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2018 NCAA Tournament Preview: South Region

It’s the return of ANONYMOUSLY THROUGH THE BRACKETS!

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Championship-Tennessee vs Kentucky Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Sick of hard-hitting analysis of the 2018 NCAA Tournament? Up to your eyeballs in expert picks chock-full of astute takes on players to watch and budding upsets?

Fear not, friends: your pals at Anonymous Eagle are here to inject some half-baked, homespun “insight” into the proceedings, with our annual region-by-region tour, as we go Anonymously Through the Brackets.

For each region, we’ll give you our patented Anonymous Eagle Half-Arsed Analysis with: a gutless pick to win the region; a sleeper regional champ; a CRUSH YOUR MAN upset special; a player/team we’d pay to watch; a player most likely to carry his team singlehandedly to the Sweet 16; and the best player in the region that you’ve never heard of before.

Without further ado, here’s Ben on the South.....


Want to know a fun fact? A team from the South Region has won the championship every single year since 2012. That’s crazy, even at 1 in 4 odds every year.

You want to know another fun fact? I made that one up. It could, in theory, be true, but it’s probably not. Don’t trust everything on the internet.

Now that I’ve planted a seed of doubt, you guys should trust the opinions I’m about to give you. We’re talking the South here, and not just a problematic history that isn’t actually exclusive to that portion of the country even though outsiders might say it is to make themselves feel better, folks! We’re actually talking basketball here.

I’m losing sleep over Virginia. On one hand, they boast the greatest defense we’ve seen in the KenPom era and are probably the best version of a Tony Bennett team that we’ve seen. On the other, that type of team doesn’t normally have a lot of tournament success. It makes intuitive sense that slow teams have a harder time pulling away from opponents than faster paced teams. I do take that with a pretty decent-sized grain of salt, though, since the Hoos played 33 games before this with the exact same pace and won 31 of them and 26 of them by more than two possessions.

What I worry more about with regard to this style is the matchup problems in reference to Virginia’s guards. From Malcolm Brogdon to Marial Shayok (for some reason) to the current trio of Ty Jerome, Devon Hall and Kyle Guy, the offense normally runs heavily through the guards. They are terrific shooters and sometimes Guy particularly will hoist up a tough shot, even when he’s not fully on his game. I can’t even begin to think of a Marquette player who meets that criteria.

If there’s a team that can pressure the backcourt well and De’Andre Hunter isn’t utilized to his full potential, it could mean an early exit for Virginia. [EDITOR’S UPDATE: Hunter broke his wrist and is done for the season.]

Now that we’ve talked about a slow, defensive-minded team, let’s move onto Cincinnati. We were preached before this year that this Cincy team is every Mick Cronin team ever, but they have a great offense now. That wasn’t entirely true as they actualy have a “Huh, pretty good” offense. Gary Clark has been damn near perfect and for once the best offensive player on their team actually has help. When Rashard Kelly of Wichita State made it his sole mission to not let Clark even touch the ball on March 4, Jacob Evans III took the game over and the supporting cast proved themselves to be valuable. Their defense remains insanely good and they’ve found a way to force turnovers without sacrificing shot defense this year, much like Virginia. If UVa didn’t exist, we’d be talking about UC as a historic defensive team.

Nevada would be talked about a lot more if Lindsey Drew didn’t blow his Achilles, which is a real shame because I thought their starting 5 was among the best in the country. The Martin twins, Caleb (not Zach) and Cody are in the Morris twins realm of not knowing which one is which but knowing they’re both really good.

I’m really not high on Kansas State. Every single team since the Jacob Pullen (The original #FearTheBeard) and Denis Clemente team that caused Gus Johnson to utter the greatest sequence of noises in human history has been as boring as Devin Booker’s face. I blame all of this on Bruce “Ask Fran” Weber, who is quickly becoming one of my least favorite coaches. Creighton Bluejays should beat them, but I wouldn’t bet on Khyri Thomas stopping Virginia’s offense by himself in the second round after what Marquette’s offense did on Senior Day.

GUTLESS WONDER Pick To Win

It’s Kentucky. I don’t care that they’re a 5. We’ve seen this exact same team before in 2014 when they disappointed in the regular season and made the Final Four after beating the undefeated Wichita State team in what was one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen. The linked video is half highlights and half Kenny Williams laughing like a madman because he can’t use words to describe how good the game is.

Reliving personal trauma aside, Kentucky is starting to figure out how to play like a team. I generally try to steer away from picking teams that just get hot in the conference tournament unless they’re a young team. The talent is one seed caliber and the results are finally starting to pour in for them. Kentucky basketball could really use a break for once.

CHEX BOLD PARTY MIX Bold Pick To Win

Also not the answer you’d expect: Tennessee. They kind of got lost in the fold of the deep SEC, but Rick Barnes put up one hell of a squad that only has one senior on the team. Their interior defense is led by Kyle Alexander, who blocks shots in the “I play good defense and idiots still try to shoot over me” way as opposed to the “I’m Luke Fisher and I might get a few blocks after being on the other side of the court for 90% of the possession, but otherwise, have fun shooting an uncontested layup” way. They’re very tough on that end, but it has led to some foul trouble for their pretty limited frontcourt.

I’m not in love with their offense if they’re not shooting threes or working through Grant Williams, which ends up happening quite a bit honestly. They take the 30th most two point jumpers in the country and make them at a 37.5% clip. That’s not great and it’s led to some performances like when they lost by 28 to Alabama. They do generally make up for it by having 5 different players shooting above 38% from deep, Grant Williams doing a pretty good Bonzie Colson impression, and the defense preventing teams from going on runs.

CRUSH YOUR MAN Upset Special

*bets life savings on Loyola-Chicago*

Do they play Ramble On like 50 times every home game? If they don’t I think they should be banned from all NCAA activities.

My God, has Porter Moser done an amazing job in whatever area of Chicago Loyola is. They entered the Missouri Valley in 2013 as Creighton’s replacement and they suuuuuuuuucked. Milton Doyle was actually a pretty good player, and also the only player with a pulse. They went 10-22. After a 4 year transformation, they now have a balanced offensive attack and a stout defense for safekeeping. They’re going to make some noise for years to come, or until a high major powerhouse poaches him off. Or until DePaul realizes that Porter Moser is in their city.

Clayton Custer (Overland Park represent!) is essentially what we should reasonably hope for with Markus Howard as a point guard next year. He shoots at a very efficient rate for his size and dishes out enough assists such that you can live with the turnovers. He draws a lot of attention and uses it well to kick it out to Donte Ingram, who can create shots on his own, or get Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year Cameron Krutwig easy layups down low.

I really like them to beat Miami, who I wasn’t really impressed with other than Short Guy Sensation Chris Lykes. It’s a pretty sexy pick that will have a really close Vegas line (Canes -2.5 on Tuesday), but I think they have a real shot against the aforementioned Tennessee as well. The committee always seems to know what teams I’m high on, and then immediately pits them against each other.

Player I’d Pay To Watch

This Deandre Ayton kid is pretty good. I think he stole Dwight Howard’s shoulders but forgot to/remembered to not take all the other contemptible qualities about him. I can’t even describe how good he is at pretty much every single aspect of basketball.

Matchup I’d Pay To Watch

Kentucky/Arizona in a game that would be both ridiculously fun and predictable. Arizona will lose on a miss three by Allonzo Trier, who overshoots it because he took too many steroids the night before. Mark Emmert then rides to center court on horseback to hand Sean Miller a service of process as gold doubloons spill out of his pocket.

I also want to see Cincinnati/Virginia in a game that no one would be able to even recap because they’re too busy complaining about how they would rather wait 15 seconds to see a well-run offense make a shot instead of 20.

Chiropractor Special aka Who Can Put The Team On His Back?

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is going to turn in whichever Harrison twin had a great tournament in 2014. He’s turned it up as of late to become the go-to guy on Kentucky and at some point will literally pry the ball out of Hamidou Diallo’s arms.

Best Guy You’ve Never Heard Of

We’re all in the same boat here. Before Sunday, none of us had seen a minute of Davidson basketball since 2013 and the only names we remember from this past broadcast were Peyton Aldridge and Jon Axel “Not Rose” Gudmundsson. Don’t pretend like you know more than everyone just because Mid Major Madness occasionally gets retweeted to your timeline. Let’s dive more into Aldridge.

The team’s success more or less hinges on him. 8 of their 11 losses have come with him posted an offensive rating below his season average and one additional loss came with his usage being well below his season average.

“Great. You just told me the team performs well when their best player is good.”

Oh my God shut up, you are annoying the shit out of me. Christ. Do you want help on these brackets or not?

While he’s not on KenPom’s POY list, he’s 7th on T-Rank’s PPG! list. Basically, he’s really efficient while maintaining a high usage. Teams know he’s coming and still can’t do a lot about it. So if a team, maybe a young one, that’s riding a hot streak just so happens to be a little too confident and overlook their first round opponent, Aldridge could go nuts. But that probably won’t happen with Kentucky, even though they are the youngest team in the history of college basketball.

After starting off the year pretty poorly, Aldridge really picked it up conference season. I won’t call you out if you blame that on a weak Atlantic 10 this year, but I will say that his three point shooting, which is generally independent of the defense one faces, follows a similar trend. Only twice in his last 17 games has he shot below his season average (39.4%) from three, which makes me think that whatever clicked with him is here to stay.

I am absolutely here for even more Steph Curry references, especially since it means we get to see highlights of Georgetown and the B**gers losing. We really need more of that in our lives. #ExtendGregGard