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South region preview for the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament

We take a look at how the bracket for the South Region has come together ahead of the 2021 NCAA tournament, including a preview of what and how to watch following Selection Sunday.

Baylor Bears head coach Scott Drew talks to his players during a timeout in the first half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at T-Mobile Center. Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The South region is headed by the Baylor Bears, the regular season winner in the Big 12. The Bears lost to OK State in the Big 12 tourney, but are one of the most complete teams in the NCAA behind Gonzaga. Ohio State nearly won the Big 10 tournament but fell to Illinois on Sunday. Arkansas and Purdue round out the top contenders in the South bracket, which should be tough.

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 16 Hartford, Friday, March 19

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, TruTV

The Baylor Bears might be the best overall team in college basketball heading into the NCAA Tournament. Baylor ranks inside the top six in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, and the Bears are the best three-point shooting team in the country by a fairly large margin. Baylor had a few weeks in between games in February due to a COVID outbreak, which seems to be the only thing that stopped the team in the 2020-21 regular season.

The Hartford Hawks will be making first-ever appearance in the NCAA after defeating the UMass Lowell River Hawks in the America East championship game. The Hawks finished the season with 15 wins and will be looking to make some noise in their first round game. For Hartford to pull off the upset, they will need Williams and Carter to carry the offense.

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts, Friday, March 19

Time/TV: 3:00 p.m. ET, CBS

The Ohio State Buckeyes could be looked at as the most improved team from the beginning of the season to where they stand now. In a little more than a month’s span, Ohio State went from unranked to a top-five college basketball team. The Buckeyes play very well on the offensive end but struggle to get stops defensively. They get to the free throw line a ton, and they are shooting 76.5% on free throws, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten.

Oral Roberts finished the regular season with a record of 16-10 and was only a half-game out of first place. The Golden Eagles are going back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007-08. During that season, Oral Roberts lost to the Pittsburgh Panthers 82-63 in the first round. The Golden Eagles will likely be a double-digit seed who could be playing in the first four, but they could give a team a run for their money in the NCAA tournament.

No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 14 Colgate, Friday, March 19

Time/TV: 12:45 p.m. ET, TruTV

While strong offensively, the Arkansas Razorbacks make their bones on the defensive end with the 15th-ranked unit in adjusted efficiency per KenPom. During their conference win-streak, opponents only eclipsed 80 points twice.

This is the second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament for the Colgate Raiders, and their fourth trip overall. Colgate went 14-1 this season and through their first 13 games they only faced three total teams thanks to the Patriot League’s divisional structure. The Raiders are 0-3 in the tournament, with two appearances as a No. 16 seed and one as a No. 15. But they also have two losses that are in single-digits.

No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 North Texas, Friday, March 19

Time/TV: 7:25 p.m. ET, TNT

The Purdue Boilermakers continue to be a regular inside the NCAA Tournament, which will be held in the team’s home state of Indiana. The Boilermakers regularly rotate in 10 players, so they have a very deep bench head coach Matt Painter can go to with confidence. Junior forward Trevion Williams leads the team with 15.8 points and nine rebounds per game. He will play a huge role in how far this Purdue team can go.

The North Texas Mean Green are headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. North Texas’s other three March Madness appearances came in 2010, 2007, and 1988. It has only ever made the tournament with automatic bids but has never advanced past the first round.

No. 5 Villanova vs. No. 12 Winthrop, Friday, March 19

Time/TV: 9:57 p.m. ET, TNT

The Villanova Wildcats went through the worst luck of potentially any team in college basketball this season. In addition to seeing several games postponed or canceled, senior forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree missed every game with an injury, and second leading scorer and the team’s top assist man Collin Gillespie went down with a serious knee injury late in the regular season. Villanova will enter the tournament with one of the top-ranked offenses in adjusted efficiency, led by forward Jeremiah Robinson, who leads the team with 15.4 rebounds and 8.2 rebounds per game.

Winthrop doesn’t have one of the country’s best scorers at its disposal but racks up points with team basketball. The Golden Eagles are just outside the top 30 in points per game (79.5) and create a ton of opportunities through second-chance points. Winthrop rebound margin is +8, and only seven schools in the country can beat that mark.

No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 Utah State, Friday, March 19

Time/TV: 1:45 p.m. ET, TNT

he Texas Tech Red Raiders basketball program has elevated itself to be a consistent tournament team with a couple deep runs under head coach Chris Beard. Once again, this group is led by defense, which ranks No. 17 in the country in adjusted efficiency. Texas Tech allows the fewest points per game in the Big 12 because of their defensive performance as well as the style they play. The Red Raiders rank outside the top 300 in possessions per game, and their success is based on playing team basketball, though Georgetown transfer Mac McClung is averaging 16.4 points per game this season.

The Utah State Aggies heard their name called as one of the bubble teams on Selection Sunday. They rank inside the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency this season, and the Aggies are an incredibly talented rebounding team, led by a pair of big men. Seven-foot center Neemias Queta averages 14.8 points per game, and his 10 rebounds per game are the best in the Mountain West. Forward Justin Bean adds an additional 11.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest.

No. 7 Florida vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech, Friday, March 19

Time/TV: 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS

The Florida Gators will not jump off the page in many categories statistically individually or as a team, though their offense is shooting 46.4% from the field, which ranks as the top team in the SEC. Tre Mann is leading Florida in most major categories with 14.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists. The Gators rank near the top 40 in the latest KenPom ratings as well as the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency metrics.

Virginia Tech was solid on the defensive end in conference play, holding league opponents to just 42 percent shooting and 65.8 points per game. Mike Young’s first season was characterized by a plodding team (293rd in efficiency) that found a star in transfer Keve Aluma. With wins over teams like Villanova and Virginia when at full health, they can play with anyone they’ll draw in the first round.

No. 8 UNC vs. No. 9 Wisconsin, Friday, March 19

Time/TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

North Carolina last won a national championship in 2017 and is poised to make its 51st tournament appearance. Only Kentucky has reached the big show more. While this year’s Tarh Heel squad lacks star power, it has grabbed more rebounds (1209) than any Division I program this year and also leads the country in rebound margin (10). The Tar Heels are also among the best at creating second and third-chance points. They lead the country with 15.89 offensive rebounds per contest. Whether their excellence on the glass will continue when it matters most remains to be seen.

The Wisconsin Badgers entered this season with high expectations, but they struggled to find a rhythm in Big Ten play. Wisconsin hasn’t won consecutive games since mid-January despite being ranked as high as No. 4 in the country this season. The Badgers’ defense is ranked No. 11 in adjusted efficiency and offensively, Wisconsin will go as far as their three-point shooting will take them. D’Mitrik Trice leads the team with 14 points per game and 3.9 assists with big man Micah Potter going for 12.5 points per game with a team-high six rebounds per contest.