Bracketology 2023: South Region

Tubelis and the Wildcats are a threat to reach the Final Four.

by Paul West

This season was a months-long testament to college basketball’s ever-increasing parity. By Tuesday night of Championship Week, six top seeds had been knocked out of their conference tournaments. The South Region has the top overall seed in the draw, and a few sharp-shooting underdogs that could make noise.

1 Alabama vs 16 SOMC/T&MCC

The Alabama Crimson Tide have dealt with the consequences of questionable off-court decision making by leading scorer Brandon Miller, but still received the top overall seed in the draw. When they beat Georgia 108-59 in February, it was their third 40-point SEC win this season, the most since Kentucky in 1955-56. They’re explosive, they play fast, they defend, and they’re widely considered the most complete team in the draw, but they’e vulnerable: they lost by 15 to UConn and 10 to Gonzaga, and were blown out by Oklahoma at the end of January. Physicality seems to give them trouble, and if they settle for bad shots, the top seed could go down.

The 19-16 Southeast Missouri State Redhawks won four games in four days to win the OVC Tournament after an overtime instant classic in the final. They’re led with 18.2 points and 5 assists a game by 5’10” guard Phillip Russell. The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders won the Southland Tournament, and come in at 23-10. They can run in transition and shoot from deep, but they’ve got a tough early draw if they make it through the play-in game. Pick: Alabama

2 Arizona vs 15 Princeton

The Arizona Wildcats are an explosive, experienced team that took down top-seeded UCLA to win the PAC-12 Tournament. 6’11” junior forward Azuolis Tubelis, who averages 19.8 points, 9.3 boards, and 2 assists a game, led the conference in scoring and rebounding. The Wildcats score, rebound, rack up assists, and defend well, and can beat anyone in the draw; but they lack depth and can be a bit streaky. If they can stay out of foul trouble and keep their offense fluid, they could make a Final Four run.

Tosan Evbuomwan is one of the best players you might not have heard of yet.

The Princeton Tigers beat top-seeded Yale to win the Ivy League Tournament, and they’re led by a bona-fide next level player in 6’8″ senior Tosan Evbuomwan. Evbuomwan does it all, leading them in points and assists and capable of dictating the game; they’e led in rebounding by Caden Pierce, an athletic 6’6″ freshman who’s rounding into form at the right time. With game-changing big man and a bunch of dangerous shooters, the Tigers are a team to keep an eye on if they get hot. Pick: Arizona

3 Baylor vs 14 UCSB

The Baylor Bears were red-hot to kick off 2023, including a handful of wins by 5 points or less. They ended the season on a tougher note, with consecutive losses to Iowa State–the second one coming in the Big 12 quarterfinal–and February losses to Kansas and Kansas State. They’re dangerous, though, with the ability to get hot on offense; they’ve beaten Gonzaga, Kansas, and UCLA this season. They’ve also lose by 26 to Marquette, and generally struggle to get stops on defense. They’ll have to solidify their defense if they want to make a deep run.

The UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos won the Big West Tournament as the top seed,  finishing with a 27-7 record. Big West Player of the Year Ajay Mitchell leads them in scoring and assists, and their methodical offense flows through him–but they’ll need to hit their outside shots to support him. Pick: Baylor

4 Virginia vs 13 Furman

As usual during the tenure of coach Tony Bennett, the Virginia Cavaliers like to slow the pace run a precise, low-risk offense while clamping down on defense. With a couple of guards who can hit from deep, this team is “D and three” personified and capable of making a run; but a hot-shooting team could mean an early exit for the ‘Hoos.’

The Furman Paladins average 82.1 points and 17.1 assists a game, and they like to play at a high tempo and move the ball around. They’re in the tournament for the first time since 1980, a year after losing the SOCON title game on a 35-foot buzzer-beater in overtime. Jalen Slawson is the SOCON Player of the Year, Mike Bothwell is its leading scorer, and the Paladins have depth behind those two. This is a dangerous team, but they don’t defend that well and will have to hit their threes to advance. Pick: Furman

The Furman Paladins have a deep, loaded offense. (Courtesy of

5 SDSU vs 12 Charleston

The San Diego State Aztecs hung on against a tough Utah State team to win the Mountain West final. They’re experienced, deep, and tough on defense, all of which bode well for advancing in March. They might struggle against a truly elite offense, especially if they face hot shooters; but if they can slow the pace to their liking, they can advance a couple of rounds.

The 31-3 Charleston Cougars have hung tough against good out-of-conference competition, and come in on a ten game winning streak. In a win over Towson, the Cougars had five players score 12 and another score 13; they’re a balanced, physical team that shoots freely, attacks the boards, and hustles. If they can push the pace and get hot, the could speed up their opponents and win a game or two. They’re also playing pretty close to home. Pick: Charleston

6 Creighton vs 11 NC State

The 21-12 Creighton Blue Jays are an interesting at-large choice given some of the teams that didn’t make it, but they’re a dangerous team that can shoot their way to a win or two. 7’1″ center Ryan Kalkbrenner leads them with 15.4 points a game, on a whopping 71.4 percent from the floor. The Blue Jays split with UConn and Providence and cut it close against Arizona and Texas.

The North Carolina State Wolfpack have wins over Duke and Miami; and their starting backcourt of 6’4″ sophomore Terquavion Smith and 6’1″ senior Jarkel Joiner both average over 17 points a game. Smith also averages 3.6 boards and 4.2 assists, while Joiner averages 4.8 boards and 3.7 assists–giving the Wolfpack the kind of guard talent that can fuel a deep tournament run. They don’t defend very consistently, which means they could wind up in a thrilling game or two. Pick: NC State

7 Missouri vs 10 Utah State

The Missouri Tigers beat Iowa State by 17, Kentucky by 14, and Tennessee twice; they’re experienced, athletic, and high scoring, and had a second-half lead over Alabama in the SEC semifinal. 6’8″ senior guard Kobe Brown is a physical scorer who can also shoot from deep, and is capable of taking over a game. But they don’t get a lot of stops, and that could hurt them in a region with some potent offenses.

The Utah State Aggies can score and move the ball. They spread the floor and shoot well from deep, led by 6’1″ senior guard Steven Ashworth–one of the best three-point shooters in the draw–and multiple threats from behind the arc. They’ll need their shots to fall if they want to advance. Pick: Missouri

8 Maryland vs 9 West Virginia

The 21-12 Maryland Terrapins have lost three of four and four of seven, and are another one of the few debatable picks in this year’s draw. They split with Purdue–including a decisive win in February–and took Tennessee to the wire, but were destroyed by UCLA and don’t shoot well from deep. Their leading scorer, 6’1″ senior guard Jahmir Young, might have to enter a fugue state and carry them for them to advance very far.

The West Virginia Mountaineers come in at 19-14, and rely on crashing the glass to create second chances on offense. They don’t defend well, though, nor do they shoot well from deep; they’ll need to win the battle of the boards to advance. 6’4″ senior guard Erik Stevenson is their leading scorer, and put up 23 or more points in their last five regular season games. Pick: West Virginia

Bracket busters? This region has a few. Keep an eye on Furman, Charleston, and NC State.

Best player you might not know yet? Princeton’s Tosan Evbuomwan, who many think will be playing professionally before long.

Who makes the Final Four? Arizona. Despite some early upsets, the region’s top two will meet in a slugfest and the Wildcats will advance.


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