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2022 NCAA Tournament

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

2022 NCAA Tournament South Region Preview: Arizona Eyes Second Title

2022 NCAA Tournament
(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

2022 NCAA Tournament South Region Preview

Welcome to our 2022 NCAA Tournament coverage! For other region previews, click below!

West Region | East Region | Midwest Region

No. 1 Seed Overview: Arizona Wildcats

Under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd, the Arizona Wildcats bullied their way through the Pac-12, sweeping the regular season and tournament titles while compiling a 31-3 record. Arizona is No. 2 in the KenPom ratings with the No. 5 offense and No. 20 defense. Lloyd’s Gonzaga influence is clear considering the way Arizona plays basketball.

The thing about Arizona is they can beat you in so many ways. Bennedict Mathurin is the go-to guy on the wing, averaging 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 46% from the field. Christian Koloko is one of the best rim runners and rim protectors in college basketball, registering 2.7 blocks per game. Forward Azuolas Tubelis averages 14 and six on 55.3% shooting. Then there’s Kerr Kriisa, a spunky playmaker with a big personality. Arizona is just so balanced and unbelievably difficult to pick apart. The Wildcats’ only three losses of the season came against UCLA (No. 4 seed), Tennessee (No. 3 seed) and Colorado (non-tournament team).

Just a quick note that Kerr Kriisa is recovering from an ankle injury and his status entering the 2022 NCAA Tournament is questionable. He is very important to the Wildcats, but they are still quite dangerous without him. The Wildcats are looking to win their second national title in program history after being the final team standing in 1997. With the balance and talent on this roster, a title isn’t out of the question.

Sleeper Team to Win Region: No. 6 Colorado State Rams

Even as the higher seed in their first-round matchup, Colorado State was not favored to prevail over No. 11 Michigan. They may not have had the most exciting end to the season, but the Rams are the highest-seeded team from a Mountain West Conference that was extremely competitive and produced four tournament teams. They have a legit star in guard David Roddy and a really nice No 2. option, Isaiah Stevens. CSU is a very guard-heavy team – with that comes a fun and dynamic offense, but they may struggle to contain Michigan big Hunter Dickinson in the first round. Michigan will be without lead guard DeVante’ Jones (concussion protocol) for this game, which will free the Rams to send doubles into the paint without an increased threat of paying for it on the perimeter.

It feels like a lot of people are sleeping on Colorado State despite the fact that they were one of the best and most consistent mid-majors for pretty much the whole season. The Rams defeated two tournament teams (No. 5 Saint Mary’s and No. 9 Creighton) by double-digits while sweeping the MWC champion Boise State Broncos. They have some questions to answer on the defensive end, but do not be surprised if they pull off a run.

Double-Digit Seed Most Likely to Make Noise: No. 12 UAB Blazers

The UAB Blazers are so slept on, but one name you should remember is Jordan “Jelly” Walker. Walker averages an impressive 20.4 points per game, good for 14th best in the nation, but he really exploded in the Conference USA Tournament. In those three games, Jelly went off for 31 points per game and led the Blazers to the autobid in the C-USA. If you’re looking for a player who can pull off a Kemba Walker-type run, this is your guy.

For a No. 12 seed, UAB is quite impressive analytically. They possess a top-30 offense per KenPom and their defense is good enough to hang around against higher-seeded competition. Here’s a fun fact per ShotQuality: the Blazers are one of four teams in the tournament field to rank in the top 15 for both transition scoring volume and transition efficiency. The other three? Gonzaga, Arizona, and Kansas – all No. 1 seeds. Don’t sleep on UAB.

Player to Watch: Take Your Pick

The amount of individual talent in this region is absolutely insane. Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin is a talented wing who has played his way to potential lottery pick status. Jelly Walker could potentially carry UAB to a Sweet Sixteen. Collin Gillespie is the best true point guard in the country and leads a competitive Villanova squad. Chattanooga’s Malachi Smith was the SoCon Player of the Year. EJ Liddell is an All-American for Ohio State who brings it on both ends. Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler is a first-round draft pick. Kofi Cockburn needs no introduction for Illinois as one of the elite bigs in college basketball. David Roddy stars for Colorado State. Michigan has Hunter Dickinson. The list of talented players in this region is so deep; try to watch as many as you can.

Most Intriguing First-Round Game: No. 4 Illinois Fighting Illini vs. No. 13 Chattanooga Mocs

At their ceiling, Illinois can reach a Final Four. They have a dominant big in Kofi Cockburn, who is top-15 in the nation for points, rebounds, and field goal percentage. They have solid guard play led by Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer. The Illini also have a massive chip on their shoulder after failing to reach the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 1 seed in last year’s tournament. Even with the talent they have, Chattanooga seems to have some answers. SoCon Player of the Year Malachi Smith is one of the best scorers in the sport at 20.1 points per game. Kansas transfer Silvio De Sousa may be the answer to limiting Cockburn inside. The Mocs don’t have any glaring issues regarding offense or defense and can definitely make this a game.

Prediction

I’m still unsure what Kerr Kriisa’s status is for the tournament, but I’ve seen enough of Arizona to not be super concerned about that. Tennessee is playing some of their best basketball of the season right now and have quietly been playing very well all year. I’ve come around to like the Volunteers’ combination of three-guard lineup and high-level defense. Plus I’m not super confident in No. 2 Villanova’s outlook for this tournament based on what I’ve seen. Give me the Wildcats and the Vols to meet in the Elite Eight.

Region Final Prediction: No. 1 Arizona over No. 3 Tennessee

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