Over the course of the next few days leading up to March Madness, Jeremy and Sam will be releasing a breakdown of each of the first round matchups in the NCAA Tournament, along with second round matchups based on those breakdowns. This is meant to serve as a guide to help you understand each of the matchups and individual teams a bit better, in hopes of helping you pick the coveted perfect bracket. We begin with the South region, which can be found in the upper left-hand corner of your bracket.
1 UVA (RPI: 1, Kenpom: 1) vs. 16 UMBC (RPI: 116, Kenpom: 184)
A 16 has never defeated a 1 and this matchup will certainly not change that. Virginia went from unranked in the preseason to the number 1 in the country. You can thank their Coach Tony Bennett for that, as his defensive coaching style has produces one of the best college defenses ever. UMBC is a hometown favorite, but they will simply outmanned and outgunned in this game.
8 Creighton (RPI: 44, KenPom: 27) vs. 9 Kansas State (RPI: 53, KenPom: 44)
These teams play very different styles. Creighton is incredibly efficient on the offensive side, while KSU only has 2 players average double digits. KSU plays effective defense, while Creighton has trouble even getting a rebound at times. If Dean Wade and Barry Brown are active for the Wildcats, you can feel confident picking them.
5 Kentucky (RPI: 16, Kenpom: 18) vs. 12 Davidson (RPI: 59, Kenpom: 43)
Both of these teams are entering the tournament scorching hot. Winning their respective conferences as underdogs, they each secured bids on selection Sunday. Kentucky has a couple hot shooters in Sai-Gilgeous Alexander and Wenyen Gabriel. Davidson has the pedigree to beat good teams, beating Rhode Island twice and losing to UNC close. Expect Kentucky to win a close game.
4 Arizona (RPI: 17, Kenpom: 21) vs. 13 Buffalo (RPI: 25, Kenpom: 77)
Arizona is a victim of the selection committee’s apparent disdain for the Pac-12, as they’re criminally underseeded here. Deandre Ayton is a freak of nature, Alonzo Trier scores at will, and Sean Miller is a fantastic coach (when he’s not embroiled in scandal). Buffalo has good analytics, but they don’t have the guys to overcome Arizona’s athleticism.
6 Miami (RPI: 27, Kenpom: 36) vs. 11 Loyola-Chicago (RPI: 28, Kenpom: 41)
This may be one of the more intriguing matchups in the tournament. Loyola-Chicago shocked the nation when they upset Florida early in the season, and then continued on to a Missouri Valley Conference Championship. Miami had a phenomenal start to the season, but struggled to take down many of the top teams in the ACC. 11 seeds have taken down 6 seeds in 75% of matchups the last two seasons, and this is a candidate for another one of those upsets.
3 Tennessee (RPI: 8, Kenpom: 11) vs. 14 Wright St (RPI: 99, Kenpom: 135)
Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams have done a phenomenal job of leading one of the most surprising teams of the season. The Volunteers may have lost in the SEC Championship game, but that’s no reason to overlook them. Wright State, having not played a single KenPom Top 40 team this season, won’t know what hit them. Good Ole Rocky Top should roll on to victory.
7 Nevada (RPI: 19, Kenpom: 24) vs. 10 Texas (RPI: 51, Kenpom: 39)
Nevada is the highest-ranked at-large outside the P7 conferences. They boast a star trio of the twins Martin, and Jordan Caroline, who combine to average 50 ppg. Texas was lucky to be able to avoid the dreaded 11-seed play-in games. Mohamed Bamba is a stud who will be drafted in the lottery in June, and the Longhorns will have the emotional motivation to play for their teammate Andrew Jones who was diagnosed with Leukemia midway through the season. Nevada lost their point guard a month ago, and the battle-tested Texas should have Bamba back, so the Longhorns likely have the edge.
2 Cincinnati (RPI: 7, Kenpom: 4) vs. 15 Georgia St (RPI: 131, Kenpom: 96)
The 15 seed has defeated the 2 seed only eight times in the history of the NCAA tournament, with four of those eight occurring in the previous six years. This game won’t be the ninth. Gary Clark, who won the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year award, is a problem, simply put. He’ll lead the charge to help the Bearcats dominate a team whose highest quality win is against Louisiana-Lafayette.
1 UVA (RPI: 1, Kenpom: 1) vs. 9 Kansas State (RPI: 53, KenPom: 44)
Kansas State is exactly the type of team that Virginia likes to play. They’re sluggish on offense, and boast an above-average defense. The Hoos will likely hold KSU to so few points that they don’t even have to play very well on offense themselves. Dean Wade needs to have the game of his life for KSU to have a chance, otherwise the Hoos will be through to the Sweet 16.
5 Kentucky (RPI: 16, Kenpom: 18) vs. 4 Arizona (RPI: 17, KenPom: 21)
This is going to be an exciting matchup featuring two conference tournament champions and some phenomenal freshman. Arizona’s young star Deandre Ayton will look to take down a team made up almost exclusively of freshmen. We know that this will likely be a high scoring affair given the high-powered offenses of both teams, so the team who can show up the most on defense is likely to prevail.
11 Loyola-Chicago (RPI: 28, Kenpom: 41) vs. 3 Tennessee (RPI: 8, Kenpom: 11)
Loyola-Chicago continues to produce an exciting matchup in the second round. Unfortunately for them, Tennessee is a much different team than Miami. Tennessee’s high ranking defense (4th on KenPom) should be able to easily overpower Loyola-Chicago’s offense (68th on KenPom), and Admiral Schofield should be able to do the rest on offense. This certainly won’t be an easy game, but the Vols appear to have a solid path to the second weekend.
10 Texas (RPI: 51, Kenpom: 39) vs. 2 Cincinnati (RPI: 7, Kenpom: 4)
Cincinnati is one of the few teams that can match up physically with the Longhorns. Gary Clark can handle the explosiveness of Kerwin Roach and counter with a nearly-unmatched scoring ability. Bamba will have a tough day dealing with both Kyle Washington and Jarron Cumberland, and Cincinnati will be able to use their top-tier defense to stifle Texas’ offense all day.
Continue to follow Maryland Sports Blog for more coverage on the road to the Final Four in San Antonio.