(image courtesy of the NCAA)
The south region has been full of exciting games in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Virginia Tech and Florida got the round of 64 started with an overtime thriller in which the Gators prevailed 75-70. This region has also seen two incredible upsets with 13-seed North Texas taking down 4-seed Purdue and 15-seed Oral Roberts taking down 2-seed Ohio State. The Mean Green were unable to keep their momentum going in an 84-61 loss to 5-seed Villanova. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles put their name in the record books by becoming only the second 15-seed in history to make it past the first weekend. They join Florida Gulf Coast (ironically named the Eagles) as they also accomplished this feat in 2013. While things have gone somewhat off the rails in this tournament, 1-seed Baylor, 3-seed Arkansas, and 5-seed Villanova are all still dancing in this region to bring some normalcy to this bracket. With that said, let’s look at the sweet sixteen matchups in the south.
(15) Oral Roberts vs. (3) Arkansas
Led by the nation’s leading scorer, Max Abmas, Oral Roberts have become the darlings of this year’s tournament. Pulling of the upset over 2-seed Ohio State was impressive in itself, but to turnaround just two days later and knock off another power five school in Florida is special. For Arkansas, Eric Musselman has his Razorbacks in the sweet sixteen for the first time since Nolan Richardson’s historic run in the late 80’s and early 90s. Arkansas will come into this game having played back-to-back games where they were battle tested. 14-seed Colgate gave the Razorbacks all they wanted for three quarters of the game, including having Arkansas in a 33-19 hole late in the first half. A rally at the end of the first and dominating final 10 minutes gave Moses Moody and the Razorbacks a deceiving 85-68 victory in a game that was much more competitive than the final score entails. Arkansas then played 6-seed Texas Tech in a game that was close throughout, but the defense showed up late and preserved a 68-66 victory for the Razorbacks. In Saturday’s game, I expect an exciting matchup between two teams with exceptional star players in Max Abmas for Oral Roberts and Moses Moody for Arkansas. While the run for Oral Roberts has been entertaining and one I’d like to see continue, I see Arkansas locking down defensively and securing an 82-72 victory on Saturday.
(5) Villanova vs. (1) Baylor
With both Illinois and Ohio State eliminated from the right side of the bracket, a spot in the national championship game is Baylor’s to lose. The Bears have impressed in their opening two matchups, winning both by double digits. Scott Drew’s club gets it done on both ends of the court averaging 83.8 PPG and only giving up 59.0 PPG. Baylor can come at you in all directions on the court with scorers in every direction you turn. Jared Butler should be the first priority for Jay Wright and the Wildcats as the junior guard is shooting 41.5% from three and averaging 16.9 PPG. March did not get off to a good start for Villanova when it was announced starting guard Collin Gillespie would miss the remainder of the season with a torn MCL. The Big East regular season champions seemed to be destined for disappointment after being eliminated in their first game of the Big East tournament to eventual Big East tournament winner, Georgetown. The Wildcats did not let Gillespie’s injury and an early Big East tournament exit stop them from making it past the first weekend. Winthrop gave Villanova all they wanted in the round of 64, but they were able to pull away late and get a 10-point victory over the Eagles. They turned around two days later and won convincingly in the round of 32 over North Texas. While I have been impressed with Villanova’s ability to get to this point, their run will come to an end on Saturday as Baylor simply has too much firepower for the Wildcats to handle. I will take Baylor in a 86-74 victory, advancing them to the elite eight.