March Madness 2021: NCAA Tournament bracket analysis, team capsules for South Region

USA TODAY Sports
·18 min read

Corrections and clarifications: A previous version of this story misstated North Carolina's last NCAA Tournament appearance. The Tar Heels last appeared in the tournament in 2019.

USA TODAY Sports breaks down the South Region of the NCAA Tournament:

Best first-round matchup: Texas Tech-Utah State. Fans of Mountain West Conference teams are familiar with the Aggies’ Neemias Queta. The junior 7-footer is averaging a double-double this year and has more than a few highlight rejections to his credit.

The Red Raiders aren’t likely to be intimidated, having already negotiated a Big 12 schedule that is by definition among the toughest in the country, and they tend to rely on their perimeter shooting anyway. But if the triples aren’t falling and Texas Tech has to start challenging the big fella, things could get interesting.

Potential upset: This almost seems too easy, but Villanova is in for a tough time against Winthrop. The Wildcats have gotten in a couple of games since losing point guard Collin Gillespie to a knee injury, but those results have not been promising.

The Eagles have lost only once all year, and they have a do-everything floor leader of their own, Chandler Vaudrin. If Winthrop does indeed advance, it could pose a tough challenge for Purdue in the next round as well.

The sleeper: Arkansas. One could argue that a team seeded as high as third isn’t really a sleeper, but the Razorbacks might fit the definition just the same. Not much was expected from them at the start of the campaign, but Eric Musselman has wasted no time putting his stamp on the program. A potential Sweet 16 encounter with Ohio State could be quite entertaining.

Baylor guards Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague celebrate during the Big 12 Conference tournament game against Kansas State.
Baylor guards Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague celebrate during the Big 12 Conference tournament game against Kansas State.

The winner: In the end, though, we’ll go with the top-seeded Bears to make the Final Four. Baylor has lost twice since coming off its COVID pause but should benefit from having a few extra days of recovery time before taking the court. If Jared Butler puts up his more typical numbers in the first couple of rounds, the Bears should feel good about their chances to reach the last weekend.

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Team-by-team look at the South Region:

No. 1 Baylor

Nickname: Bears. Location: Waco, Texas.

Record: 22-2, 13-1. Bid: Big 12 at-large.

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Gonzaga in second round.

Coach: Scott Drew (11-8 in eight appearances).

Overview: The Bears ran off 18 consecutive wins to start the season before a couple of late bumps in the road against Kansas and then Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. Still, they captured one of the toughest conferences with five fewer losses than any team and are a favorite to reach the school’s first Final Four since 1950. It’s a veteran group that leads the nation in shooting from three with Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell doing much of the damage. One drawback of their dominance is a lack of experience in tight games that are sure to be part of their potential run to a title.

Projected starters: G Jared Butler, 6-3, Jr. (17.1 ppg, 5.0 apg, 2.1 spg, 44.4 3FG%); G MaCio Teague, 6-4, Sr. (15.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 84.1 FT%); G Davion Mitchell, 6-2, Jr. (13.8 ppg, 5.7 apg, 47.2 3FG%); G/F Mark Vital, 6-5, Sr. (6.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg); F Flo Thamba, 6-10, Jr. (3.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg).

No. 2 Ohio State

Nickname: Buckeyes. Location: Columbus.

Record: 21-8, 12-8 Bid: Big Ten at-large

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Houston in second round.

Coach: Chris Holtmann (6-5 in five appearances).

Overview: After a blazing start to the season that saw them rise to No. 4 in the Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll, Ohio State stumbled toward the end of the regular season with four consecutive losses to finish fifth in the Big Ten. However, they still are one of the best teams in the country with 12 quad one and two wins. The duo of Duane Washington Jr. and E.J. Liddell creates problems for defenses, and if the Buckeyes are ahead late, it’ll be difficult to catch up to them; they are one of the best free-throw shooting teams, led by the nation’s best free throw shooter CJ Walker at 95.7%.

Projected starters: G CJ Walker, 6-1, Sr. (9.1 ppg, 4.2 apg, 95.7 FT%); G Duane Washington Jr., 6-3, Jr. (15.3 ppg, 2.9 apg, 89.3 FT%); F Justice Sueing, 6-7, Jr. (10.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.0 spg); F E.J. Liddell, 6-7, So. (16.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 49.8 FG%); F Kyle Young, 6-8, Sr. (8.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 53.1 FG%, 83.7 FT%)

No. 3 Arkansas

Nickname: Razorbacks. Location: Fayetteville.

Record: 22-6, 13-4. Bid: SEC at-large.

Last appearance: 2018, lost to Butler in first round.

Coach: Eric Musselman, (2-3 in three appearances).

Overview: There may have not been a hotter team the last seven weeks of the season than Arkansas. The Razorbacks won 12 straight Southeastern Conference games from the middle of January until losing to LSU in the SEC semifinals on Saturday. Arkansas' six losses is the least for the program in a single season since the national championship squad in 1994. While a few less games were played this season because of the pandemic, the Razorbacks have the body of work to do something special in March, with the expectation to make the Sweet 16 fully intact. Each of Arkansas' six losses came to teams also appearing in the NCAA Tournament.

Projected starters: G Moses Moody, 6-6, Fr. (17.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 44.2 FG%); G Jalen Tate, 6-6, Sr. (10.4 ppg, 49.6 FG%), G Davonte Davis, 6-3, Fr. (7.6 ppg, 46.9 FG%, 74.4 FT%); F Justin Smith, 6-7, Sr. (13.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 54.1 FG%); C Connor Vanover, 7-3, So. (6.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 95.2 FT%).

No. 4 Purdue

Nickname: Boilermakers. Location: West Lafayette, Ind.

Record: 18-8, 13-6. Bid: Big Ten at-large.

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Virginia in Elite Eight.

Coach: Matt Painter (15-12 in 12 appearances)

Overview: After a decent start, Purdue had a strong second half of the season, going 11-3 to end the regular season. They have one of the most underrated freshmen in the country in Jaden Ivey, but big man Trevion Williams’ dominance in the paint is why he was an all-conference team member. Matt Painter’s squad has one of the best résumés in the country, with 14 quad one/two wins, which is second in the country behind Illinois. Defense is their specialty, but don’t count them out if they fall behind in a game; four of their wins came after trailing by at least 11 points.

Projected starters: G Jaden Ivey, 6-4, Fr. (10.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Eric Hunter Jr., 6-4, Jr. (9.0 ppg, 2.8 apg); G Sasha Stefanovic, 6-5, Jr. (9.7 ppg, 2.6 apg, 41.5 3FG%, 83.0 FT%); F Mason Gillis, 6-6, Fr. (5.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 82.4 FT%); F Trevion Williams, 6-10, Jr. (15.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 52.8 FG%)

No. 5 Villanova

Nickname: Wildcats. Location: Villanova, Pa.

Record: 16-6, 11-4. Bid: Big East at-large.

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Purdue in second round.

Coach: Jay Wright (28-14 in 16 appearances).

Overview: Though the Wildcats spent much of the season ranked in the top 10, they limp into the tournament on a two-game losing streak after losing veteran floor leader Collin Gillespie (14.0 ppg, 4.6 apg) to a season-ending knee injury. Already somewhat undersized, they’ll now be even more reliant on 3-point accuracy and generating points in transition. Any opponent that can force them into extended half-court possessions could have success.

Projected starters: F Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 6-9, So. (15.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg); G Justin Moore, 6-4, So. (12.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.9 apg); F Jermaine Samuels, 6-7, Sr. (11.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 40.3 3FG%, 80.5 FT%); G Caleb Daniels, 6-4, Jr. (9.8 ppg, 39.6 3FG%); F Cole Swider, 6-9, Jr. (5.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg).

No. 6 Texas Tech

Nickname: Red Raiders. Location: Lubbock.

Record: 17-10, 9-8. Bid: Big 12 at-large.

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Virginia in national championship game.

Coach: Chris Beard (9-3 in three appearances).

Overview: The Red Raiders look very different from the last NCAA Tournament when they reached the championship game. Kyler Edwards is the only significant player left from that run. They still win the same way as that team – with defense that forces turnovers and holds opponent to a low shooting percentage. Georgetown transfer Mac McClung leads the offense, but will need help, especially if he is off his game or in foul trouble.

Projected starters: G Mac McClung, 6-2, Jr. (15.7 ppg, 2.2 apg, 80.3 FT%); G Kyler Edwards, 6-4, Jr. (10.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 41.5 3PT%); G Kevin McCullar, 6-6, So. (10.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F Marcus Santos-Silva, 6-7, Sr. (8.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 54.2 FG%); F Micah Peavy, 6-7, Fr. (5.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg).

No. 7 Florida

Nickname: Gators. Location: Gainesville.

Record: 14-9, 9-7 Bid: SEC at-large.

Last appearance: 2018, lost to Michigan in the second round.

Coach: Mike White (5-3 in three appearances).

Overview: The Gators were picked to finish fourth in the conference – although that was with junior Keyontae Johnson, the SEC’s preseason player of the year. After Johnson’s shocking collapse in UF’s fourth game of the season, Florida managed to regroup and go 11-8 down the stretch in his absence. Sophomore point guard Tre Mann and junior forward Colin Castleton helped lead the Gators to fifth in the conference, resulting in All-SEC recognition, but UF is limping into the tournament, having lost three of its last four games. Still, the Gators remain potent on the offensive end despite their shortcomings, as UF led the SEC in field-goal percentage, free throw percentage and three-point percentage.

Projected starters: G Tre Mann 6-5, So. (16.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 39.8 3FG%); G Tyree Appleby, 6-1, Jr. (11.4 ppg, 1.4 spg, 82.0 FT%); G Noah Locke, 6-3, Jr. (10.4 ppg, 40.6 3FG%); F Colin Castleton, 6-11, Jr. (12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 58.1 FG%); F Anthony Duruji, 6-7, Jr. (5.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

No. 8 North Carolina

Nickname: Tar Heels. Location: Chapel Hill.

Record: 18-10, 10-6. Bid: ACC at-large.

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Auburn in Sweet 16

Coach: Roy Williams (79-26 in 29 appearances).

Overview: Despite coming up a bit short in the ACC semifinals, the Tar Heels were showing signs of becoming the team fans were hoping to see. They’ll present one of the deepest frontcourts in the field. Carolina is at its best when running the court and crash the boards relentlessly. Their three-point shooting improved of late but they won’t want to rely on it. Turnovers can still be problematic, especially if UNC’s opponent can force it into a half-court game.

Projected starters: F Armando Bacot, 6-10, So. (11.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 62.2 FG%); F Garrison Brooks, 6-10, Sr. (10.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg); G Caleb Love, 6-4, Fr. (10.4 ppg, 3.8 apg); G Leaky Black, 6-8, Jr. (5.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.6 apg); G Kerwin Walton, 6-5, Fr. (8.3 ppg, 45.2 3FG%).

No. 9 Wisconsin

JH Nickname: Badgers. Location: Madison.

Record: 17-12, 10-10. Bid: Big Ten at-large.

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Oregon in first round.

Coach: Greg Gard (4-3 in three appearances)

Overview: A rocky finish to the regular season resulted in Wisconsin finishing sixth in the Big Ten standings, but this still is a solid squad led by a starting unit with four seniors. The experience is a major reason why they lead the nation in fewest turnovers with 8.9 turnovers per game. The defense is one of the best in the country, allowing 64 points per game, and teams need to out shoot the Badgers because they are 12-0 when finishing games with a better field goal percentage. However, the offense will need to find a rhythm to make a tournament run.

Projected starters: G D’Mitrik Trice, 6-0, Sr. (13.7 ppg, 3.9 apg); G Brad Davidson, 6-4, Sr. (9.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 84.4% FT%); F Aleem Ford, 6-8, Sr. (8.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 80.0% FT%); F Tyler Wahl, 6-9, So. (5.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.4 apg); F Nate Reuvers, 6-11, Sr. (8.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.2 bpg).

No. 10 Virginia Tech

Nickname: Hokies. Location: Blacksburg.

Record: 15-6, 9-4. Bid: ACC at-large.

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Duke in Sweet 16.

Coach: Mike Young (1-5 in five appearances).

Overview: The Hokies’ brief stay in the ACC tournament can’t truly be attributed to the team’s limited action over the last month of the season due to COVID-19 challenges. It did, however, show how a strong rebounding opponent can make their lives difficult. The Hokies do play solid half-court defense, and they have a variety of options on the offensive end.

Projected starters: F Keve Aluma, 6-9, Jr. (15.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 48.9 FG%); G Tyrece Radford, 6-2, So. (11.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 56.0 FG%); G Nahiem Alleyne, 6-4, So. (10.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 40.9 3FG%); F Justyn Mutts, 6-7, Jr. (9.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg); G Wabissa Bede, 6-1, Sr. (4.1 ppg, 3.2 apg).

No. 11 Utah State

Nickname: Aggies. Location: Logan.

Record: 20-8, 15-4. Bid: Mountain West at-large.

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Washington in first round.

Coach: Craig Smith (0-1 in one appearance).

Overview: The Aggies were on the bubble until they went on another run in the Mountain West tournament under coach Craig Smith, now in his third season after coming over from South Dakota. After winning the past two league tournaments, this time they lost in the final against San Diego State. Their success is centered on big man Neemias Queta, who earned conference defensive-player-of-the-year honors after averaging a double-double during league play.

Projected starters: C Neemias Queta, 7-0, Jr. (14.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 3.0 bpg); F Justin Bean, 6-7, Jr. (11.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg); G Marco Anthony, 6-5, Jr. (10.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Brock Miller, 6-5, Jr. (9.1 ppg, 39.2 3FG%); G Rollie Worster, 6-3, Fr. (9.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg).

No. 12 Winthrop

Nickname: Eagles. Location: Rock Hill, S.C.

Record: 23-1, 17-1. Bid: Big South champion.

Last appearance: 2017, lost to Butler in first round.

Coach: Pat Kelsey (0-1 in one appearance).

Overview: Winthrop is a sum of its parts. The Eagles enter the NCAA Tournament one of the deepest teams in the field with 11 players averaging 10 or more minutes per game. They excel on the boards ranking 10th nationally in rebounding (40.6) and eighth in offensive rebounding (13.5). They do this the same way they score 79.5 points per game — as a team, with 10 players averaging at least two rebounds. They take 24.3 3-pointers a game but can go cold, with 10 games under 30% from behind the arc. This wasn’t a problem as the Eagles lost just one game in the Big South but come the tournament it could be something teams look to exploit.

Projected starters: G Michael Anumba, 6-4, Jr. (6.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Charles Falden, 6-3, Sr. (9.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Kyle Zunic, 6-2, Sr. (4.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Chandler Vaudrin, 6-7, Sr. (12.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 6.7 apg, 37.0 3FG%); F D.J. Burns, 6-9, Jr. (9.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg).

No. 13 North Texas

Nickname: Mean Green. Location: Denton.

Record: 17-9, 9-5. Bid: Conference USA champion.

Last appearance: 2010, lost to Kansas State in first round.

Coach: Grant McCasland (first appearance).

Overview: North Texas can stretch the floor on offense behind four starters with 3-point range. The ability to shoot from deep combines with one of Conference USA’s top scoring defenses to make the Mean Green a potentially pesky opponent in the opening round. Senior guard Javion Hamlet is on fire heading into the postseason after leading the team in points and assists in all four wins to take the conference championship. And there’s something to be said for experience: UNT’s starting lineup has four seniors and a junior.

Projected starters: G Javion Hamlet (14.4 ppg, 4.1 apg, 89.2 FT%); G James Reese (11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.4 spg); G Mardrez McBride (6.7 ppg, 36.6 3FG%); F Thomas Bell (10.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 38.9 3FG%); F Zachary Simmons (10.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 65.9 FG%).

No. 14 Colgate

Nickname: Raiders. Location: Hamilton, N.Y.

Record: 14-1, 11-1. Bid: Patriot League champion

Last appearance: 2019, lost to Tennessee in first round.

Coach: Matt Langel (0-1 in one appearance).

Overview: They’ve played only 15 games but Colgate dominated the Patriot League once more as they’ll make their second straight tournament appearance. Led by conference player of the year Jordan Burns, they rank in the top 25 nationally in multiple categories, including second in points per game (86.4) and first in defensive rebounds per game (30.5). They also ended the season with a 13-game win streak and will rely on their offensive firepower to get them their first NCAA Tournament win in school history.

Projected starters: G Jordan Burns, 6-0, Sr. (17.1 ppg, 41.7% 3FG%, 5.4 apg, 1.6 spg); G Nelly Cummings, 6-0, Jr. (12.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 49.2 FG%); G Tucker Richardson, 6-5, Jr. (11.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.3 spg); G/F Ryan Moffatt, 6-6, So. (5.2 ppg, 1.1 spg, 53.8 FG%); F Keegan Records, 6-10, So. (9.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 62.0 FG%).

No. 15 Oral Roberts

Nickname: Golden Eagles. Location: Tulsa, Okla.

Record: 16-10, 10-5. Bid: Summit League champion.

Last appearance: 2008, lost to Pittsburgh in first round.

Coach: Paul Mills (first appearance).

Overview: Led by conference player of the year and the nation’s top scorer Max Abmas, the Golden Eagles can put up points as they’re in the top 15 in points per game and lead the nation with 11.3 3-pointers per game. They know how to convert from the free-throw line as well; their 82.3% free throw percentage is second-best in the country. However, their defense is cause for concern, as they rank in the bottom 60 of the NCAA in points allowed per game. If they want to make a Cinderella run in the tournament, they’ll need to shoot the lights out against a top seed.

Projected starters: G Max Abmas, 6-1, So. (24.3 ppg, 3.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 89.9 FT%); G Carlos Jürgens, 6-5, So. (5.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Kareem Thompson, 6-6, So. (8.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg); F Francis Lacis, 6-7, Jr. (3.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg); F Kevin Obanor, 6-8, Jr. (18.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 50.3 FG%, 88.1 FT%).

No. 16 Hartford

Nickname: Hawks. Location: West Hartford, Conn.

Record: 15-8, 8-6. Bid: America East champion.

Last appearance: First appearance.

Coach: John Gallagher (first appearance).

Overview: The Hawks made history by earning their first NCAA berth after finishing fourth in the league and winning four conference tournament games. Hartford plays at one of the slowest paces of any team in college basketball. This led to Hartford allowing 63.9 points per game. The Hawks offer a well-rounded offense with four players scoring in double figures. The issues could come with that pace of play — they could be exposed by higher-paced offenses.

Projected starters: G Austin Williams, 6-4, Jr. (12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 apg); G Traci Carter, 6-1, Sr. (10.5 ppg, 3.4 asp, 2.7 spg); G D.J Mitchell, 6-0, Jr (7.9 ppg,, 44.0 3FG%); F Hunter Marks, 6-9, Jr. (9.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg); F Miroslav Stafl, 6-10, So. (10.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg).

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness: NCAA Tournament bracket analysis for South Region