March Madness 2022: South Region boasts No. 1 seed Arizona, intriguing matchups

USA TODAY Sports breaks down the NCAA Tournament South Region:

Best first-round matchup: There were legitimate questions about whether Michigan should even be in the NCAA Tournament this season, much less as a No. 11 seed that gets to avoid Dayton. But statistically, the Wolverines and their opponent in Colorado State are basically mirror images: Both top-20 offensive teams, both outside the top 80 on defense, both play at a deliberate pace. That should leave us with a competitive game featuring a lot of offense and shooting, even if the defense is shaky. Colorado State plays small most of the time, so it will be interesting to see if the Rams have a decent matchup for center Hunter Dickinson (18.3 ppg) — or whether their speed can play him off the floor.

Christian Koloko talks with coach Tommy Lloyd during the second half against the Bruins at McKale Center.
Christian Koloko talks with coach Tommy Lloyd during the second half against the Bruins at McKale Center.

Potential upset: For fans of the old Conference USA, Houston-UAB brings back some nostalgia as they were both founding members of the league in 1995 and had dozens of entertaining battles in the early 2000s. Now, Houston is bound for the Big 12 while UAB is one of the schools that will take its place in the American. For Houston, which had a terrific season despite losing Marcus Sasser and Truman Mark to injury, this is a potentially tricky matchup. Houston is excellent defensively, but the scoring comes and goes. UAB has the 28th ranked offense according to the Pomeroy efficiency ratings and shoots an excellent 38% as a team from the 3-point line. Under Andy Kennedy, UAB is 49-14 over the last two seasons and was in every ballgame this year. In fact, of its seven losses, six came by a combined 20 points. If UAB can get the pace going quickly in this game, the Blazers will have a shot.

MARCH MADNESS BRACKET GAME: Create a pool and invite your friends!

PRINT OUT YOUR BRACKET: Fill out your men’s tournament bracket

FOOTBALL BLUEPRINT: SEC pouring money into basketball contracts and changing sport's landscape

TOP FIVE UNDERPAID: FSU's Leonard Hamilton heads the list

The sleeper: Loyola Chicago always makes sure we don’t forget about the Ramblers — and Sister Jean — in March. Though the Ramblers are merely the 10th seed here, they’re the 24th-ranked team in the country per the Pomeroy ratings and have been particularly stingy on defense under first-year head coach Drew Valentine. Though it's a much different cast of characters than the Loyola that went to the Final Four a few years back, and even last season when they upset No. 1 seed Illinois in the second round, guard Lucas Williamson is a 40 percent 3-point shooter this season and one of the players you would trust most in March to make a big shot. Loyola’s culture is all about confidence, and the Ramblers got a pretty favorable first-round matchup against No. 7 seed Ohio State. If they can get it rolling again, look out.

The winner: Arizona has been arguably the most complete team in the country this season, and part of the reason is late-game execution — a trend that carried the Wildcats once again in their 84-76 win over UCLA for the Pac-12 tournament title. With Benedict Mathurin’s ability to create scoring opportunities off the dribble, traditional bigs who are both very skilled around the basket and solid 3-point shooters at every backcourt/wing position, it’s hard to find a weakness to attack and scheme against. Interestingly, the Wildcats could end up playing No. 3 seed Tennessee in the Elite Eight — one of the three teams that beat them this season. But that 77-73 loss in Knoxville should have a different tenor on a neutral court in San Antonio.


Kansas' Bill Self first to $10M, more women hitting $1M mark as basketball coaches' salaries skyrocket

No. 1 Arizona

Record: (31-3, 18-2 Pac-12 champion)

Coach: Tommy Lloyd

Leading scorer: Bennedict Mathurin, 17.4 ppg

No. 2 Villanova

Record: (26-7, 16-4 Big East champion)

Coach: Jay Wright

Leading scorer: Collin Gillespie, 15.9 ppg

No. 3 Tennessee

Record: (26-7, 14-4 SEC champion)

Coach: Rick Barnes

Leading scorer: Kennedy Chandler, 13.8 ppg

No. 4 Illinois

Record: (22-9, 15-5 Big Ten at-large)

Coach: Brad Underwood

Leading scorer: Kofi Cockburn, 21.1 ppg

No. 5 Houston

Record: (28-5, 15-3 American champion)

Coach: Kelvin Sampson

Leading scorer: Kyler Edwards, 13.5 ppg

No. 6 Colorado State

Record: (25-5, 14-4 Mountain West at-large)

Coach: Niko Medved

Leading scorer: David Roddy, 19.4 ppg

No. 7 Ohio State

Record: (19-11, 12-8 Big Ten at-large)

Coach: Chris Holtmann

Leading scorer: E.J. Liddell, 19.6 ppg

No. 8 Seton Hall

Record: (21-10, 11-8 Big East at-large)

Coach: Kevin Willard

Leading scorer: Jared Rhoden, 15.9 ppg

No. 9 TCU

Record: (20-12, 8-10 Big 12 at-large)

Coach: Jamie Dixon

Leading scorer: Mike Miles, 15.0 ppg

No. 10 Loyola-Chicago

Record: (25-7, 13-5 Missouri Valley champion)

Coach: Drew Valentine

Leading scorer: Lucas Williamson, 14.0 ppg

No. 11 Michigan

Record: (17-14, 11-9 Big Ten at-large)

Coach: Juwan Howard

Leading scorer: Hunter Dickinson, 18.3 ppg

No. 12 Alabama-Birmingham

Record: (27-7, 14-4 Conference USA champion)

Coach: Andy Kennedy

Leading scorer: Jordan Walker, 20.4 ppg

No. 13 Chattanooga

Record: (27-7, 14-4 Southern champion)

Coach: Lamont Paris

Leading scorer: Malachi Smith, 20.1 ppg

No. 14 Longwood

Record: (26-6, 16-2 Big South champion)

Coach: Griff Aldrich

Leading scorer: Justin Hill, 14.2 ppg

No. 15 Delaware

Record: (22-12, 10-8 Colonial champion)

Coach: Martin Ingelsby

Leading scorer: Jameer Nelson Jr., 13.7 ppg

No. 16 Wright State

Record: (21-13, 15-7 Horizon champion)

Coach: Scott Nagy

Leading scorer: Tanner Holden, 19.8 ppg

No. 16 Bryant

Record: (22-9, 15-2 Northeast champion)

Coach: Jared Grasso

Leading scorer: Peter Kiss, 25.1 ppg

Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness 2022: Arizona may be toughest out in NCAA Tournament