2021 NCAA Tournament South Region Predictions

The 2021 NCAA Tournament South region has the most potential to bust everyone’s bracket this year. Here are the matchups:

First Round

(1) Baylor vs (16) Hartford

The top seed in the NCAA South Region belongs to the Baylor Bears. This is their first number one seed in school history. In fact, they have never been seeded higher than a three. 

Hartford is making their NCAA tournament debut and it’s not a pleasant matchup for the Hawks. The America East champions suffered a 34 point loss to Villanova and a 12 point loss to UConn this year.

Baylor has had their struggles in recent tournaments but it would take a lot for Hartford to pull off the upset. Baylor should cruise by at least 25 points. 

(8) North Carolina vs (9) Wisconsin

North Carolina is not used to being ranked this low come NCAA Tournament time. But this ranking is just about right. They have one quality win over Florida State in three tries. For the most part, all of their losses are to tournament teams who are really good.

The same can be said for the Wisconsin Badgers. They also beat the teams they needed to while most of their losses were to the superpowers in the Big Ten. 

This is a very even matchup across the board with different styles. This is very similar to 2017 when Wisconsin was an eight seed and made it to the sweet sixteen. The Tar Heels have never reached the sweet sixteen under Roy Williams when seeded lower than a four. I’ll take Wisconsin in a close, low-scoring game.

(5) Villanova vs (12) Winthrop

When picking upsets, most people look to the 12 seeds to do just that. This matchup is no different. 

Villanova is a very talented team and likely would have been seeded higher had they not lost guard Collin Gillespie to a knee injury earlier this month. They lost two close games to Providence and Georgetown without Gillespie. It’s hard to evaluate what they did early in the season when they are missing such a key piece to the team. 

The Winthrop Eagles didn’t have any tough power five tests this year as they played mostly conference games. But this team can score, averaging almost 80 points per game. Their offense is evenly distributed as well. They haven’t had a player lead the team in scoring in consecutive games since January. They come into the tournament on a hot streak with a seven-game win streak. Their last three wins have been by an average of 25 points per game.

Villanova still has a lot of talent in the team but they haven’t had time to figure out their new identity. Head coach Jay Wright brings a championship pedigree but he’s also no stranger to an early tournament exit. Give me Winthrop to win by one possession. 

(4) Purdue vs (13) North Texas

Another program with recent struggles in the NCAA Tournament is Purdue. The Boilermakers are looking to change that this year. This may be a slight overseeding for Purdue despite beating Ohio State two out of three times this year. Their biggest advantage, no pun intended, is their size. They have the tallest roster in the Big Ten.

North Texas is coming off an overtime victory against Western Kentucky in the Conference USA championship game. The Mean Green likes to slow it down and play a half-court game. They don’t have the size and depth to match up with Purdue. Look for them to try a zone defense from time to time and force Purdue to make jump shots. 

This will be a game played from the interior. North Texas will need to find their three-point shot that eluded them in the conference championship. They shoot a higher percentage than Purdue from three and will need to get hot to pull off a victory. In the end, Purdue will be too much in the final minutes and walk away with a single-digit win. 

(6) Texas Tech vs (11) Utah State

Texas Tech is a very strong six seed this year. They have exceptional guard play led by Mac Mcclung and his team-leading 16 points per game. The Red Raiders went 2-1 against Texas this year and also have a win against LSU. They also don’t have any bad losses. All of their losses are to teams who are seeded higher than them in the tournament.

Utah State had to sweat it out on Sunday to see if they would be in the field. Their resume consisted of two strong wins against San Diego State. They had losses to BYU and VCU that could have propelled them way above the bubble. 

The Aggies don’t have the same quality in the backcourt that the Red Raiders do. Also, Texas Tech beat every team that they should and this won’t be any different. Texas Tech wins by eight.

(3) Arkansas vs (14) Colgate

Arkansas is a new face to being seeded this high. The Razorbacks had a great year with wins against Alabama, LSU, and Florida. They also had close losses to Oklahoma State and Tennessee. They won 12 of 13 before falling to LSU in the SEC semifinals. 

Colgate, the Patriot League champions, only played conference games this year going 14-1. They lost the second game of the year and haven’t looked back, winning all of their games by seven points or more.

This game looks to be a track meet as both teams can put the ball in the hoop. In the end, Arkansas is too skillful and too athletic. Arkansas by double digits.

(7) Florida vs (10) Virginia Tech

This is a matchup of inconsistent play from both teams all season. 

Florida has a couple of nice wins against Tennessee and West Virginia. But then they have questionable losses against Kentucky and South Carolina. The Gators best player, Keyontae Johnson, was lost for the season early in with a health scare and the team never got settled in.

Virginia Tech seems to play to their competition. The Hokies have solid wins against Villanova, Virginia, and Clemson. They also have alarming losses to Pitt and Penn State. The Hokies have only played three games since Feb. 6th, losing two of those.

Even though Florida has lost three of their last four, I’ll take them to win a sloppy game just because they have at least played in the last month.

(2) Ohio State vs (15) Oral Roberts

Ohio State is coming off their runner-up finish in the Big Ten championship. They found their game in the conference tournament after a four-game slide going into it. The combination of guard Duane Washington Jr. and forward E.J. Liddell are matchup nightmares. 

Oral Roberts likes to do the run and gun offense. The Golden Eagles love to shoot the three as they do so at a high percentage, almost 40%. They have a couple of close losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. 

Oral Roberts will need to get hot shooting and play a near-perfect game to pull off this upset. They’ll need to stop the Buckeyes on the defensive end too which is a large task. Buckeyes advance with a late second-half surge.

Round of 32

(1) Baylor vs (9) Wisconsin

The top seed in the NCAA South Region has a tough second-round matchup whether it’s Wisconsin or North Carolina. Wisconsin will try to slow the pace down to a halt and make every possession feel like it’s the most important possession of the game. Baylor isn’t afraid to hurry the pace up and go score, averaging 84 points per game.  

Wisconsin’s best quality wins are over Loyola Chicago and Maryland. They give up 64 points per game but against the elite teams in the country they give up about 10 more. One notable common opponent is Illinois. Baylor beat the Fighting Illini by 13. Wisconsin lost to them twice, once by 15 and once by five.

Everything points to the Bears in this one but there are 2017 vibes when eighth-seeded Wisconsin knocked off defending champion Villanova in the second round. If shots don’t fall early for the Bears this matchup could get interesting, but I’ll take the Bears.

(4) Purdue vs (12) Winthrop

This appears to be a more even matchup than the seeding implies. Winthrop is hard to gauge as they haven’t had a chance to play any power five teams this year. The Eagles also go deep into their bench using 10 or sometimes 11 guys in a game. 

Purdue is a solid team with two wins over Ohio State this year. Winthrop could be a huge bracket buster this year but I can’t pick them until they do it. I’m not very confident but Purdue wins by five.

(3) Arkansas vs (6) Texas Tech

Another very even matchup between Arkansas and Texas Tech. Both teams like to get out and score. Both teams are guard-dominant in their offense which makes them both very dangerous. 

There are some common NCAA opponents between the two teams. Both played Oklahoma State. Arkansas lost by four. Texas Tech lost to the Cowboys twice, both in overtime. Both teams also played LSU. Arkansas went 1-2 against the Tigers while the Red Raiders won by five. 

This should be a back and forth game, coming down to the wire. However, give me Texas Tech with a late bucket to move on to the sweet sixteen.

(2) Ohio State vs (7) Florida

Ohio State is the clear favorite to move on in this one. Florida hasn’t played consistently enough to trust them in this game. Ohio State played and beat much harder competition throughout the year so they should be able to take down the Gators. Florida may not even get by Virginia Tech so I don’t see them having much of a chance against Ohio State. Give me Ohio State by double digits.

Sweet Sixteen

(1) Baylor vs (4) Purdue

A matchup of programs that have underperformed in recent NCAA Tournaments. Purdue made it to the elite eight in 2019, their longest run since 2000. Baylor hasn’t made the elite eight since 2012 and had some first-round exits in 2015 and 2016 as higher seeds. 

I didn’t love Baylor against Wisconsin and I wonder if the size of Purdue will affect Baylor’s guards. Nothing really points towards a Baylor loss other than recent history and some teams just find a way to lose. Give me Purdue in a close one.

(2) Ohio State vs (6) Texas Tech

The field is so even this year that sweet sixteen matchups feel like they could be final four matchups. But Texas Tech has found a way to consistently lose close games to the elite teams in the country. Two overtime losses to Oklahoma State, two close losses to West Virginia, and a loss in the final seconds to Texas in the Big 12 tournament. 

Ohio State has plenty of quality wins including Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Purdue. Texas Tech may be out of their weight class in this one with the talent Ohio State has on their roster. Ohio State wins by four.

Elite Eight

(2) Ohio State vs (4) Purdue

A fourth matchup is in the works between these Big Ten rivals. Purdue won the first two meetings by seven and by two. Ohio State took the last meeting in overtime of the Big Ten tournament semifinals. Those two wins for Purdue over Ohio State were the most notable on their schedule by far. 

Being in the same conference, there are a lot of common opponents. But almost all of them have a higher winning margin in favor of Ohio State. 

It should be a very passionate and emotional game in their fourth meeting. But when it matters most, Ohio State will find a way like they did in the Big Ten tournament. Give me the Buckeyes to win the South region and move on to their first final four since 2012.

The First Four will take place on Thursday while the first-round action will be Friday and Saturday.

How do you see the South Region playing out in the NCAA Tournament? Leave a comment below.

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You can follow Tyler Samsel on Twitter @tylersamsel.

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