SOUTH REGIONAL BREAKDOWN:
The South is loaded with NBA talent plus a perfect mix of blue blood programs and plucky mid-majors. This looks like the most watchable bracket in the tournament, it has star power and some great storylines. The region’s top three seeds (North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA) have 24 national titles between them. This region will be a blast.
Best Odds to Win National Title: No. 1 North Carolina 7/1, No. 2 Kentucky 11/1, No. 3 UCLA 12/1
North Carolina is the clear favorite here, but the region is loaded with title contenders, as both Kentucky and UCLA have the talent to to go all the way. Meanwhile, a sleeper like Butler (55/1) or Wichita State (65/1) could be a serious value pick.
Best First Round Matchup: No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State
This is a matchup of two of the best mid-major programs in basketball and two of the best mid-major coaches the game has to offer. Wichita State has won 15 games in a row and finished with a 17-1 mark in the Missouri Valley Conference. Meanwhile, Archie Miller’s Dayton squad went 15-3 to win the Atlantic 10 title.
Miller and Gregg Marshall are two guys who flat-out know how to coach so this should be a fantastic chess match between two of college basketball’s best.
Upset Special: No. 5 Minnesota vs. No. 12 Middle Tennessee State
Minnesota had a great season with an extremely young team, but Richard Pitino’s 24-9 squad was vastly over-seeded on the five line. Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee State did everything it could to be better than a 12 and got shafted by the committee. The Blue Raiders went 30-4 and 17-1 in conference, while winning 20 of their final 21 games.
As Michigan State fans know all too well, Middle Tennessee State is a good bet to pull off an upset.
Sleeper to Advance Deep: No. 10 Wichita State
Yeah, a 10-seed qualifies as a sleeper and Gregg Marshall’s squad is one of the best teams to get on the 10 line in tournament history. The Shockers rank eighth overall in KenPom’s ratings, while also coming in 12th in offensive efficiency and 19th in defensive efficiency. A second-round date with Kentucky could be a heck of a game, and Wichita State gets past the Wildcats, anything is possible.
Pick: North Carolina
Last year’s national runners-up might actually be better this year. The Tar Heels have a combination of veteran leadership, excellent guard play and inside scoring, not to mention a Hall of Fame coach with two national championships on his resume. Seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks provide points in the paint, while juniors Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson provide veteran punch on the perimeter. Throw in guys like Tony Bradley, Theo Pinson and Nate Britt and you’ve got a complete squad.
It won’t be easy but if North Carolina plays up to its potential there’s no reason it can’t make a return trip to the Final Four.