The Runner Sports

2017 NCAA Tournament: Round Of 64 – South Region

Selections made, brackets filled out, the First Four did a flyover in Dayton, and it’s the greatest time of the year. March Madness! The 2017 NCAA Tournament is on hand and ready to break brackets and hearts, put Cinderellas on the center dance floor, and crown a champion to a college basketball season that saw six teams claim top of the AP poll and none for more than five weeks.

East | Midwest | West

#1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs #16 Texas Southern Tigers

You know the drill, no upset to this degree has happened, and we’re not staring at any this year. We’ll see more from UNC, so give a little love to the Tigers out of the SWAC.

It’ll be the Tigers’ third trip to the big dance in four years, but they’ve yet to notch a victory. They applied themselves to a tough series of non-conference games, and came up short in every one, but lost just two games in SWAC play.

Marvin Jones is the lone senior in the starting five, and the Tigers could easily be right back here next year with a better draw.

Prediction: North Carolina

#2 Kentucky Wildcats vs #15 Northern Kentucky Norse

The Norse are one for one on NCAA Tournament appearances, finding themselves dancing in their first year of eligibility. Take that Northwestern! Unfortunately, they’ll surely be 0-1 in the short lineage of March basketball as they face a daunting Kentucky team.

While Northern Kentucky does a great job rebounding the ball, they struggle mightily to both score and defend. The Wildcats should make very quick work of their in-state foe.

Prediction: Kentucky

#3 UCLA Bruins vs #14 Kent State Golden Flashes

Lonzo Ball has very much been the real deal, and while just about everybody is sick of hearing from his father, LaVar, most are eager to see Ball ball it out here in March. Many eyes will be on Ball, and that’s the way he’ll like it, but it’s all about the action happening away from the ball. The Bruins lead the nation in assists, and are one of the least selfish rosters you’ll happen upon. Ball personally sits 15th in the nation with his 3.06 assist/turnover ration.

Kent State lands in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years. They’re top-notch rebounders, nabbing the 2nd most offensive and total rebounds this season. They’ll need plenty more than just their proficiency on the glass to withstand the spread attack UCLA employs.

UCLA hasn’t put forth much of a defense through this season, thriving on their great scorers to simply run opponents out of the building. Slowing them down’s been no simple task, they’re running the fastest pace in the tournament field, and leading in many of the offensive categories that look most sexy in the box score.

Prediction: UCLA

#4 Butler Bulldogs vs #13 Winthrop Eagles

Butler’s grown from Cinderella to perennial contenders here in the NCAA Tournament, and 2017 might be the best version of the Bulldogs we’ve seen since their Final Four run. The South region provides plenty of room for advancement, and they’ve already topped the best this field has to offer…twice; handing Villanova two of their three losses this season. They’ve also bested Arizona and fellow South competitor Cincy among other Big East opponents in the bracket.

The biggest statistic that translates well regardless of what conference a team played in is shooting efficiency. Winthrop’s aired the ball out a decent bit this season, shooting 814 threes, and knocked em down with a fair bit of success (.373). Butler doesn’t slouch too much on three-point defense, but they’ll need to limit the damage the Eagles can accomplish from deep.

Butler is far from perfect, but definitely looks like they could make a deep push in this South bracket.

Prediction: Butler

#5 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs #12 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

People are still riding the Big Ten pretty hard, and many irked people are upset over the seedings the conference got, namely shorting Wisconsin while slotting Minnesota into a 5 seed. The most improved team in the country, the Gophers aren’t feeling the love, and while there’s reason to be excited about this Blue Raiders team that upset Sparty a year ago, Minnesota has to be playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder.

Many Cinderellas find abbreviated success, and rarely find major upsets in consecutive years, but the Blue Raiders are looking to join the club. They’ve quickly emerged as one of the top mid-major teams in the country, and show no signs of moving away from that designation.

The Blue Raiders have lots to like on both sides of the ball. They’re efficient scorers behind JaCorey Williams (17.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 54% FG%) but thrive most by moving the ball around.

The Blue Raiders are sliding into that popular 12/5 upset pick among brackets, while Minnesota and the Big Ten feel a whole lot of disrespect by this field. Watch out for this trap game.

Prediction: Minnesota

#6 Cincinnati Bearcats vs #11 Kansas State Wildcats

I feel a little bit bad having totally undervalued the Wildcats in their First Four matchup. Their defense was disruptive, and the offense was gliding in front the train wreck in the wake of the Demon Deacons.

Travel has been a talking point to this game. Cincinnati is playing in their 7th consecutive NCAA Tournament, but find themselves shipped to the opposite coast to open up play for the third time in the last four years. The Wildcats will have gone to Dayton Monday, and quickly flipped around Wednesday to play in Sacramento Friday. The tournament is exhausting, and play-in games add travel, fatigue, and one extra scouting opportunity for opponents. It can also give a team that flare of adrenaline and momentum needed to break through the hump and into the next round.

Cincinnati continues to play a tough, physical defense they’ve been notorious for, and have the benefit of having an opponent already 40 minutes into their fuel tank.

A First Four winner has played into the Round of 32 in every single year since 2011, and Kansas State is certainly a team that can keep that streak alive.

Prediction: Kansas State

#7 Dayton Flyers vs #10 Wichita State Shockers

Talk about getting screwed. Both teams here have plenty to gripe about. While Dayton’s far from a top seed here, they’re still getting the shaft drawing a 7/10 showdown with a Wichita State team that by every advanced metric available is vastly better than a 10 seed.

Wichita State hasn’t seen an outstandingly tough schedule, but have been good for a tournament win in each of their last four appearances. They saw a bit of senior turnover from last year, and don’t have the star power we’ve seen in previous editions, but the Shockers are still playing a tough brand of basketball and beating opponents on the glass.

Dayton led an A10 that’s only somehow gotten better despite losing a few schools to the Big East in recent years. They’ll have plenty of reason to pen a strongly worded letter to the Selection Committee should they face a swift departure this year.

Prediction: Wichita State

#8 Arkansas Razorbacks vs #9 Seton Hall Pirates

The Pirates made obvious strides from the middle of the season, erasing two blowouts at the hands of Villanova, losing by just 2 points in the Big East tournament. Were the improvements short-lived or will they withstand one of the best second half teams in the nation?

Arkansas outscored opponents by 203 points in the second half this season. Can they afford a poor first stanza and hope their trend keeps them close as time winds down? The Razorbacks played in a relatively weaker SEC, and went just 1-3 against ranked opponents this season.

Controlling the offensive glass and limiting turnovers will be key for Seton Hall to withstand that second half rally. Feed the offense through Angel Delgado and win the boards, and the Pirates should be able to plunder the second round booty.

Prediction: Seton Hall

East | Midwest | West

Join the TRS staff writers in bracket challenge action. 

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold