Sweet Sixteen Preview: South Region

Sweet Sixteen Preview: South Region

This article is part of our NCAA Tournament Preview series.

East Region
West Region
Midwest Region
South Region

Site: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
Tip-off: Thursday, March 24, 7:29 p.m. EST

A slight bit of madness ensued in the South region, as No. 11 Michigan is one of only four double-digit seeds remaining in the entire NCAA Tournament.  In all fairness, the Wolverines were actually favored in their opening-round contest against No. 6 Colorado State.  However, few pundits thought the Wolverines would dispatch of Tennessee, a chic pick to come out of the South region following its dazzling run to the SEC Tournament Championship.  The Vols had no answer for Michigan center Hunter Dickinson, and Eli Brooks also contributed clutch shots down the stretch as Michigan plays in its fifth-straight Sweet 16.

The rest of the region pretty much played out true to form, though not without some theatrics.  No. 1 Arizona needed overtime and a season-saving three-pointer from Bennedict Mathurin to outlast TCU in the second round.  The Wildcats will match up with No. 5 Houston, a squad which was favored over No. 4 Illinois in its second-round clash and showed exactly why.  The Cougars stymied the guards for the Illini and made life difficult for center Kofi Cockburn in a suffocating 68-53 triumph.

Meanwhile, Michigan will face Villanova, another school with sustained success in the big dance of late.  The Wildcats looked in control of both of their victories, ultimately defeating Ohio State by a score of 71-61 to gain entry into the Sweet 16. With the matchups

East Region
West Region
Midwest Region
South Region

Site: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
Tip-off: Thursday, March 24, 7:29 p.m. EST

A slight bit of madness ensued in the South region, as No. 11 Michigan is one of only four double-digit seeds remaining in the entire NCAA Tournament.  In all fairness, the Wolverines were actually favored in their opening-round contest against No. 6 Colorado State.  However, few pundits thought the Wolverines would dispatch of Tennessee, a chic pick to come out of the South region following its dazzling run to the SEC Tournament Championship.  The Vols had no answer for Michigan center Hunter Dickinson, and Eli Brooks also contributed clutch shots down the stretch as Michigan plays in its fifth-straight Sweet 16.

The rest of the region pretty much played out true to form, though not without some theatrics.  No. 1 Arizona needed overtime and a season-saving three-pointer from Bennedict Mathurin to outlast TCU in the second round.  The Wildcats will match up with No. 5 Houston, a squad which was favored over No. 4 Illinois in its second-round clash and showed exactly why.  The Cougars stymied the guards for the Illini and made life difficult for center Kofi Cockburn in a suffocating 68-53 triumph.

Meanwhile, Michigan will face Villanova, another school with sustained success in the big dance of late.  The Wildcats looked in control of both of their victories, ultimately defeating Ohio State by a score of 71-61 to gain entry into the Sweet 16. With the matchups in the South now set, let's take a deeper look at the upcoming games.

No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 5 Houston

Key Matchup: Bennedict Mathurin v. Jamal Shead.  These two players may not necessarily guard each other, but it is clear each is the barometer for their team's respective offenses.  Whenever Houston needed a bucket versus Illinois, it was Shead who either found the open man or drove into the lane for a contested deuce.  Meanwhile, Mathurin not only hit the game-tying three referenced above, but he led the team in scoring and was second on the squad in rebounds and assists.  With point guard Kerr Kriisa still looking a bit off as he continues to recover from an ankle issue, Mathurin has assumed more playmaking duties.  Shead and Mathurin will play crucial roles as floor generals in deciding the outcome of this game.

Arizona will Win IF: the Wildcats value the basketball.  Arizona had a staggering 19 turnovers in its opening-round game over Wright State, and let the Raiders hang around as a result.  Arizona continued this disturbing trend against TCU, turning the ball over 16 more times.  Meanwhile, Sweet 16 opponent Houston forced 17 turnovers against Illinois in its last outing.  If the Wildcats continue to give the ball away and allow for extra and easy opportunities for the opposition, it could spell doom for them versus the pesky Cougars, who allow the fewest points per game of any remaining squad in the tourney.

Houston will Win IF: the Cougars can play tough defense without fouling.  Houston is one of the top defenses in the entire nation, and Arizona is third in the nation in scoring at 84.6 points per game.  Thus, this battle will end up being a classic case of offensive juggernaut versus defensive stalwart.  Arizona gets to the free-throw line an impressive 21.4 times per contest, which is also among the leaders in all of college basketball.  Houston has the capability to slow this Goliath of an offense, but they must keep the Wildcats off the charity stripe and from getting free points.

Player to Watch: Christian Koloko, C, Arizona.  It would be a disservice not to talk about Koloko, who has been the best player on the floor for the Wildcats through two games.  He was overwhelming in the opener versus Wright State with 17 points and 13 rebounds, then followed that performance up with an even better line versus TCU.  Koloko collected 28 points and 12 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive glass.  Koloko's presence gives the Wildcats a formidable inside-outside duo with Mathurin, and Houston's fairly small front line will be put to the test by Koloko.

Prediction: Houston appears to be playing better basketball of the two schools heading into this game, but each matchup stands on its own.  Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa will have almost another week to rest up his balky ankle and should give the Wildcats some much-needed support in the category of ball security.  In addition, Houston is likely to have a difficult time with the monstrous frontcourt of the Wildcats.  Houston's defense and toughness should keep this game close, but the Wildcats ultimately have too many weapons.

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 11 Michigan

Key Matchup: Collin Gillespie v. Eli Brooks.  Both squads are led by talented senior guards with unfinished business.  Gillespie tore his ACL and missed last year's NCAA Tournament.  The two-time reigning Big East Player of the Year keeps the Wildcats on task, does not commit foolish mistakes and seemingly can get a bucket whenever he wants.  Meanwhile, Brooks decided to return to Ann Arbor for a fifth season in search of that elusive NCAA title.  As referenced above, the Wolverines have been to the Sweet 16 for five-straight seasons, but managed just one Final Four over that span, ultimately losing to, you guessed it, Villanova in the 2018 Championship Game.  Brooks averaged just 12.8 points per game this season but has been hot of late, scoring 14 or more points in five-straight contests, including a season-high 23 in the second-round win over Tennessee.

Villanova will Win IF: the Wildcats can limit Michigan's rebounding advantage.  The tallest player in the starting lineup for the Wildcats is 6-foot-8, so Michigan star center and seven-footer Hunter Dickinson will obviously have a huge size advantage on the interior.  However, Moussa Diabate is 6-11, and Caleb Houston is 6-8 to round out Michigan's front line.  In addition, the Wildcats were mediocre at best during the regular season in the rebounding category.  Villanova does not necessarily need to win the rebounding battle to win the game, but the Wildcats cannot get dominated on the glass either.  Villanova teams always make up for their lack of height with toughness, grit and determination, but it will be interesting to see if the Wildcats can overcome such a drastic size difference.

Michigan will Win IF: the Wolverines continue to operate efficiently on the offensive end.  Michigan has shot 50 percent or better from the floor in each of its first two tournament games.  The Wolverines were not a particularly high-scoring team during the regular season, and they have beaten their season marks in each of the first two tournament outings, scoring 75-plus points in the process.  Meanwhile, Villanova allows just 62.9 points per tilt during the year, and the Wildcats held both of their opponents under that total in each of their first two tourney games.  Michigan must make the most of its opportunities against a ferocious defense.

Player to Watch: Hunter Dickinson, C, Michigan.  Perhaps an obvious player to watch, but Dickinson has been unstoppable through the first two tournament games, and Villanova does not possess anyone in terms of height that can deal with him in the paint.  The Wildcats will throw multiple defenders at Dickinson, double team him, and switch between zone and man-to-man in an attempt to confuse the Michigan offense.  That being said, Dickinson is somewhat matchup-proof, and he is going to get his points (and rebounds).  The question will be just how loud, or quiet, his contributions will be.

Prediction: This matchup presents another size mismatch, but this time the underdogs will tower over the favorites, at least from a literal and physical standpoint.  Michigan started the season as a top-5 squad, then succumbed to inconsistency and distraction in barely making the NCAA Tournament.  While that now seems like a distant memory, it is still fair to wonder which Michigan squad will show up for this game.  Meanwhile, the Wildcat rotation features seven of eight upperclassmen, Villanova knows its identity, and it seems as though very little will rattle this squad.  This game should be hotly contested as well, but Villanova appears to be clicking on all cylinders right now, setting up a Wildcats vs. Wildcats regional final.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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