We previously covered the East and West Region’s of this year’s NCAA Tournament. Let’s shift over to the other side of the bracket and break down the South Region, where the top-seeded Baylor Bears are hoping to finally break through to the Final Four.
2021 NCAA Tournament Preview - South Region
Player to watch: Neemias Queta, Utah State
In a season in which big men shined across the country, Queta didn’t receive the attention he deserved. The 7-0 native of Portugal held down the paint for one of the best defensive teams in the country, averaging 3.2 blocks per game. Queta also led the Aggies in scoring at 15.1 points per game.
If Texas Tech coach Chris Beard doesn’t have a strategy for handling Queta in the Red Raiders’ first game, his team will be heading back to Lubbock early.
Trending up: North Carolina
Weird, right? We’ve all grown accustomed over the years to seeing the Tar Heels enter the tournament as one of the consensus favorites, not a team finally hitting its stride as the season winds down. UNC probably played its best ball of the season in March, though, a stretch that included thumping rival Duke by 18 in the regular season finale.
As is customary with Roy Williams’ teams, the Heels pound the offensive boards. If they get by Wisconsin, that could pose a major problem for Baylor.
Trending down: Villanova
A knee injury for Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie extinguished any hopes the Wildcats may have harbored of making a deep run this year. The ankle injury suffered by his backcourt mate Justin Moore left VU teetering on the brink of collapse. Jay Wright’s team won’t make it to the second weekend.
Best first-round matchup: No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 14 Colgate
If run-and-gun basketball is your kind of thing, check out Friday’s game between the Razorbacks and Raiders. Both teams rank in the top 25 in the nation in adjusted tempo. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas have set the total on the game at 162.5, making it the highest of the first-round games by seven points.
As one of the best shooting teams in the country, Colgate will give the Hogs a chance to prove their reinvigorated defense under Eric Musselman is legit.
Most likely upset: No. 11 Utah State over No. 6 Texas Tech
If Colgate-Arkansas promises to be a scoring extravaganza, picture the direct opposite here. The Aggies and Red Raiders both rank in the top 25 nationally in defensive efficiency. The coaching matchup between Beard and Utah State’s Craig Smith is sublime, too.
Tech is seriously lacking for scoring threats this year, a reality that opponents exploited in the second half of the season. Too often, the team’s plan of attack devolves into athletic guard Mac McClung trying to get shots off by any means necessary. Expect Smith to come up with ways to make the other Red Raiders carry the scoring load, which bodes well for the Aggies.
Predicted winner: No. 2 Ohio State over No. 1 Baylor
Neither of these teams inspire as much confidence as they did six weeks ago. The top-seeded Bears emerged in late February from a Covid-19 shutdown defending at a level far below the standard they set early in the season. The Buckeyes finished the regular season with four consecutive defeats, including convincing losses to Iowa and Illinois on their home floor.
Yet they still look like the two teams in this region that are most capable of winning four straight games. Ohio State, in particular, went through a renaissance in the Big Ten Tournament, taking Illinois to overtime in the championship game.
Chris Holtmann’s squad showed enough in those four games to prove they’re back on course. For all their firepower, the Bears have yet to give any indication they can play up to the potential they displayed before their layoff. Eighty percent of what Baylor was might be enough to secure a Final Four bid out of the South, but we’ll bank on Ohio State’s consistency.