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2019 NCAA Tournament South Region preview

Two of the best forwards in the country and a Virginia team that made history last year feature in the South.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Kentucky vs Tennessee
Grant Williams is a menace.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Banners’ coverage of the 2019 NCAA Tournament! Here we will give you the same info that you can get hundreds of other places on the web processed slightly differently and with our own slant as you prepare to immerse yourself in all things college basketball in the most glorious four days on the sporting calendar. We will break the bracket down region by region to get you completely prepared to pick and, more importantly, root with the best information available.

Overseeded: #11 Saint Mary’s

Their entire resume is that they beat Gonzaga on a neutral court once. That was enough to win an auto bid, which is good for them, but I don’t see how they avoided Dayton they only avoided Dayton by getting that auto bid. I know tempo-free metrics love them, but I certainly don’t. Other than that Gonzaga win, their best wins are New Mexico State on a neutral court more than four months ago, at Loyola Marymount, at San Diego, and San Diego on a neutral site. Sounds like 13 seed material to me.

Underseeded: #5 Wisconsin

These guys are 23-10, but their schedule was not one to forgive them with a lot of easy wins. They were 10-8 in Q1 and 15-10 in the top 2 quadrants. Maybe if they had padded the schedule with easy wins, they’d have slid in a bit higher. They haven’t lost a regulation game to a team outside of KenPom’s top 25 since January 3rd. They picked up a lot of good wins, paired it with no bad losses, and their only loss by more than 8 came to Michigan State on a neutral court. They have a case for having gotten jobbed a bit.

Easy to like: #2 Tennessee

Texas - who you might recognize from the NIT - decided they were too good for Rick Barnes to coach them, but he has certainly landed on his feet with Tennessee. They have a bunch of veteran guys who weren’t really highly-rated recruits, but they’ve developed well as a team and individuals, and it’s all coming together now. If you’re not consistently pulling in five-star guys, this is your dream scenario. Plus, they have a guy called Admiral.

Fun to watch: #13 UC Irvine

Are you a fan of lockdown defense and hustle? Do you like great teamwork and bench depth? Is offense not really your thing? Boy, do we have a mid-major for you! The Anteaters (no, I swear) contest everything, and they do it hard. Their best offense is offensive rebounding, but they’re 5th in the nation in defensive EFG% and first in defensive 2P%. You’ve gotta earn every bucket against these dudes. Plus, they grind it out. They’ve won games by scoring 60, 52, 63, 66 (in OT!), and 60 again... and then they dropped 92 in the conference tournament final to win the auto bid. Gotta love it.

Easy to hate: #7 Cincinnati

UC wants to be everything UC Irvine is, but their coach is a pretend tough guy who loves nothing more than grandstanding in the media before taking no substantive action and blaming everyone but himself for anything that goes wrong. Maybe if he were tall enough to ride a roller coaster, he could relax a bit. Instead, he makes himself unlikable to the extent that he’s the least endearing sideline presence in a matchup that include Fran McCaffery.

Danger team: #5 Wisconsin

They’ve got a tough style to defend, an old-school back-to-the-basket big man who is one of the best in the nation, and a handful of dangerous shooters. If they get hot, they can ride to the Final Four. There’s also a chance they don’t get out of the first round, depending on which Oregon shows up. If you could win five games or zero, that makes you dangerous in a lot of different ways.

Best matchup: #7 Cincinnati v. #10 Iowa

Iowa hasn’t played good basketball for a month and has a coach who was recently suspended for being a wank. UC has two top-50 wins all year and has a coach who often threatens to suspend his players because he’s a wank.

Weirdly, I think this one comes down to officiating. Iowa’s defensive strategy is to not, but UC’s offensive strategy is basically to miss one shot and try to board. On the other end, Iowa lives at the line, and UC defends by daring the officials to call them all. If the refs decide to get a lot of TV time, the Hawkeyes will win this one via the free throw and Mick Cronin will have a new thing to whine about. If the crew made a dinner reservation they can’t miss, expect the Bearcats to win a rock fight.

Player to watch: Grant Williams, Tennessee

After being pretty dang good his first two seasons, Williams has blown up as a junior. He goes for 19.0/7.6/3.1 on .565/.341/.826 shooting and draws 7 fouls per 40 minutes of play. He distributes okay, never turns the ball over, scores in the post, off the bounce, and in the mid-range, and has just enough success from three to need marking out there. He’s a nightmare matchup, and he’s built like a brick outhouse. Also, he averages more than a steal and a block per game. Other than all that, he’s pretty pedestrian. It’s no coincidence that this dude has been SEC POY two years running.