As part of TheLines’ coverage of the NCAA tournament, we’re previewing each region in the March Madness bracket. The South region looks like one of the tougher ones; although; perhaps not quite as harsh as the East. What do the South region bracket odds have to say about No. 1 seed Arizona and its rivals?
We’ll take a look at the top favorite, the other teams in clear contention, and profile one longshot that could cause chaos and cash big.
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South Region Bracket Odds To Reach Final Four
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South Region Breakdown
We’ve listed the teams with their best price to win the national title in parentheses.
Arizona (): Were it not for the existence of Gonzaga, Arizona would rate as the consensus pre-tournament favorite. They had an extremely dominant regular season, losing only on the road to KenPom top-10 opponents Tennessee and UCLA along with a random no-show at Colorado. They laid waste to the Pac-12 with an 18-2 conference record and destroyed solid tournament opponents Michigan and Wyoming in non-conference by a combined 47 points.
A high-level inside-out combo leads the way in the form of star wing Bennedict Mathurin and interior force Christian Koloko. The two physically impressive prospects are expected to go in the lottery and potentially in the late first round, respectively.
Estonian sharpshooter and playmaker Kerr Kriisa went down injured with an ankle sprain. But, the team’s lofty seed means they can probably get through a couple of games without him and not have to sweat too much. Keep an eye on his status.
Overall, despite a tough region, the Wildcats did get a fairly decent draw. The two next-strongest teams in futures odds, Villanova and Tennessee, are on the other side of the bracket. Fifth-seeded Houston has tough games against UAB and potentially Illinois to get through before Arizona even has to worry about them.
Villanova (): Villanova just edged out Duke from being the weakest No. 2 seed in adjusted efficiency, but they do have a few things going for them.
They’re well-prepared for the tournament after playing an extremely difficult non-conference schedule that included Tennessee, Baylor, UCLA and Purdue, although Tennessee was the only one they managed to beat. Their offense is very strong — No. 8 in adjusted efficiency — without relying on transition, as they rank 339th in pace. That bodes well for their ability to score consistently. Coach Jay Wright is a master at navigating the tournament, having led two title teams.
What they lack is top-end talent with no projected NBA draft picks. A difficult draw with a high-caliber No. 3 seed looming and Ohio State/Loyola both looking under-seeded works against the Wildcats.
Tennessee (): About that No. 3 seed. Based purely upon strength of the team’s adjusted efficiency, their national title odds probably deserve to be shorter than the listed price. They checked in at No. 7 overall with the third-best defense.
This is also another battle-tested team, having faced Texas Tech, Texas, Villanova, Arizona and North Carolina in addition to the tough SEC.
However, there are some warning signs here. They rely heavily on transition, ranking No. 18 in opponent turnovers. Half-court offense is an issue (43% FGs), and their top scorer, Kennedy Chandler, is a 61% free-throw shooter.
Houston (): While seeded fifth, Houston actually rates out as the second-best team in the region according to KenPom’s numbers. Another team void of NBA prospects, the Cougars get it done with balance (six players averaging double figures) and a measured style (287th in pace).
Houston has the experience after a Final Four run last season ended in a thrashing at the hands of eventual champs Baylor.
They don’t have a particularly imposing interior presence to anchor the defense, though, and free-throw shooting is a notable weak point (66.9%). High-level athleticism caused them problems as well as they went 1-2 against Memphis and dropped a close one to Alabama.
Ohio State (): Several teams qualify as potential dark horses here in the 30-to-1 range, but we’ll single out the Buckeyes for a couple of reasons.
First, the biggest differentiator between the Buckeyes and the likes of Michigan and first-round opponent Loyola. They have the type of elite player who can completely take over a game. EJ Liddell rates as a borderline lottery prospect and has been absolutely dominant on both ends this season. His average line: 19.6/7.9/2.5 with 2.6 blocks, an incredible number for a 6-foot-7 player.
They have a great offense overall (13th in adjusted efficiency), and a balanced one. The Buckeyes shoot the 3 well (37.3%) but don’t rely on it, taking a medium volume. They make their free throws and take decent care of the ball.
Defense has been the problem, and they’re especially anemic in forcing turnovers. But if they catch the right stretch of opposing shooting, they can potentially string together a few wins even in a tough draw.
Good luck navigating South region bracket odds and futures.
Other Region Breakdowns: