NCAA Bracket 2017: Complete Guide to South Region

Scott Phillips@@phillipshoopsFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2017

NCAA Bracket 2017: Complete Guide to South Region

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The South Region of the 2017 NCAA Tournament features some of the finest blue-blood programs in college basketball. The top three seeds have won a combined 24 national championships, and No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 UCLA all have the talent to win the region.

    With those three titans of college basketball all in the same region, it makes for a group that could see minimal upsets with regard to double-digit seeds appearing in the Sweet 16. 

    While last year's runner-up Tar Heels come in as the top seed, they lost to No. 2 seed Kentucky on a neutral floor during the regular season. Further complicating matters in the South Region is No. 3 seed UCLA beating No. 2 seed Kentucky on the road during the regular season.

    Since those were two of the best games that college basketball had to offer this season, it's fitting that those potential rematches could decide a trip to the Final Four.

    While the top-three seeds are the teams to talk about, you can never count out No. 4 Butler and teams like Wichita State, Wake Forest and Middle Tennessee—three of the most dangerous double-digit seeds in the field. 

    Here's a look at how things will break down in the South Region. 

Round-of-64 Schedule and TV Info

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    Kentucky's Malik Monk
    Kentucky's Malik MonkWade Payne/Associated Press

    Tuesday

    (Game in Dayton)

    Kansas State vs. Wake Forest (11), 9:10 p.m. EST, TruTV

     

    Thursday

    (Games in Milwaukee)

    Butler (4) vs. Winthrop (13)

    Minnesota (5) vs. Middle Tennessee (12),

     

    Friday

    (Games in Greenville)

    North Carolina (1) vs. Texas Southern (16)

    Arkansas (8) vs. Seton Hall (9)

     

    (Games in Indianapolis)

    Dayton (7) vs. Wichita State (10)

    Kentucky (2) vs. Northern Kentucky (15)

     

    (Games in Sacramento)

    Cincinnati (6) vs. Kansas State/Wake Forest (11)

    UCLA (3) vs. Kent State (14)

Must-See Games

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State

    Since the committee did Missouri Valley Conference champion Wichita State no favors with its No. 10 seed, we have two of the best mid-major programs in the country locking horns in the first round.

    Dayton and Wichita State should be familiar to veteran college basketball fans and casual fans filling out brackets alike since both the Flyers and Shockers have made deep runs the past few years.

    Even though the Shockers are the No. 8 overall team on KenPom.com, they were put as a No. 10 seed which makes Wichita State one of the most dangerous double-digit seeds in the field.

    This matchup could come down to depth. Wichita State can go 10 deep and throw multiple rotations of players at opponents to wear them down. Dayton has played a shorter rotation this season thanks to some injury issues.

    Wichita State also holds an advantage on the interior. Since the Shockers have more bodies, they don't have to be worried about foul trouble because they'll try to feed Shaquille Morris, Darral Willis and Markis McDuffie as much as possible.

    Dayton has an advantage on the perimeter with veterans like Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith and Kendall Pollard, but the Shockers can match up with players such as Landry Shamet and Conner Frankamp.

       

    No. 5 Minnesota vs. No. 12 Middle Tennessee

    The famous 5-12 matchup has a tremendous game here, as Minnesota battles Conference USA champion Middle Tennessee.

    The Golden Gophers were one of the biggest surprises of any team in the country this season, as they won 11 Big Ten games after winning only eight the previous two years combined. Head coach Richard Pitino has built a talented roster that features a potential star in sophomore Nate Mason and one of the nation's premier rim protectors in big man Reggie Lynch.

    Middle Tennessee already made its NCAA tournament presence felt last year, when it won as a No. 15 seed over national title hopeful Michigan State. The Blue Raiders return talented double-figure scorers in Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts from that team while Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams was the Conference USA Player of the Year.

    It's not often that a No. 12 seed from a one-bid league has more postseason experience than the No. 5 seed from the power conference, but Middle Tennessee will know what to expect in this one.

Top Storylines

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    Joel Berry II
    Joel Berry IIAssociated Press

    Can North Carolina Make Another Final Four Run?

    Although North Carolina lost in a heartbreaker to Villanova in the national championship game last season, not a lot of people seem to be talking about the Tar Heels making back-to-back Final Four runs.

    While the defending champion Wildcats are getting plenty of hype as the No. 1 overall seed, North Carolina has minimal buzz after an ACC Tournament loss to Duke.

    It would be silly to count out North Carolina in any way, shape or form. The Tar Heels have most of the core from last year's team and juniors Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II are both playing well down the stretch. If the Tar Heels get enough consistent perimeter shooting, they could well be back in the Final Four.

      

    Does Kentucky Keep Up Its Red-Hot Recent Play?

    Winners of 11 consecutive games entering the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky is playing as well as any team in the country. We've always known that head coach John Calipari had the talent on paper to make a national championship run, but this team is starting to look like it can do it.

    Freshman Malik Monk has been a national sensation this season thanks to some of his high-scoring games while fellow freshman backcourt running mate De'Aaron Fox is playing his best ball of the season down the stretch.

    With senior leaders, star power and a healthy amount of depth, Kentucky has everything it needs to make a Final Four run.

      

    How Does UCLA's Offense Translate in the NCAA Tournament?

    UCLA's offensive revolution has been one of the most fun things about college basketball this season. Ranking No. 3 in offensive efficiency, the Bruins took an offense that was already good and made it special by adding freshman point guard Lonzo Ball into the mix.

    Now that Ball is on the floor to find shooters and cutters with his unique vision, UCLA's offense is nearly unstoppable since they have so many capable offensive players. 

    But will that elite offense, and the faster tempo that UCLA likes to play, translate in the NCAA Tournament? We could see that answer as early as the second round if the Bruins have to face No. 6 seed Cincinnati. 

    We know that UCLA is most comfortable playing fast, but will the Bruins start to get tense if they're in a slower game and things are close in the final minutes? 

Stars to Watch

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    Lonzo Ball
    Lonzo BallMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Lonzo Ball, Point Guard, UCLA

    Lonzo Ball led the nation in assists per game as a true freshman this season and is a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. The former McDonald's All-American averaged 14.6 points, 7.7 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game as the Bruins had one of the most electric offenses in the country.

    Ball's basketball IQ and overall skill level have helped UCLA become a national threat once again after the team's disappointing sub-.500 2015-16 finish. 

      

    John Collins, Center, Wake Forest

    John Collins was an elite post scorer for the Demon Deacons this season as a sophomore and is one of the nation's most improved players. Putting up 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, Collins was a double-double machine despite the Demon Deacons playing the No. 16 schedule in the country.

    Facing constant pressure and collapsing double teams, Collins still managed to shoot 62 percent from the floor this season.

      

    Justin Jackson, Small Forward, North Carolina

    Already solid as a sophomore, Justin Jackson returned for his junior season with an improved overall scoring package. Putting up 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, he was one of the ACC's elite players this season, as he did damage scoring the ball at multiple levels of the floor.

    Jackson's mid-range game is polished for a college player, and he's improved his three-point shooting to 37 percent from 29 percent last season.

      

    Malik Monk, Guard, Kentucky

    Other star players are more consistent. But nobody else in the country is the flaming supernova that Malik Monk becomes when he gets hot. True freshmen aren't supposed to score 47 points against North Carolina—or put up 30 points in a single half. 

    Monk did all of that this season, as he averaged 20.5 points per game while thrilling fans with his highlight-reel dunks and deep threes. Monk is perhaps the tournament's most dangerous individual player.

Favorites Most Likely to Fall

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Minnesota

    One of the best stories in college basketball this season thanks to a great year-to-year turnaround, the Golden Gophers received no favors when the committee matched them up with No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee in the first round.

    Although Minnesota played pretty well down the stretch in the Big Ten after losing five straight in the middle of conference play, they have lost two out of three games entering the tournament.

    With senior Akeem Springs also going down with a season-ending knee injury during the Big Ten Tournament, the Golden Gophers find themselves with a shorter rotation, as sophomore Dupree McBrayer will get a bigger role. 

    Minnesota would already be a team on upset alert, but facing a dangerous team like Middle Tennessee makes that 5-12 matchup a near coin flip.

     

    Cincinnati 

    Cincinnati has put together a solid season in the American, as the Bearcats rank in the top 35 in both offensive and defensive efficiency

    But they also have one of the weakest profiles of any NCAA Tournament team, as they only have four wins against teams that are in this year's field. When two of those wins came against No. 16 seed Texas Southern and No. 11 seed Xavier, then you can see why riding with Cincinnati is a bit concerning.

    When the Bearcats play either Kansas State or Wake Forest in the first round, they'll be playing a team that faced a much tougher schedule than they did during the season. A game with the Demon Deacons could also be concerning since Wake Forest big man John Collins would be the best player on the floor.

    Since the First Four games started being played in Dayton and the field was expanded to 68 in 2011, one play-in team has advanced to the Round of 32 in every tournament. Don't be surprised if Cincinnati is the team that helps keep that streak alive.

Most Likely Cinderella

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    Eric Schultz/Associated Press

    Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

    The Blue Raiders became a national story last season when they knocked off No. 2 seed Michigan State as a No. 15 seed in one of the biggest first-round upsets of all time.

    This year's version of Middle Tennessee is even better than last season's team.

    Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts are both back from that group as veteran double-figure scorers, and the Blue Raiders added a major piece in Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams.

    Eligible after sitting out last year because of NCAA transfer rules, Williams made his presence felt in a major way during his only season at Middle Tennessee. The senior was named Conference USA Player of the Year after averaging 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. 

    Between the trio of Williams, Upshaw and Potts, the Blue Raiders have a group of players that can compete with nearly anyone in the field.

    With a solid offense and defense that both rank in the top 55 on KenPom.com, Middle Tennessee doesn't have many holes and has more NCAA tournament experience than first-round opponent Minnesota. 

    Conference USA's only bid has won in the first round of the NCAA Tournament the last two years, and Middle Tennessee will be looking to make it three years running.

Who Will Make the Sweet 16?

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    North Carolina Tar Heels

    The Tar Heels don't have the easiest first-round opponent in SWAC champion Texas Southern, but North Carolina is too disciplined to falter.

    Second-round matchups for North Carolina will be all about stopping talented opposing big men in either Arkansas senior Moses Kingsley or Seton Hall junior Angel Delgado. Many teams would have problems handling those two elite big men, but the Tar Heels have too many bodies and too much experience. 

      

    Butler Bulldogs

    Butler's first-round matchup with Winthrop could be interesting since the Bulldogs struggle with quicker guards who can attack the basket. The Eagles have a senior who can do just that in Keon Johnson. The lightning-quick Johnson dropped 40 in a road win at Illinois, but the Bulldogs should have ample time to prepare to slow him down and advance.

    If the Bulldogs play Minnesota or Middle Tennessee, they'll be favored, but both matchups could be tough. But with Butler having so much balance on both ends of the floor, they should advance to the Sweet 16. 

      

    UCLA Bruins

    With a favorable location in Sacramento, the Bruins have the easiest travel road of anyone in their pod, as their offense should overwhelm Kent State in the first round.

    The second-round matchup with either Cincinnati or Kansas State/Wake Forest could be interesting, but the Bruins have the kind of offensive firepower that the Bearcats haven't seen in the AAC this season. John Collins of Wake Forest could be a tough matchup for UCLA down low, but the Demon Deacons also can't seem to get over the hump against elite teams.

    UCLA advances to Memphis.

      

    Kentucky Wildcats

    Kentucky, playing some of the best basketball of any team in the country, is firing on all cylinders. Facing Northern Kentucky in Indianapolis will be a fun, local story for the Bluegrass State, but the Wildcats should have little trouble with their neighbor.

    If Kentucky gets Wichita State in the second round, it could wind up being one of the better games of the tournament. A rematch of another epic second-round slugfest that saw Kentucky end Wichita State's unbeaten regular season in 2014, this time the tables have turned, as Kentucky is the better seed.

    Although Wichita State is way better than a No. 10 seed. It also doesn't have the type of team that can slow down De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk the way they are playing.

The Elite 8 Matchup Will Be...

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    James Crisp/Associated Press

    The South Region is unique in this NCAA tournament because we've already seen so many matchups among the top-three seeds.

    No. 2 seed Kentucky beat No. 1 seed North Carolina on a neutral court earlier this season, while No. 3 seed UCLA bested the Wildcats on the road. So we already have a bit of a feel for how things might play out once we reach the Sweet 16. 

    North Carolina should be able to handle anyone it faces in the top half of the bracket in the South Region. After two winnable first-weekend games, the Tar Heels would get another opponent that fits them well in No. 4 seed Butler. With an advantage in size and athleticism, North Carolina should be able to pound the interior and take down the Bulldogs.

    The potential Kentucky and UCLA rematch will be one of the biggest spotlight games of the tournament. Not only is there intrigue because it is a rematch between two teams that played a great game earlier this season, but the casual fan will also be roped in by the likes of Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo all playing.

    Although the Bruins won at Rupp Arena when these teams played earlier this season, Kentucky is a different team with Fox playing at such a high level. Adebayo would also be motivated to face UCLA freshman big man T.J. Leaf again after Leaf got the best of him in their first matchup.

    Since Kentucky is hotter than any team in the country, they'd get the best of UCLA in the rematch.  

    North Carolina will get a chance at revenge against Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

And the Final Four Team Is...

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    As one of the hottest teams entering the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Kentucky is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time. We already knew this team was a national championship contender on paper because of its wealth of talent, but the Wildcats are also coming together and playing some scary ball.

    Since Kentucky already beat North Carolina at a neutral site earlier this season, we know it can beat the Tar Heels in a potential Elite Eight game—and the Wildcats are playing even better than before. While freshman Malik Monk can't be expected to drop 47 points again, point guard De'Aaron Fox is playing with a ton of confidence, and he's built a great chemistry with big man Bam Adebayo.

    Kentucky's main pieces might be young, but seniors like Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins have been in a lot of NCAA Tournament battles before, and they can help guide this team along the way.

    With the highest ceiling of any team in the South Region, everything comes together for Kentucky as it advances to Glendale, Arizona.

      

    All advanced statistics courtesy of KenPom.com.