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2022 NCAA tournament region preview: South

The NCAA Tournament's South Region is headlined by No. 1-seed Arizona.
The NCAA Tournament's South Region is headlined by No. 1-seed Arizona.

With the first round of the NCAA tournament set to tip off Thursday, the Blue Zone breaks down each of the four regions, catching you up on all of the contenders and sleepers ready to make a run to the Final Four in New Orleans. Our other regional previews include the West, Midwest and East.

The No. 1 seed: Arizona

The Wildcats are one of the strongest candidates to make the Final Four with an overall record of 31-3. They had an impressive Pac-12 season, winning the regular-season title with a conference record of 18-2. This Arizona team’s strong finish, combined with its talented team, gives it the capability to match up with any team.

Pac-12 Player of the Year Bennedict Mathurin has led the Wildcats to a phenomenal season. The semifinalist for the Naismith Trophy Men’s Player of the Year is extremely athletic, great at driving to the rim and an excellent on-ball defender. So far in the postseason, Mathurin was named the Most Outstanding Player at the Pac-12 tournament after averaging 19.0 points per game in three games. He capped off the conference tournament with 27 points and seven assists as Arizona topped UCLA 84-76 in the title game. With Mathurin at the helm, Arizona has the tools to make a run to the final. 

Arizona is one of five teams to rank in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and four players are averaging more than 10 points per game on the season including junior center Christian Koloko. The Wildcats are one of the most talented and well-coached teams in the country. 

The other contenders: Big upset potential

Of all the regions, the South has perhaps the highest potential for multiple Cinderella teams that can break your bracket.

Loyola Chicago, Colorado State, Chattanooga and UAB are all teams that could pull off upsets either in the first round or deeper into the tournament. More on the Ramblers to come, but as for the other three, here are summaries.

No. 6-seed Colorado State is a well-coached team that features one of the best forwards in the country in David Roddy. Roddy is averaging 19.4 points per game on the season and is shooting an efficient 57.4% from the field. 

No. 13-seed Chattanooga recently won the Southern Conference championship on a buzzer-beater to punch its ticket to the Big Dance. The Mocs are led by guard Malachi Smith, who is averaging 20.1 points per game on 50.5% shooting, and talented big man Silvio De Sousa, who could potentially temper Illinois star center Kofi Cockburn. 

As for No. 12-seed UAB, the Blazers won the Conference USA tournament title to make their way to March Madness. This is most notably an experienced UAB team, which should bode well for them in March. The Blazers have a star guard in Jordan Walker who is averaging 20.4 points per game, but do face a strong Houston team that could prove to be too much offensively. 

Two other notable teams are No. 2-seed Villanova and No. 3-seed Tennessee, both of whom won conference tournament championships to cap off strong seasons. Despite the upset potential in this region, this hype could be quickly be tempered by a strong top three teams.

The potential Cinderella: Loyola Chicago

If there is one school that has been known in recent years for Cinderella runs in March, it is Loyola Chicago. With the legendary Sister Jean at their side, the Ramblers have had some impressive outings at the NCAA tournament. In 2018, Loyola Chicago made the Final Four, becoming one of five No. 11-seeds to ever make it to the Final Four, defeating some strong teams—such as No. 3-seed Tennessee in the second round—along the way. In 2021, the Ramblers lost in the Sweet Sixteen after beating No. 1-seed Illinois.

This year, the Ramblers have a veteran team that is strong on defense and can move the ball well on offense. They are led by senior guard Lucas Williamson, who is averaging 14.0 points per game on 45.3% shooting, but lost big man Cameron Krutwig from last year's run. Overall, Loyola Chicago’s experience and defensive efficiency can help it upset No. 7-seed Ohio State in the first round and potentially allow it to make a further run. 

The regional narrative: Heavily contested with Wildcats on top

Although this region has a lot of March Madness excitement, Arizona should get the job done. There is no team in the region that can truly compete with its high-level offense, and with Mathurin leading the way, the Wildcats should be a surefire bid to make the Final Four.

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