The South region is where the No. 1 overall Florida Gators reside, but there are plenty of other storylines to follow.
Questions about Joel Embiid’s back will hover over No. 2 Kansas all tournament, No. 3 Syracuse is trying to snap out of its slump and an in-state battle between No. 6 Ohio State and No. 11 Dayton headlines the round of 64 action.
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With all that in mind, let’s dig into a few bold predictions for the South region.
No. 3 Syracuse Loses to No. 14 Western Michigan
It hasn’t been the end of season that Jim Boeheim was looking for from his Syracuse team.
After peaking in the middle of the Atlantic Coast Conference campaign with an emotional home win over Duke, the Orange have been caught in a free fall, losing five of their last seven games heading into the NCAA tournament.
Even Boston College and Georgia Tech knocked off the Orange in the final few games.
Western Michigan is coming into the Big Dance with confidence after winning the Mid-American Conference title.
What’s more, the Broncos have a threat on the perimeter in David Brown and on the block in Shayne Whittington.
At 6’11”, Whittington will pose as a problem on the boards for Syracuse. He can even stretch his offensive game behind the three-point line if necessary, but against the 2-3 zone, he will likely be asked to find holes in the mid-range area.
Brown averaged nearly 20 points a night this season and will create opportunities for himself and teammates by penetrating against the 2-3 zone.
While everyone points to the need to hit outside shots against Syracuse—which Brown can do—the most efficient way to beat a zone is by slashing into the middle, opening up the rest of the floor.
Western Michigan will do just that and send shockwaves through the South region by upsetting the Orange.
No. 7 New Mexico Eliminates No. 2 Kansas in the Round of 32
If Kansas were at full strength, it would handle New Mexico in this hypothetical round of 32 matchup.
However, the absence of Embiid will define this game.
New Mexico is incredibly tall, and its size and length will disrupt the Jayhawks on both ends of the floor. Cameron Bairstow stands at 6’9” and averages 20.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game, while Alex Kirk checks in at 7’0" and averages 13.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and an impressive 2.7 blocks a game.
Without Embiid in the rotation, the Jayhawks will struggle to keep the Lobos off the glass, which will lead to second-chance opportunities.
What’s more, the lengthy and athletic Kendall Williams, who averages 16.4 points, 4.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, is an ideal candidate to at least slow down Andrew Wiggins.
Regardless of what happens, New Mexico coach Craig Neal has a team he can be proud of heading into the Big Dance.
"I got terrific kids, a terrific team that's believed in me, taking over a team that won back-to-back regular season and tournament championships. This is our third one. It's very special to me," he told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
No. 4 UCLA Gives No. 1 Florida a Scare in the Sweet 16
UCLA has a very underrated offense that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves on a national level.
The Bruins, who beat Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game, check in at No. 14 in kenpom.com's pace-adjusted offensive efficiency rankings thanks to the combination of Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Norman Powell and Zach LaVine.
Adams averages 17.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.7 steals per game, while Anderson stuffs the stat sheet with 14.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.8 steals a contest behind a blistering 48.1 percent shooting clip from downtown.
LaVine and Powell are also double-digit scorers.
The thing that makes UCLA so dangerous is the athleticism it brings to the table across the board. All of those players can slash to the rim or shoot over the top of defenders and are quick enough to stay in front of their man on the defensive end.
Even Tony Parker has the occasional productive streak down low.
Ultimately, Florida has too much talent for the Bruins, but UCLA will give it a scare for 40 minutes.
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