South Region Preview

Story posted March 15, 2023 in CommRadio, Sports by Connor Fenix

With the First Four set to wrap up on Wednesday evening, the surviving teams will anxiously pack their bags with the right to head to the NCAA Tournament.

It’s the best time of the year once again, bringing us an intimidating lineup of unique matchups and Cinderella Stories that will be remembered for years to come.

Selection Sunday kept all college basketball fans, coaches and players on the edge of their seats, paving the way and building the adrenaline for what awaits them come Thursday afternoon.

One section, in particular, contains a lot of character and talent that could undoubtedly bust some brackets — the South Region.

Here’s a look at the first-round matchups coming out of the South.

No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs No. 16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders

SEC Champs and the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s tournament, the Alabama Crimson Tide are looking to continue their hot streak against a team much smaller than their inner-conference rival Texas A&M.

Tuesday night, the Islanders of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi defeated Southeast Missouri, 75-71, for the right to play against one of the most complete teams in all of college basketball.

It’s almost impossible to sense a No. 16 seed upsetting a No. 1 in this matchup, but we’ve seen crazier things happen in March.

Freshman forward Brandon Miller leads all of the Crimson Tide in points (19.6) and rebounds (8.3) per game.

After last tournament’s first-round exit to No. 11 Notre Dame, it’s safe to say Alabama has found what it takes to make a deep run in the Big Dance, and I think it starts with taking the frustration out on a team that’s just excited to be there.

No. 2 Arizona Wildcats vs No. 15 Princeton Tigers

Fresh off a Pac-12 Tournament Championship over UCLA, the Arizona Wildcats turn the page as considerate favorites as a No. 2 seed.

The Princeton Tigers are a well-coached and disciplined squad that brings about a unique style of basketball that presents a challenge for the Wildcats after winning the Ivy League Tournament.

The Wildcats are similar to Alabama, with one key player being the backbone of the team — that player is junior Azuolas Tubelis.

A product of Lithuania, the 6-foot-11, 245-pound forward leads Arizona in points (19.8) and rebounds (9.3) per game.

With only one NCAA Tournament championship in 37 total appearances, Arizona is looking to lean heavily on Tubelis’ leadership to move on from a team who is not particularly on the same wavelength.

No. 3 Baylor Bears vs No. 14 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos

The Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara may present to us the first major upset of this year’s tournament.

These two teams match up very well, and even though the Gauchos have not faced a top-25 team all season, they have a shot to knock off a vulnerable team like Baylor.

Baylor has seen an embarrassing first-round exit to Yale before, the Gauchos bring in a better field goal percentage than their counterparts.

UC Santa Barbara has shot 49.4% from the field this season compared to Baylor’s 44.7%, but Baylor’s experience in the Big 12 may be an edge in this matchup.

It was only two short years ago that the Bears were crowned champions, but UC Santa Barbara will be no pushover to survive the first round.

No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers vs No. 13 Furman Paladins

This is another matchup that should be put on upset alert, as a lot of brackets have Furman moving on to the Round of 32.

The likes of the Cavaliers believe this shouldn’t be the case, as Virginia arguably has the best defense in the nation with its opponents averaging just 60.2 points per game.

Furman also has not played a top-25 team this season, but it’s all about getting hot at the right time as the Paladins are 9-1 in their last 10.

Another close matchup, this one may bust a few brackets.

No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs vs No. 12 College of Charleston Cougars

What a run and story it has been for the 31-3 Charleston Cougars, earning an automatic bid and an opportunity to make some noise in the big dance.

San Diego State also earned an automatic bid after winning the Mountain West Tournament, giving the Aztecs their 18th overall tournament appearance.

The Cougars have won their last 10 games and set a Colonial Athletic Association record with 31 victories this season, earning the No. 12 seed in the South.

Although the Aztecs don’t have any star players, the experience is all that matters in this contest, but this one’s slated to be a nail-biter.

No. 6 Creighton Bluejays vs No. 11 North Carolina State Wolfpack

As we get into the better matchups, this one is as exciting as they come.

A Big East-ACC matchup, there really is no telling where this one could go, but Creighton is a name we hear so often every March.

After winning just 11 games last season, the Wolfpack returns to the tournament for the first time since 2018.

Creighton started slow, but its mid-season turnaround has turned into something truly special.

Tournament-wise, the Bluejays are 15-24 all-time but have won at least one game in their last 11 of 13 appearances — making them a menace to play in the first round.

No. 7 Missouri Tigers vs No. 10 Utah State Aggies

Another great contest where the two teams are equally matched, the Tigers and Aggies are set to bring us a battle in the first round.

The numbers are everything, with Utah State having the better strength of schedule and Missouri narrowly averaging just 0.9 more points per game than the Aggies.

Bottomline, the SEC and Mountain West are daunting conferences, but Utah State head coach Ryan Odom is no stranger to upsets after his 2018 No. 16 seed UMBC trounced No. 1 Virginia, 74-54.

Missouri is well aware of a confident Utah State squad, but this one should be a track meet.

No. 8 Maryland Terrapins vs No. 9 West Virginia Mountaineers

The Terrapins and Mountaineers have the pristine honor of bringing us the inaugural game in this year’s NCAA Tournament with a head coach matchup for the ages.

Kevin Willard brought Maryland back to the tournament after a successful tenure at Seton Hall, looking to relive the best moments of being in the big dance.

Meanwhile, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins is also no stranger to March.

Like Maryland, West Virginia is back in the NCAA field after missing out last year, and with Huggins’ experience in the Final Four and four additional Sweet 16 appearances, this should be a great game to kick off all of the action we’ll see Thursday.

Connor Fenix is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email