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2022 NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region - Arizona heads a loaded group

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Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd has the Wildcats rolling in his first season on the job.

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Arizona Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma Sooners may have missed out on the 2022 NCAA Tournament, but that’s not going to stop us from breaking down the big dance in excruciatingly minute detail. We’re previewing every region before the games tip off in earnest on Thursday.

Here’s a look at the South Region, arguably the toughest group of this year’s bracket.

2022 NCAA Tournament - South Region Preview

NCAA Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Championship Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The favorite: Arizona

The Wildcats have stunned the college hoops world by exploding out of the gate under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd. The former Gonzaga assistant inherited some talented holdovers from predecessor Sean Miller and molded them into one of the nation’s elite teams.

UA is dealing with an injury to Estonian guard Kerr Kriisa, an adept distributor of the basketball and reliable scorer. You could also make the case that the Wildcats caught an unlucky break by picking this year to be this good: Gonzaga capturing the No. 1 overall seed meant UA got shipped to the South Region in San Antonio.

Arizona has to survive a loaded draw, but this squad has the chops to do it.

Best matchup: No. 13 Chattanooga vs. No. 4 Illinois

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Indiana vs Illinois Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The analytics strongly favor the Fighting Illini in this game, and they are giving 7.5 points to the Mocs. The eye test, however, tells a different story, as the Illini went 5-4 down the stretch. Meanwhile, Nooga won their final five consecutive games, including a thriller in the Southern Conference Tournament final over Furman.

The Mocs defend well against the three-point shot, but they don’t usually see a low-post threat on the other team like Illinois center Kofi Cockburn. If the big fella commands help in half-court offensive sets, it will set up Illini marksman Alfonso Plummer for open looks on the perimeter. That dynamic should concern Chattanooga coach Lamont Paris.

Paris has a veteran-laden team that won’t get overwhelmed by taking on a Big Ten team. The Mocs will hang tough here, even if they get bounced eventually.

Upset alert: No. 6 Colorado State over No. 11 Michigan

NCAA Basketball: Fresno State at Colorado State Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

An upset in the literal sense: The oddsmakers have the Wolverines favored in this contest by 2.5 points. That feels like a mistake.

Frankly, Michigan shouldn’t even be here. UM’s 17-14 record speaks to the Wolverines’ underwhelming reality. They snagged a few solid wins during Big Ten play, but they lost enough games to mediocre opponents to suggest the selection committee had better alternatives.

The Rams may struggle initially with the size of Michigan’s front line. After surviving the rugged slate in the Mountain West Conference, they should settle in and give star forward David Roddy room to operate inside and out. One of the most underrated players in the country, Roddy will get a chance to show everyone what they’ve been missing while he toils in obscurity during late-night tipoffs.

Icy: Collin Gillespie

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Villanova vs Connecticut Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

If there are players who are more valuable to their teams this season than Gillespie, the list is short.

Gillespie operates coach Jay Wright’s offense as well as you could ask, but the fifth-year senior guard earned the 2022 Big East Player of the Year award by shining in the Wildcats’ biggest games of the season. He led the team in scoring at 15.9 points per game, giving his best performances in matchups like an 89-84 win at Providence on March 15 that saw Gillespie toss in a career-high 33 points. In the final of the Big East Tournament, he scored all 17 of his points during the second half in pacing Nova to a 54-48 win over Creighton.

Gillespie will get a shot this year to make up for missing the 2021 tournament with a knee injury. History suggests he will make good on that opportunity.

Sweet 16: No. 1 Arizona over No. 5 Houston; No. 2 Villanova over No. 3 Tennessee

NCAA Basketball: American Athletic Conference Tournament Semifinal-Houston vs Tulane Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

As would be expected from one of Kelvin Sampson’s teams, UH has overcome major setbacks this year to emerge as one of the better teams in the country. That run will come to an end in San Antonio against an overpowering Arizona team.

The other game in this group will come down to tournament experience. Between Gillespie and guard Justin Moore, Nova has a wealth of it in the back court. The Volunteers will rely primarily on two freshmen. Advantage to Wright’s squad.

Elite 8: Arizona over Villanova

Nova’s plodding pace may frustrate Zona enough to score an upset in the final game of the region. UA’s athleticism appears more likely to overwhelm the team from the Big East.