Click here to register for WBIR's Buzzer Beater Bracket Challenge! You could be the lucky winner of a $500 Samsung 55" 4K TV. If you make a perfect bracket, you could have a chance to win a national prize of $1,000,000! Enter to win today!
March is finally upon us and for the first time since 2014, Tennessee will take part in the Big Dance. If the Vols play their cards right, the team can stay dancing well into the month of March and maybe even April. Here's a look at who will be competing with Tennessee in the South Region.
*For more on what is considered a Quad 1 team, see the bottom of the article*
No. 1 Seed - Virginia
Overall Record - 31-2 (17-1, 1st in the ACC)
Quadrant 1 record: 12-1
Good wins: @ Duke, vs. North Carolina (2), vs. Clemson
Bad losses: None
Round of 64: vs No. 16 UMBC
Virginia is the No. 1 overall team in the tournament for a reason. The Cavaliers capped off one of the most successful seasons in ACC history, beating North Carolina and locking up the program's second conference tournament title since 2014. Head coach Tony Bennett and UVA are always known for their defense and ability to slow the tempo of a game, but this year, Virginia has executed it to perfection. The Cavs are the number one scoring defense in the country, holding opponents to 53.4 points per game. Not a single team has scored more than 70 points against Virginia this year. This team doesn't foul, holds opponents to 37.5% shooting from the field and 30.3% from three. Virginia doesn't make mistakes on offense (8.6 turnovers per game is the fewest in the country) and capitalizes when you do.
The only real weakness is on the offensive end. Sophomore Kyle Guy is the leading scorer (14.1 ppg) Devon Hall and Ty Jerome join him with double digit averages. The team is also mediocre on the glass, finishing outside of the top 200 for offensive and defensive boards.But, none of that matters if you can't score on them. Most teams can't.
No. 2 Seed - Cincinnati
Overall Record - 30-4 (16-2, 1st in the American Athletic Conference)
Quadrant 1 record: 6-4
Good wins: vs. Houston, @ Wichita State, @ UCLA
Bad losses: None
Round of 64: vs. No. 15 Georgia State
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin has done great work with the Bearcats in his 12 seasons at the helm. Cincinnati has gone to the NCAA tournament eight straight seasons. The catch? The team has only made it to the Sweet Sixteen once in that span; in 2012 as a No. 6 seed.
This year's iteration of Cincinnati is no joke, the Bearcats play defense with the best of them. The team holds opponents to 57.1 points per game, the second lowest total in the country. Cincinnati is top 40 in steals and top 10 in blocks. The offense leaves a bit to be desired, scoring 74.5 points per game, but the starting lineup is experienced. The top three scorers on the team are all upperclassmen and all have never missed the Big Dance.
The question remains, can this team finally make a tournament run?
No. 3 Seed - Tennessee
Overall Record - 25-8 (13-5, t-1st in the SEC)
Quadrant 1 record: 6-7
Good wins: vs. Purdue, vs. Kentucky (2), Texas A&M
Bad losses: @Georgia
Round of 64: vs. No. 14 Wright State
Chances are, if you're reading this, you already know a thing or two about Tennessee basketball. After being picked to finish 13th in the SEC, the Vols skyrocketed to the top of the conference for a share of the regular season title for the first time since 2008. Rick Barnes is SEC Coach of the Year and could very well be the National Coach of the Year. Grant Williams is the SEC Player of the Year, averaging 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Tennessee plays inside-out, doing everything they can in the paint before punishing your defense for collapsing, hitting from outside with Lamonte Turner, James Daniel or Admiral Schofield. As a team, the Vols shoot 38.4% from outside. Tennessee has played a difficult schedule this year, but does a very good job at handling the little things. There have been very few games where Tennessee has completely fallen apart, making them a good pick to make it past the first weekend. The Vols will be carried by Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield (Schofield played some of his best basketball in February and March, scoring 20+ points in four of the past six games) but how far they go depends on the play of their guards. If co-SEC Sixth man of the Year Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden can contribute and play to their highest level, this team can be very dangerous.
No. 4 Seed - Arizona
Overall Record - 27-7 (14-4, 1st in the Pac-12)
Quadrant 1 record: 5-3
Good wins: vs. Texas A&M, vs. Southern California, vs. UCLA
Bad losses: vs. SMU, vs. Colorado, vs. NC State
Round of 64: vs. No. 13 Buffalo
Even in a down year for the Pac-12, Arizona still reigns supreme. The Wildcats shook off a bumpy start in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, allegations of paying players and FBI investigations to win the Pac-12 regular season as well as the conference tournament. When you talk about the Wildcats, the story is freshman phenom Deandre Ayton. The 7'1" forward averages a double-double: 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. What's really scary, he's playing some of his best basketball as of late. Against Cal on March 3, Ayton scored 26 points and 20 rebounds in an 11-point win. In the Pac-12 tournament, Ayton notched a career-high 32 points on 16 shots, grabbing 14 boards in the process and in the tournament title game, he matched his career-high, this time, grabbing 18 rebounds. This team goes where he goes.
Offense isn't a problem for the Wildcats, the team is top 50 in points per game, with four players averaging double figures. The question is, can Arizona play defense when it matters? Five of Arizona's seven losses have come by six points or less.
No. 5 Seed - Kentucky
Overall Record - 24-10 (10-8, t-4th in the SEC)
Quadrant 1 record: 5-8
Good wins: vs. Tennessee, @ West Virginia, vs. Texas A&M, @Arkansas
Bad losses: @ South Carolina
Round of 64: vs. No. 12 Davidson
Much to the disdain of Vol fans everywhere, John Calipari and Kentucky appear to be getting hot at just the right time, beating Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee in the SEC Tournament to lock up the program's 31st conference championship, its fourth straight title. After starting the season 10-2, the Wildcats faltered in conference play, losing four straight games in the month of February, falling in and out of the AP top 25. After dropping below .500 in conference play after a loss to No. 10 Auburn, Kentucky has won 7 of its past 8 games.
Youth and inexperience is often cited as the major concerns for this team. Like most Kentucky squads, there is an influx of talented freshmen. Four players average double digit points per game, all are first year student-athletes. Co-SEC Freshman of the Year, Kevin Knox is averaging 15.5 points per game, shooting 35% from behind the arc. Freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is no joke either, during the team's SEC tournament run, he averaged 21 points, 5 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game.
A difficult regular season schedule, a loaded roster and length on the defensive end gives this Kentucky team the feel of the 2013-2014 team that limped into the Big Dance as an 8-seed only to lose in the national championship game... that is... as long as perimeter shooting doesn't get in the way. The Wildcats make 36.1% of its shots from outside, but are tied for the 317th fewest threes made in the country. The team just doesn't do a lot from outside. Davidson, Kentucky's 1st round opponent, is one of the better three point shooting teams in the country, making 342 shots from downtown at a rate of 39.1%.
No. 6 Seed - Miami (Fla.)
Overall Record - 22-9 (11-7, t-3rd in the ACC)
Quadrant 1 record: 5-6
Good wins: @ North Carolina, vs. Middle Tennessee State, @ Virginia Tech
Bad losses: @ Georgia Tech, @ Boston College
Round of 64: vs. No. 11 Loyola Chicago
Starting off non-conference play 10-0 before eventually faltering to New Mexico State, the Hurricanes have been up and down for most of the season since then. In conference play, Miami sat at 7-7 in late February. Star guard and NBA prospect, Bruce Brown Jr., was lost for the remainder of the season to a foot injury. How did the Hurricanes respond? Rattling off four straight wins, including a season-defining buzzer beat in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to beat the defending national champion Tar Heels. Freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV has picked up some of the scoring burden, he's averaging a little more than 12 points per game since Brown's injury. The Hurricanes are in the middle of the pack for both offense and defense, but Miami competes in tight games. The team won its final four games of the regular season by a combined eight points, before falling to UNC in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. The Hurricanes may need experience in tight games against 11-seed Loyola Chicago.The Ramblers give up just 62.2 points per game, the 5th lowest total in the country.
No. 7 Seed - Nevada
Overall Record - 27-7 (15-3, 1st in the Mountain West)
Quadrant 1 record: 2-3
Good wins: vs. Rhode Island, vs. Boise State
Bad losses: vs. San Francisco, vs. UNLV, @ Wyoming
Round of 64: vs. No. 10 Texas
If you like points and the deep ball, then I've got the team for you. Nevada scores 83.1 points per game and can shoot from the outside. The Wolf Pack as a team shoot 39.8% from three, good for 23rd best in the country, and a big chunk of that comes from Kendall Stephens. 82% of his made shots are from outside, and there's a reason for it. Stephens makes them at a 44% clip. Caleb Martin, Nevada's leading scorer, shoots 40.8% from behind the arc as well. This team is very experienced, with 13 upperclassmen on the roster. The one thing they can't do though, is defend. The 18th best scoring offense in the country coupled with the 189th worst scoring defense is a recipe for volatility and that showed in the Mountain West conference tournament; the Wolf Pack lost to San Diego State 90-73 in the semifinals.
No. 8 Seed - Creighton
Overall Record - 21-11 (10-8, t-3rd in the Big East)
Quadrant 1 record: 2-9
Good wins: vs. Villanova, vs. UCLA
Bad losses: vs. Marquette, vs. Baylor
Round of 64: vs. No. 9 Kansas State
Creighton is a tale of two halves. In the first half of the season, the Bluejays were 14-3, playing well in a much improved Big East conference, scoring nearly 90 points a game. Then came the injury bug. Sophomore big man Martin Krampelj tore his ACL and Creighton hasn't looked the same since, going 7-7 to finish out the season. Senior guard Marcus Foster scores 20 points per game, shoots 42% from deep and has a future in the NBA, but it's not enough to get Creighton back to how they were playing at the beginning of the season. Injuries really are the worst.
No. 9 Seed - Kansas State
Overall Record - 22-11 (10-8, 4th in the Big 12)
Quadrant 1 record: 4-9
Good wins: vs. TCU (2), @ Texas, @ Baylor
Bad losses: vs. Tulsa
Round of 64: vs. No. 8 Creighton
Kansas State is in the NCAA tournament in back to back years for the second time under head coach Bruce Weber, a big reason why being the one-two junior punch of Dean Wade and Barry Brown. These two upperclassmen do it all for the Wildcats:
Wade - 16.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.6 spg, 44% from three
Brown - 16 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.8 spg
Both players missed Kansas State's Big 12 tournament matchup against Kansas, Wade with a foot injury and Brown with an eye injury. Per reports, Wade will be limited in practice this week, but both are confident they will play against Creighton on Friday. Kansas State has been very good this season at beating the teams they should beat, but have struggled against some of the best teams in the Big 12, going 0-7 against Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia. With a middle of the pack offense and defense, the Wildcats will have to continue performing beyond expectations to make noise in March.
No. 10 Seed - Texas
Overall Record - 19-14 (8-10, t-6th in the Big 12)
Quadrant 1 record: 6-11
Good wins: vs. Texas Tech, vs. TCU, West Virginia, @ Alabama
Bad losses: @ Oklahoma State, vs. Baylor
Round of 64: vs. No. 7 Nevada
The Longhorns have been a bit of an anomaly all season. A talented group, it's been difficult for Texas to string wins together. Part of that was because of a difficult schedule; the Longhorns played 6 NCAA tournament teams in non-conference play (including a three game stretch against Butler, Duke and Gonzaga) before having to face one of the best conferences in the country in the Big 12. The team itself went through some adversity off the court as well. Sophomore guard Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this season (an absolutely awful thing, but the good news, Jones says he is progressing nicely in his treatment) and junior guard Eric Davis has been held out due to his name being brought up in a Yahoo! report on a FBI Investigation into college basketball. Even freshman star Mo Bamba has missed time the last few games of the regular season with a toe injury. He did play against Texas Tech in the Big 12 conference tournament however, and says he will be "100 percent" for the NCAA tournament. A healthy Bamba would be huge for the Longhorns, the 6'11" freshman averages 12.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in addition to being one of the best shot blockers in the country (Bamba averages just under four blocks per game).
In the first round matchup against Nevada, Texas will be facing one of the best three point shooting teams in the country. The Longhorns, however, hold teams to just 33% from behind the arc. With a great coach like Shaka Smart, anything is possible for Texas.
No. 11 Seed - Loyola Chicago
Overall Record - 28-5 (15-3, 1st in the Missouri Valley Conference)
Quadrant 1 record: 1-1
Good wins: @ Florida
Bad losses: vs. Indiana St, @ Milwaukee, @ Missouri St.
Round of 64: vs. No. 6 Miami (Fla.)
Ramblers, welcome back to the Big Dance! Loyola Chicago is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985 and they may just have a chance to hang around. Here's why: defense and three point shooting. The Ramblers allow the fifth fewest points in the country, just 62.2 points per game, and shoot 39.8% as a team from beyond the arc. Five different players shoot 39% or better from three. Obviously, there's much to be desired from the schedule of a Missouri Valley Conference team. Loyola Chicago had some very bad losses (Missouri St., Milwaukee and Indiana St.) but was able to beat Florida (yes that Florida) in Gainesville. Miami has a top 50 three point defense to throw at the Ramblers in the first round, but if Loyola can get past the Hurricanes, the team would play the winner of Tennessee and Wright State.
No. 12 Seed - Davidson
Overall Record - 21-11 (13-5, 3rd in the Atlantic 10)
Quadrant 1 record: 4-6
Good wins: vs. Rhode Island (2), vs. St. Bonaventure (2)
Bad losses: @ Appalachian St., vs. Richmond (2), @ Hawaii
Round of 64: vs. No. 5 Kentucky
The Wildcats are your Atlantic 10 conference tournament champions, and what is their prize? A matchup with another set of Wildcats, the ones from Kentucky. Davidson needed that tournament title to get to the Big Dance, but that doesn't mean the Wildcats haven't performed well this season. Davidson played Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia and New Mexico State in non-conference, playing 10 games in total against Quad 1 teams.
He may not be Steph Curry, but Peyton Aldridge can hoop. The senior guard is averaging 21.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Davidson scores 76.4 points per game, shooting 39.1% from outside, but similar to Nevada, the Wildcats don't play a lot of defense. Kentucky, however, has a top five defense on the perimeter, holding teams to less than 30% shooting on the outside. Davidson can get hot and cause damage in this tournament, but the length of Kentucky on the outside could make it hard on the Atlantic 10 Wildcats.
No. 13 Seed - Buffalo
Overall Record - 26-8 (15-3, 1st in the Mid-American Conference)
Quadrant 1 record: 0-5
Good wins: N/A
Bad losses: @ Northern Illinois, @ Miami (OH), @ Kent St.
Round of 64: vs. No. 4 Arizona
The Bulls ended the season with an impressive run, winning six straight games by an average of 18.3 points. While Buffalo may not have those signature wins you'd look for in a team come March, the Bulls challenged themselves in non-conference, playing Cincinnati, St. Bonaventure, Syracuse and Texas A&M, all tournament teams.
The Bulls will be looking for its first NCAA tournament win. Buffalo has been to the Big Dance twice as a program, in 2015 and 2016, nearly upsetting Miami (Fla.) and West Virginia in the first round. This team has eight upperclassmen on the roster, half of them score in double figures (CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins, Jeremy Harris and Wes Clark).
This time, Buffalo will look to send 4-seed Arizona home early. The Wildcats won both the Pac-12 regular season and conference tournament in a down year for the group as a whole. In order to get that sweet sweet first tournament win, the Bulls will have to stop freshman phenom Deandre Ayton. Not many have been able to do it this season.
No. 14 Seed - Wright State
Overall Record - 25-9 (14-4, 2nd place in the Horizon)
Quadrant 1 record: 1-2
Good wins: @ Toledo
Bad losses: @ IUPUI, @ Cleveland St., @ Milwaukee
Round of 64: vs. No. 3 Tennessee
Tennessee's first NCAA tournament game in four years is against the Wright State Raiders out of the Horizon League. On paper, the Raiders should pose no real threat to Tennessee, but it is March, so you can never really be too careful. If not for a dominating conference tournament win, Wright State would not have made the Big Dance. This group really hangs its hat on its defense, allowing just 65.7 points per game, that puts it in the top 30 for scoring defense. In addition, the Raiders hold opponents to just 41.5% shooting from the field; top 50 numbers. Tennessee could give Wright State problems on both sides of the ball, however. Wright State's defense is much better on the inside than the outside and Tennessee is top 50 in the country as a team in three point shooting. The Raiders offense is far from a juggernaut as well. KenPom rates Wright State's adjusted offensive efficiency as 248th in the country, meanwhile, Tennessee's adjusted defensive efficiency is 4th in the country. Miracles happen in March, but Wright State will have troubles scoring against the Vols in Dallas.
No. 15 Seed - Georgia State
Overall Record - 24-10 (12-6, 2nd place in the Sun Belt)
Quadrant 1 record: 0-0
Good wins: N/A
Bad losses: @ South Alabama, vs. Prairie View, vs. La.-Monroe
Round of 64: vs. No. 2 Cincinnati
The last time we saw Georgia State in the NCAA tournament was 2015. The Panthers upset No. 3 seed Baylor before losing to Xavier. In fact, Georgia State has knocked off a Power Five team in its last two trips to the Big Dance, but this Cincinnati team is the best squad the Panthers have faced in the NCAA tournament in the 21st century. No Quad 1 teams on its schedule makes this team a little difficult to judge, however, the Panthers did play Ole Miss in Oxford back in mid-November, nearly pulling the upset over the Rebels, final score 77-72.
Georgia State does a good job at defending inside the arc, holding opponents to just 43.9%, a top ten percentage. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Cincinnati holds opponents to 40.7% on inside shots. If Georgia State wants to pull the upset, it'll have to come from the outside. Fortunately for the Panthers, shooting is something they do well. Georgia State has three separate players that shoot 40% or more from beyond the arc: Devin Mitchell (45.1%) Jordan Session (42.9%) and Malik Benlevi (42.3%). Partner that with leading scorer D'Marcus Simonds (21.1 ppg) and Georgia State has the ability to push Cincinnati in the first round.
No. 16 Seed - UMBC
Overall Record - 24-10 (12-4, 2nd in the American East)
Quadrant 1 record: 1-3
Good wins: @ Vermont
Bad losses: vs. Army, vs. Stony Brook
Round of 64: vs. No. 1 Virginia
The University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers are not supposed to be in the Big Dance. For nearly the entire season, the American East conference was the Vermont Catamounts to lose. That's what is so beautiful about March Madness. The Terriers went on a run to face Vermont at home for the conference title and only NCAA berth from the American East, and with less than one second left, senior Jarius Lyles hits a three to send UMBC to Charlotte. Here, check out the play for yourself.
With that being said, it'll take a miracle for the Retrievers to upset No. 1 overall Virginia. A 1-seed has never lost to a 16-seed and UVA has a historic college basketball defense. The UMBC upperclassmen, of which there are 10, would have to play a major role. Lyles is the leading scorer for the team, averaging 20.2 points per game, as well as 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.1 steals. Three Terrier Starters, K.J. Maura, Joe Sherburne and Arkel Lamara shoot 42% or better from outside. All three of them would need to be shooting lights out to pull off, what would be the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.
*What is considered a Quad 1 team?*
A new way of measuring wins and losses, the NCAA Selection Committee judges a Quad 1 win as follows:
-A home game against a team that falls between 1-30 in the RPI
-A neutral site game against a team that falls between 1-50 in the RPI
-A road game against a team that falls between 1-75 in the RPI