NCAA Bracket 2019: Complete Guide to South Region
The Virginia Cavaliers are the early story of this NCAA tournament.
One season after becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to fall to a No. 16, Virginia might feel it has something to prove. With that in mind as CBS unveiled the brackets, I felt more than a little nauseated on behalf of poor Gardner-Webb, who I'll sincerely hope reaches the double-digit scoring mark in that opening game.
In all seriousness, all eyes will be on the Cavs—the top seed in the South Region this year. With its No. 1 overall placement on the KenPom.com efficiency rankings, UVA has the tools to do plenty of damage in this region and beyond.
But as you might imagine, all sorts of other pieces are in play in the South. How about the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats? What about a trio of formidable Big Ten squads in Purdue, Wisconsin and Iowa? And how about the team on the two-line—a very, very dangerous group of players from Knoxville, Tennessee?
I'm ready to break this the heck down. I'm ready for this tournament to get rolling. We're going to look at the best matchups, the teams and players to watch, some upset picks and some ideas about who will ultimately emerge. We have all the logistical details, too.
Ready? Let's get it on.
Round-of-64 Schedule and TV Info
(Games in Hartford, Connecticut)
No. 6 Villanova (Spread: -4.5) vs. No. 11 Saint Mary's, 7:20 p.m. ET, TBS
No. 3 Purdue (-12.5) vs. No. 14 Old Dominion, 9:50 p.m. ET, TBS
(Games in Columbia, South Carolina)
No. 1 Virginia (-24) vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb, 3:10 p.m. ET, TruTV
No. 8 Ole Miss (-1.5) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma, 12:40 p.m. ET, TruTV
(Games in San Jose, California)
No. 5 Wisconsin (-2.5) vs. No. 12 Oregon, 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS
No. 4 Kansas State (-5.5) vs. No. 13 UC Irvine, 2 p.m. ET, TBS
(Games in Columbus, Ohio)
No. 7 Cincinnati (-3) vs. No. 10 Iowa, 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 2 Tennessee (-17.5) vs. No. 15 Colgate, 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb
You knew this was coming.
You also know what you're getting with the Cavaliers, who continued a longstanding trend and led the nation by allowing a paltry 54.6 points a game. On 10 occasions, they held opponents below 50.
They should cruise past Gardner-Webb.
But given that shocking loss last year to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County—in which the Retrievers hit threes and used their own stifling defense to basically out-Virginia Virginia—this one isn't set until it's set. And don't think Gardner-Webb isn't emboldened by this matchup.
Virginia will have a huge albatross around its neck...until it can remove it.
No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Iowa
Don't be surprised if the Cincinnati Bearcats come out like a house on fire.
They finished 28-6, including eight wins in their last 10 contests and an American Athletic Conference tournament title over a Houston team that was No. 11 in the country at the time of the win. Jarron Cumberland might be one of the better players in the country hoopheads haven't heard of. They had a pretty decent case for a seeding much better than what they got.
I can't wait to see what they do to Iowa. The Hawkeyes specialize in that whole rock-fight thing Big Ten apologists love. It works well when your team is really good or you're playing a like-minded program. Sometimes, though, you can get yourself run off the court.
Iowa is battle-tested for sure, boasting a 22-11 record in the country's third-best conference, per RealTime RPI. I'm not saying this team will be an easy out. As opposed to Cincy, though, it finished its season with a 6-8 mark. That sets this up as a very interesting test between stylistically different conferences.
If this is a rock fight, someone's getting smashed.
What Will Virginia Do?
After last year's debacle, there was an idea that Virginia's vaunted pack-line defense might have been solved for good. Turns out that unless you can make half your threes, as UMBC did, you're really not going to make a ton of headway.
To put it another way, this is all on the favorites. Another 1985 Villanova-style, this-team-can't-miss scenario is unlikely. At the same time, Virginia has a history of postseason underachievement that predates 2018.
Just two seasons prior, with a loaded team led by future NBA mainstay Malcolm Brogdon, the top-seeded Cavs fell to No. 10 Syracuse in the Elite Eight. The season before that, No. 7 Michigan State knocked off second-seeded UVA before the Cavs could reach the second weekend. There are other examples.
No top-level college basketball team is more star-crossed than Virginia right now. So, you know, we'll see what it does.
Is Oregon Really the Nation's Hottest Team?
My goodness gracious have the Ducks been on a streak.
After storming out from essentially nowhere to capture the Pac-12 title, Oregon got love from television and online pundits alike as quite possibly the streaking-est team to be streaking right now. Are those actual words or concepts? Probably not. But I hope they're illustrative nevertheless.
You get that sort of love when you win out in your last eight, including an overtime victory over Arizona State before crushing Washington in the tourney final.
For sure, Oregon is playing shorthanded. Center Bol Bol (son of iconic NBA center Manute Bol) was the team leader in scoring and plenty of other categories, but he went down in January with a stress fracture and is out for the season.
Despite the loss, Oregon is flourishing. The great Payton Pritchard has certainly picked up a good deal of the slack that emerged following Bol's loss. The Ducks took down four opponents in four days to grab the Pac-12 title. Can they keep it going against a good but beatable team in Wisconsin?
Is it Happening to Kansas State Again?
You felt for Kansas State and forward Dean Wade last season when the star Wildcat sustained a foot injury just as March was getting serious.
The feet are again an issue at the worst possible time, as KSU takes a wait-and-see approach to the whole thing. The 6'10" forward and back-to-back All-Big 12 first-teamer averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds.
If Wade can't return, and the Wildcats can't recoup his loss, they may be a legitimate pick to be upset by UC Irvine. More on that in a moment.
Can Tennessee Get to Virginia?
Kentucky isn't its usual juggernaut self this year, but the Wildcats are a tough out nonetheless. They fell from this year's SEC tournament courtesy of one of this season's most underrated teams: the Volunteers of Tennessee.
The Vols sit at No. 8 in the overall KenPom efficiency rankings and check in third on the offensive side. Sure, they lost to Auburn in the SEC tournament finals—and Auburn is a tough team in its own right—but it's not altogether shocking that a loss might come one day after such an emotional win over Kentucky.
But as the KenPom rankings suggest, this isn't just another team. The Vols have confidence on the court. They know how to hit big shots. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams are as potent as any wing tandem in this country.
If Tennessee plays Virginia to reach the Final Four, that will be some kind of must-see TV, at least for this guy.
Stars to Watch
Payton Pritchard, G, Oregon
Pritchard is Oregon's clear top option after Bol's departure. He needed to step up, and he did.
Since Bol's injury in December, all the junior has done is score 12.7 points per game to lead the team alongside forward Louis King. He finished fourth in the conference with 4.5 assists per game and second with 1.9 steals each contest, per ESPN.
As Pritchard goes, so go the Ducks.
Jarron Cumberland, G, Cincinnati
There's a little less ambiguity on this one. Cumberland is the best player on the Bearcats, and he's good, and that's it.
The junior is third in the AAC with 18.4 points per game and 10th with 3.7 assists. He even chips in 4.4 rebounds per outing—good for third on this team, per ESPN.
Cumberland is key for the Bearcats. If the Hawkeyes can stop him, they win.
Grant Williams, SF, Tennessee
Everyone loves Admiral Schofield, if for no other reason than his name. It's a good name!
But if I'm picking teams, I want Grant Williams.
Williams leads the Vols in scoring (19.2) and rebounding (7.5). He's third on the team with 3.1 helpers per game. He plays inside, he plays outside and, if you want more evidence of his importance to this team, his 31.5 player efficiency rating, per Basketball Reference, is leaps and bounds above his teammates' scores.
Overall, he doesn't feel like the type to get rattled. If anyone's going to lead Tennessee to the promised land, it'll be Williams.
Favorites Most Likely to Fall
No. 4 Kansas State
You have to think the selection committee did this on purpose. A hobbled Kansas State program is now facing probably the most live dog in the field in UC Irvine. Or, as I like to call them, the Anteaters.
The Anteaters are tailor-made to be the super-trendy upset pick. And it makes sense. Both teams emphasize defense. While KSU clearly has a higher level of competition, they do rank below UC Irvine when it comes to scoring points, which I understand is important for game-winning.
UC Irvine is 163rd in Division 1 basketball with a measly 72.9 points per game. Meanwhile, KSU is 323rd with 65.8 points per contest. That's not the number you want to see if you want your team to win basketball games.
No. 6 Villanova
They're not a huge favorite here at No. 6, but their inevitable fall will nonetheless be notable because of their defending-champion status.
I do think they will advance, despite a first-round matchup with a Saint Mary's team fresh off a crushing of Gonzaga.
That feels more like a one-off than Villanova's success. Yes, the Wildcats are a No. 6 seed—not a high seed on paper. But any notion they might make a run could be stopped when they hit the second round.
Most Likely Cinderella
No. 13 UC Irvine
Now, when we say "Cinderella," we're not talking about a feisty No. 9 seed. We're talking about a group that can really come out of the blue.
In this bracket, that team is UC Irvine. I mentioned them before. They are the Anteaters. They are going to anteat their way into your heart.
Kansas State is a beatable team for reasons discussed earlier. But UC Irvine may have a shot beyond that. Its KenPom defensive ranking is No. 58—above teams such as Iowa State, Villanova, Mississippi and others.
OK, OK, relax about strength of schedule. I'm willing to concede the Anteaters just might have enjoyed an easier path to this place than other teams, hence their seed. But this team has some veterans on it—only one freshman in its general nine-man rotation—and it might be primed to get some things done.
Who Will Make the Sweet 16?
No. 1 Virginia
It's chalk for the Cavaliers on paper. But perhaps it could also be that in real life. Maybe?
Am I silly for giving them the benefit of the doubt over Gardner-Webb and, still assuming chalk results, a Mississippi team that lost four of its last five coming into this tournament? UVA fans certainly have to hope their team doesn't blow another layup.
No. 5 Wisconsin
This is tough because I like Oregon a lot. But the Ducks "won" just by getting to this point.
Wisconsin isn't amazing, but they should be fine with a star like Ethan Happ. That's definitely true given Bol's injury. The Badgers should down the Ducks and then handle a super-fun early upset special in the Anteaters.
Nop. 6 Villanova
Part of me wants to pick Saint Mary's here. But the defending champs will break through.
Purdue will escape a frisky Old Dominion team that has the wherewithal to play possession for possession. But the Boilermaker train ends with the Wildcats and the efficient three-point shooting they won't be able to stop.
No. 2 Tennessee
Colgate is a brand of toothpaste. Following that, Cincinnati is scrappy but probably overmatched against a deep Tennessee backcourt rotation that can work it around, get inside and shoot over the top.
Honestly? This is an easy path for an excellent Volunteers team.
The Elite 8 Matchup Will Be...
No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 2 Tennessee
I know it's boring to have a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, but it works in this instance.
Virginia has a lot to prove.
That vaunted defense has yet to assert itself in the postseason environment. Just to put a fine point on it, UVA's pack-line scheme puts pressure on the opposing guards, prevents penetration and essentially forces the other team to shoot lower-percentage threes.
We know the stats prove the Cavs' overall effectiveness in that regard because we already talked about them. On the other end, Tennessee is sixth in the nation in field-goal percentage.
But here's the rub...
And the Final Four Team Is...
No. 1 Virginia
That's right. It's happening.
Here's why: As good as Tennessee is, it can't shoot over that defense. The Volunteers' three-point percentage is 35.8 percent—good for just 109th in the nation. That's good enough in most cases, but it's not good enough when it becomes your primary offensive weapon, as it will against the Cavaliers defense.
I sit here shaking my head. What did I do this for? Why did I pick Virginia?
Maybe I'm a fool, but my sense is that this is an easy draw. And it will result in the Cavaliers finally breaking through for their first Final Four appearance since 1984.