Is it that time of year again? Heck yeah it is. The 68 most deserving teams have almost all been selected, but the committee decimating the dreams of college kids and costing institutions millions of dollars worth of free advertising isn't going to get in the way of our having a good time, right? Today and tomorrow we'll be breaking down each region for you; by the time the play-in games are over and you've put in your order for hot wings, we'll have you prepped for action.
The South Region is the home of this year's top seed and perennial tournament underachiever Kansas, as well as a Villanova squad that has had their own struggles getting out of the first weekend regularly. In fact, the sixth seeded Arizona Wildcats were the most successful team in this bracket last year, albeit with a much different group of players than this batch. All that makes this a region full of teams with limited March experience with few proven performers among them.
Overseeded: #10 Temple
The Owls arrive as the regular season champions of the mighty AAC, which according to at least (and likely at most) one deluded elf of a coach is about on level with winning the ACC. Temple's best out of conference win was Minnesota? LaSalle? Anyway, not anyone good and they are in the field because they went 4-1 against UConn and Cincinnati. Their loss to East Carolina was apparently not enough to keep them out, but I remain entirely unconvinced by their resume.
Underseeded: #7 Iowa
The Hawkeyes were sitting pretty battling for a 2 seed a few short weeks ago until a skid which has seen them lose 5 out of 6, 3 of which were to non-tournament teams started. Still this is a squad that swept Michigan State, Purdue, and Michigan and lost to Dayton, Notre Dame, and Iowa State by a total of 12 for their only 3 non conference losses. The committee saw a team that was limping in to post season play and failed to reward them for an impressive regular season of work.
Easy to Like: #2 Villanova
Villanova has been the lone program from the old days of the Big East to carry on the league's profile on the national stage, and for that X fans should be glad. Jay Wright is about as classy of a coach as you will find at a national power, and his recruits are typically team-oriented players who become greater than the sum of their parts. Nova and the conference have taken some stick in recent years because of their performance in March, so it is easy to hope that this is the year Wright and the Wildcats get it done and make another Final Four.
Easy to Hate: #6 Arizona
Arizona has a basic tactic when playing a team with some chance of catching them in talent: bring the pace of the game to a screeching halt. Against teams in the tournament field, only 3 of Arizona's 8 games featured more than 67 possessions. Simply put, they play keep away in an attempt to throw off their opponent, dragging the game into a slog and hoping for the best. Beyond that, I am still just as invested in my Sean Miller hate as ever and they ended Xavier's season last year, so I think it would be morally wrong for me not to hate them.
Danger Team: #11 Wichita State
The Shockers rode their luck on the bubble this season, but were afforded the benefit of the doubt by the committee due to their unlucky injury record this year. When Fred Van Vleet went down, their chances at a couple of good out of conference wins went by the wayside, but they were still able to take down Utah and go to overtime with Seton Hall in his absence. They have a backcourt that has made tournament runs in the past and are still led by Gregg Marshall, who has been at his best as an underdog in the tournament. They might not light up the scoreboard, but they are able to slow the pace on just about anyone and play smothering defense. The Shockers might not be the unknown quantity they once were, but they are capable of making another run to the second weekend this year.]
Fun to Watch: #13 Hawaii
Do you love high tempo and an abundance of three point shots? Watch Xavier play Villanova! Or you can watch the Rainbow Warriors who run and gun fearlessly, despite the fact they don't do either terribly well. They take about 40% of their shots from beyond the arc, but shoot under 33% from that range. They also are aggressive on the defensive end, stealing and blocking shots at top 100 rates nationally. Hawaii may not give Cal a run for their money, but you can be almost sure they will go out with a bang.
Best Matchup: #6 Arizona vs. #11 Wichita St./Vanderbilt
Both Wichita State and Vanderbilt play excellent defense both inside and outside the arc, but in different ways. Wichita State is aggressive about making the first shot a bad one and the only one their opponent will get. They are in the top 10 in EFG%, TO%, and DReb%, meaning that they don't give up a lot of clean chances. Meanwhile Vandy is even meaner on outside shooters, forcing a 29% clip from beyond the arc, but do not turn opponents over or rebound well. Arizona likes to slow the game down, something both these teams are comfortable doing, and if they slow it down and cannot find good shots, they will be playing right into their opponent's game plan, whomever that may be.
Player to Watch: Ivan Rabb, California
At 6'11" 220 lbs, Rabb is an imposing figure on the inside, and lives up to whatever intimidation he causes at first sight. He has gone for double digits in the last 7 games, 3 of which have been double-doubles. He is in the top 150 on the boards at both ends and is the type of player that can score freely from the post due to his already developing array of moves down there. Rabb is still only a freshman, and is surely tapped for an early exit from Cal, but this tournament will be his chance to make himself known on a national stage.