Monday, August 2, 2021

NCAA Tournament projection: South Region Sweet Sixteen

March 31, 2020
Cassius Winston (5) takes a shot in the final seconds of a basketball game against Penn State at the Breslin Center on Feb. 4, 2020. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 70-75.
Cassius Winston (5) takes a shot in the final seconds of a basketball game against Penn State at the Breslin Center on Feb. 4, 2020. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 70-75. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

Yes, we don’t have March Madness, but because of great minds like Joe Lunardi at ESPN, we can have a glimpse at what the bracket may have looked like. In The State News' latest series, we analyze and project what the NCAA tournament may have looked like, round by round, region by region. 

Second round projections: East, South, Midwest, West.

Here is our projection of the South Region Sweet Sixteen.

#1 Baylor vs. #12 Stephen F. Austin

Preview: After wins against Winthrop and Rutgers, the Baylor Bears run into the biggest story of the tournament in Stephen F. Austin. Baylor has only been to two Final Fours in program history and never won the National Championship. With their best shot to do so in recent memory, coach Scott Drew will have to make sure his team doesn’t overlook SFA.

This is a Baylor team that doesn’t have many flaws. On average this season, the Bears outscored their opponents by an average of 11 points while also shooting better from three, collecting more rebounds and committing fewer turnovers. So what area of the game will SFA have to exploit in order to have a chance to win?

In Baylor’s three most recent losses, they shot a combined 15-55 (.273) from three. If Stephen F. Austin can lock down the perimeter and limit sharpshooters Jared Butler and Devonte Bandoo, this game won’t be out of reach. 

The Lumberjacks know they won’t be taken lightly anymore after upsets against Ohio State and Louisville. Now on a national pedestal, will the regular season Southland champions shy away from the moment or continue their improbable run?

To continue the run, SFA will have to keep it simple and do what they do best, score. The Lumberjacks averaged 80.6 PPG this season, ranking 8th in the country. Basketball is a game of runs, and whether or not they will be able to keep up offensively with the Bears will be a deciding factor.

Prediction: It pains me to do this, but I’m not putting Stephen F. Austin through to the Elite Eight, as much as I want to. Though the game will be closer than people expected, Baylor will prove to be too much in the end. Baylor 77 - SFA 68

#2 Creighton vs. #3 Michigan State

Preview: Creighton now faces a Spartan team that is hitting its stride at the perfect time and will have to find ways to slow them down. This season, MSU committed 1.5 more turnovers on average than their opponents. For a team that is offensive-minded more than anything, the Bluejays will need to have their top scorers also focused on knocking the Spartans out of rhythm early.

This game will be a big test for Greg McDermott and his team, but shouldn’t be one they feel out of place in. The Big East was hectic this season, and hard-fought battles against teams like Villanova and Seton Hall will have the Bluejays battle tested and ready to go.

For Tom Izzo and company, there is still a sour taste in the mouth from last season’s Final Four loss to Texas Tech. With a great opportunity to get back there again, he’ll have to make sure his team doesn’t take any opponent for granted, especially Creighton.

Prediction: The green and white prevail after a calm 27 points and 9 assists from Cassius Winston, setting the stage for an Elite Eight clash with No. 1 seeded Baylor. Michigan State 78 - Creighton 74

Elite Eight matchup:

#1 Baylor vs. #3 Michigan State


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