2015 NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region


Mar 14, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; The Iowa State Cyclones with head coach Fred Holberg raise the championship trophy after the game against the Kansas Jayhawks in the championship game of the Big 12 tournament at Sprint Center. Iowa State Cyclones won 70-66. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll be rolling out previews for all four regions in the NCAA Tournament leading up to Thursday. The South Region is wide open and could definitely go to an underdog. Check out a detailed look of the region:

Favorite: The South region features two teams in Duke and Gonzaga who analysts have been high on all season. Gonzaga has been a tournament staple under coach Mark Few, and may believe this is his best team ever. Duke has a great mix of under and upper classmen, and two of the top players in the region. A potential Elite Eight game between these two teams would be a welcomed clash between a mid-major power and a high-major power. Both Gonzaga and Duke are two of the top seven teams to win the NCAA Tournament according to Vegas, but Duke gets the advantage as being the favorite to win the South region. At 13/2 to win the NCAA Tournament, Duke is only behind Kentucky for best odds to win the tournament. It’s tough to argue against Duke being a favorite given that they have the best coach and best player in the region. Add in that Duke will be playing the first and second round in Charlotte, and the path for a deep run favors the Blue Devils.

Sleeper: At 35/1 to win the NCAA Tournament, Iowa State has the ninth best odds to win the championship. The Cyclones are coming off a second straight Big 12 Tournament Championship, and peaking at the right time. They also have a favorable draw as the three seed. Their potential second round match-up gives them either an SMU team who is coming out of a weak conference and struggles in the non-conference or a UCLA team who shocked everyone including themselves by making the tournament. The Sweet 16 match-up against Gonzaga is exciting on paper, but the Bulldogs haven’t made a second weekend since 2009 and have only advanced to one Elite Eight, in 1999. Houston is also advantageous location for Iowa St with Ames being less than 1,000 miles from Houston, while Gonzaga is over 2,100 miles and Duke is over 1,1700 miles.

Best 1st Round Game: Two games stand out in the first round. Eastern Washington vs. Georgetown is the first one that stands out. Bettors have noticed with the line dropping from Georgetown -8.5 to -7.5 in less than twenty-four hours. The Eagles are top offensive team as they rank third in the country in points and ninth in field goal shooting. Add in that the game is in Portland and Georgetown has only advanced out of the first round twice in the past seven seasons, and I believe we have ourselves a chance for an upset. The second game is SMU vs. UCLA, which shouldn’t seem that exciting given how bad of a season UCLA had but SMU is hardly a challenge for a team as talented as UCLA. SMU is a media darling because of Larry Brown, but who have they beat this year? Eastern Washington and Texas Southern? UCLA has little business being in the tournament… they scored seven points in a half once. So of course, this will give them all the confidence in the world to continue to shock the world.

Best Potential 2nd Round Game: This region is pretty boring, especially when considering potential second round games. There are no regional rivalries that never happen and no second round threat to the one seed. Is Davidson/Gonzaga the best potential second round game? If this happens, can Adam Morrison and Steph Curry come back? There is the potential for a Coach K vs. Coach Fisher match-up in the second round if Duke and San Diego State both advance. The two coaches met in the 1992 NCAA Championship game when Duke faced the Michigan Fab Five, which was coached Fisher. San Diego State doesn’t match up from a talent standpoint against Duke, but seeing these two coaches on the sideline is a fun throwback.

Player To Watch: Potential number one pick Jahili Okafor is the best player in the region. He is the front-runner for Freshman of the Year after averaging 17.7 points-per-game and 9.0 rebounds-per-game. Shooting an even more impressive 66.9 percent from the field, Okafor is one of the top big men nationally. Okafor has the potential to carry his Blue Devils to a deep run this March.

Don’t sleep on Okafor’s teammate Tyus Jones, Iowa State’s Georges Niang, and Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer. All three of these players could also carry their teams on a deep run through the South Region.

Pick: I like Iowa State to come out of the South Region. The Cyclones are currently riding a five-game winning streak, which includes wins over Kansas and Oklahoma (twice). I love the balance of Iowa State, their current winning streak, and the geographical locations they were given. Niang is playing great basketball right now and Monte Morris has gotten into a groove. I don’t like Duke’s depth and their free throw shooting, and despite what the analysts say, I don’t trust Gonzaga to make a deep run.