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NCAA Tournament preview: South region

Robert+Jones+looks+for+an+open+teammate+to+pass+the+ball+to+during+the+mens+basketball+Big+12+Championship+game+against+Houston%2C+T-Mobile+Center%2C+Kansas+City%2C+March+16%2C+2024.
Jacob Rice
Robert Jones looks for an open teammate to pass the ball to during the men’s basketball Big 12 Championship game against Houston, T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, March 16, 2024.

Teams to watch

No. 1 Houston:

As someone who has witnessed in person the Cougars’ elite style of play which helped them win 30 games, I cannot keep them off this list. While they did get embarrassed in the Big 12 Championship game against Iowa State, it was pretty clear that Houston gave up at a certain point and knew it had bigger things ahead.

Its offense can get a little stale, which has caused the team to rely on its defense at some points in games. But I do not think that will be a problem for Houston in its first-round matchup with Longwood, who averages 104.8 points per 100 possessions according to Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings (KenPom).

Pull up almost any defensive stat and Houston will be close to the top, which is why I think the Cougars are essentially a lock for at least the Elite Eight.

No. 9 Texas A&M:

After finishing middle of the pack in the SEC standings, the Aggies turned some heads with their 10-point win over Kentucky in the conference tournament. Texas A&M outpaced one of the top offensive teams in the nation, notching its second win over the Wildcats this season.

The Aggies are led by one of the top guards in the nation, Wade Taylor IV, who was named to the SEC All-Tournament Team for the second straight year. He has shown his ability to take over games coming in clutch for Texas A&M who has at times failed to set itself apart from other high-powered teams in the conference.

What is discouraging is that the Aggies are coming off a loss to Florida, who is also in the east region, where at one point they led by 18.

No. 11 NC State:

Five wins in five days, that is all you need to know to believe in the Wolfpack. After entering the ACC Tournament as the 10th seed, NC State took down blue bloods Duke in the quarterfinals and North Carolina in the championship game.

Whether you want to call it a miracle or not, there is no question that NC State can make a run in the tournament. Their offense has come alive and the Wolfpack could challenge some of the more sound defensive teams in this region.

No. 12 James Madison:

Thirty wins, I do not care if it was in the Sun Belt Conference, that is impressive. The Dukes enter their shot at the Big Dance on a 13-game win streak, most of which are blowouts.

James Madison is shooting nearly 50% from the field as a team and finished with the 14th most 3-pointers (298) in Division I. Defensively, the Dukes are 30th in forced turnovers (491) and 40th in rebounds per game (38.8).

This is a sneaky team, and I am always on the lookout for potential Cinderella runs, which this team has the makeup for.

Matchups to watch

No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 15 Western Kentucky:

First up on fraud watch for me is Marquette, who is attempting to slow down the Hilltoppers’ explosive offense. Western Kentucky is number one in tempo according to KenPom, averaging 75.1 possessions per 40 minutes, and is going to be a tough challenge for the Golden Eagles’ rollercoaster of a defense.

The Hilltopper defense held opponents to an average of 74.1 points per game which I think will be a challenge for Marquette to hit. While most of those games were played against inferior opponents in the Conference USA, the Golden Eagles failed to hit the 74-point mark in three of their last five games.

It is a long shot, as every two and 15-seed matchup is, but we have seen upsets in these matchups the last two years.

Does history continue or am I just praying for Marquette’s downfall? We will find out Friday.

No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 NC State:

As I mentioned earlier, the Wolfpack are on a hot streak and that could continue in their first-round matchup with Texas Tech. While the Red Raiders had a solid win in the Big 12 Tournament against BYU, I believe they got lucky that the Cougars had an off-shooting night.

Something to consider is how the Red Raiders’ hard-nosed Big 12 defense will translate against NC State who has been forced to score upwards of 80 or 90 points to win its games. I think if Texas Tech defends NC State well, who averages 12.8 assists per game (208th in the nation), it can force turnovers and execute from there.

The turnovers are going to be hard to come by for the Red Raiders, as NC State averages less than 10 per game.

No. 8 Nebraska vs. No. 9 Texas A&M:

Two of the most talked about guards in their respective conferences, Taylor IV and Keisei Tominaga square off, and cannot lie I am excited for this one. These eight and nine-seed games are always fun to watch, as there is not much of a difference between the two teams in terms of talent and storylines.

Much like Texas A&M, the Cornhuskers also made it to the quarterfinals of their conference tournament and blew a double-digit lead to Illinois in the semifinals. I feel like this one is going to come down to who has the hot hand, as neither team can rely on the defense to show out.

No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 James Madison:

Last year, every five seed stayed dancing after the first round, I think this matchup is capable of bringing almost yearly tradition back.

Wisconsin lost four of its last six games going into the Big Ten Tournament where it put up a good fight against Illinois in the championship game. The world is really high on the Badgers, but I think we need to remember this is the same team that lost multiple winnable games down the stretch of the regular season.

As I mentioned before, you have to keep an eye on a team that won 30 games this season. History is also on the side of the Dukes, as they are 4-1 in their NCAA Tournament first round matchups and the Badgers are 1-3 in their first-round matchups as a five seed.

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Jacob Rice, Visual Editor
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