The South Region will have the distinct honor of kicking off the First Round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon. Of course, what happens after things tip-off is anybody’s guess.
This may not be the strongest bracket on paper, but it might be the most balanced. Most of the double-digit seeds will look at the bracket and believe they have a serious chance to do some damage. Of course, the Nos. 4 through 9 seeds will probably feel the same way.
Let’s dive into the South Region of the NCAA Tournament with the hope of projecting how things will turn out in this region.
Top Seed: Baylor Bears
The Bears have had a No. 1 seed locked up for quite some time.
The Bears have one of the most dynamic offenses in the country and is one of the top betting favorites to win the national championship. The only caveat is that the Bears haven’t looked the same since enduring a COVID-related pause that lasted for more than three weeks. They looked better late in the regular season but still not at the level they were at before their hiatus. If they can recapture that form, Baylor can win the national championship.
But even if they don’t, there’s enough talent and depth in the backcourt to make the Bears a Final Four candidate.
Main Competition: Ohio State Buckeyes
There was some cause for concern when the Buckeyes lost four in a row to close out the regular season. But Ohio State seemed to get back on track in the Big Ten Tournament, making them a team that needs to be taken seriously.
They have two stars in Duane Washington and E.J. Liddell, as well as a strong supporting cast that has experienced players and capable shooters.
While they ended up as a No. 2 seed, the Buckeyes beat Illinois, Iowa and Michigan at various points of the season, so they are as good as any No. 1 seed in the field.
Sleeper: Purdue Boilermakers
One of the other Big Ten teams in the South Region is also a serious threat.
The Boilermakers didn’t show up on anybody’s radar this season because of the four other Big Ten teams in the top-10. But Purdue is a contender in this region behind big man Trevion Williams. He and 7-4 freshman Zach Edey could give Baylor trouble in the paint if the Boilermakers reach the Sweet 16.
Purdue’s biggest concern is guard play, which is solid but unspectacular. But if the backcourt holds up, the Boilermakers could be one of the few teams that succeeds in March with a strong frontcourt.
Tough Out: Colgate Raiders
Two years ago, the Raiders were a No. 15 seed that nearly upset Tennessee in the First Round of the tournament. They are back and ready to do the same thing to Arkansas.
Colgate ranks third nationally in scoring and is top 10 in assists. They are also surprisingly strong on the boards despite a lack of size.
Senior Jordan Burns is the star, averaging 17 points per game. Keep in mind, he scored 32 points against Tennessee two years ago, so he flourishes on a big stage. As a team, Colgate shoots 40% from the perimeter thanks to four players who can all hit shots.
Whether the Raiders can handle a power-conference team defensively is another issue. But the Raiders can light up the scoreboard, making it difficult to put them away.
Possible Cinderella: Winthrop Eagles
After going 23-1, it’s safe to say that the Eagles will be a threat in the Big Dance. Winthrop doesn’t have that one bonafide star who carries the team, although Chandler Vaudrin is a multi-dimensional player who does a little bit of everything.
The Eagles have strength in numbers with 11 players averaging over 10 minutes per game. They keep coming at you in waves with players who have different skillsets and defensive intensity that doesn’t let up.
As a No. 12 seed, they are poised to pull off an upset in the First Round and more than capable of doing more than that.
Upset Alert: North Carolina Over Baylor
Keep in mind that the Tar Heels have to get past Wisconsin in the First Round. With UNC’s lack of consistency this season, that’s far from a sure thing. However, the Tar Heels are one of the last teams that Baylor wants to see in the Round of 32.
If the Bears have a weakness, it could be a lack of size in the frontcourt, which is where the Tar Heels are perfectly positioned to take advantage of them.
Ultimately, UNC’s guard play will decide what they do in this tournament. But the Heels can bully Baylor in the paint with their size. Keep in mind that in Baylor’s first loss of the season, they were out-rebounded by 20 against Kansas. North Carolina could follow a similar formula.
Don’t Buy the Hype: Texas Tech Red Raiders
As a member of the mighty Big 12, the Red Raiders seem like a trendy pick to do some damage. But since beating Oklahoma on Feb. 1, Texas Tech has only one win against a team in the NCAA Tournament, going 1-5 against quality competition during that span.
Mac McClung is a difference-maker, but the Red Raiders are too reliant on him and don’t always get enough from their supporting cast. If that changes, the Red Raiders could reach the Sweet 16 and beyond.
But with a lackluster finish to the season and a lack of reliable players other than McClung, Texas Tech isn’t a good bet.
Player to Watch: Moses Moody, Arkansas
If the Razorbacks end up making a deep run, it’ll be on the back of Moses Moody.
The freshman from Little Rock has all of the potential in the world and can score in bunches, which he showed in the SEC Tournament semifinals against LSU. Heading into the Big Dance, he’s scored 28 points in three of his last four games and at least 24 points in four of his last six games. To quote Gus Johnson, he “gets buckets!”
With all due respect to Baylor’s loaded roster, Moody might be the most interesting player to watch in this region.
In the end
Baylor might be the best team on paper, but look for Ohio State to reach the Final Four. The Buckeyes have what looks to be a much easier path to Elite Eight than Baylor does in the top half of the bracket.
To be fair, Arkansas and Purdue shouldn’t be counted out. However, unlike other regions, it’s tough to find a team outside of seeds 1-4 that has a legitimate chance of reaching the Final Four.
The difference between Baylor and Ohio State is that the Bears are yet to fully recover from their COVID pause while the Buckeyes didn’t actually slump late in the season, they just played a ridiculously tough schedule.
After their play in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State is ready to make a run to the Final Four.
Photo: Getty Images