and plenty of individual stars. California alone boasts two probable lottery picks in Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. Rabb is a monster in the post, and even though he's a freshman he's been putting up numbers since day one. Brown has been a bit more inconsistent and struggled with his shot selection at times, but when he plays under control he's one of the most unguardable players in the country. There's several fun players on Maryland, but Melo Trimble is my personal favorite. He's improved his distribution skill ten-fold this season to go with his super-advanced scoring skills. He's a brilliant combo-guard playing in a tournament known for making stars out of guys with his skill set. There's a lot of players I could mention for the fourth spot, but Jarrod Uthoff has blossomed into one of the best players in the country. He slumped mightily in February, but this senior All-American is just a few baskets in a row from turning back into his world-beating self. At 6-9 with a deadly combination of athleticism and shooting he's a match-up nightmare capable of dragging the Hawkeyes deep into March by himself.
Vulnerable high seeds:
This is the rare region that I really like all of the high seeds, but if push comes to shove the Big 10 combo of Iowa and Maryland are the most vulnerable. The Hawkeyes haven't played like a 7 seed or even a tournament team in a month. Their shooting is off. Their ball movement is off. Their defense has collapsed. It's been a brutal stretch, and if they continue to play like this they'll exit quickly. Maryland is another team that didn't finish the season strong. However, they showed signs of a rebound during the conference tournament. If they face a team that gets up on them early and negates their big men inside the Terps could find themselves in big trouble.
Upset-Minded low seeds:
There's not a ton of excitement in the bottom part of this bracket, but Wichita State could be very intriguing on the 11-line. It's an experienced team with a history of pulling March upsets. Most of their losses came early in the season without Fred Van Vleet. Take a player of his caliber off the roster of even the best team in the country and they'll struggle. And struggle the Shockers did. However, they rebounded and won the MVC regular season title. They'll play Vanderbilt in the play-in game, which is a team that is lucky to even be in the field. Then it's a date with Arizona who likes to score in bunches. The Shockers have the number one defensive efficiency rating in the country. If they slow it down and force the Wildcats to grind out possessions they could find themselves making yet another March run.
This is one of the toughest regions to call, but I'm going with California. I think the Bears lottery pick duo continues to find their stride. Maryland's guards struggle to keep up, and Kansas doesn't have enough top end talent to match their fire-power. An elite eight rumble with Villanova or Miami would be intriguing, but ultimately both teams lack the inside punch to hang with Rabb on the blocks.