2022 March Madness Bracket Predictions: South Region
Let me tell you what is going to happen this weekend in the NCAA tournament.
First, there is going to be some blowouts. I know that a lot of people are trying to talk themselves into some mid- and low-major teams. But several of the top tier squads that are high seeds are going to absolutely obliterate their overmatched opponents.
Next, there are going to be some exciting games that come down to the final minutes and several others that threaten to be interesting, only to turn into nondescript wins whose only drama involves the point spread. There will be emotion, plenty of big shots and big runs, maybe a buzzer beater (or at least a shot made in the final minute) or two, and plenty of highlight-worthy plays.
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Finally, there will be upsets. Of the 24 first round games featuring teams seeded No. 1-No. 6, around 3-5 of those games will see the double-digit seed win the game outright. Those are the proverbial “bracket busters”.
Everyone will go nuts about how “crazy” this tournament is, completely ignoring the long-term averages over the last 36 years. Since 1985, an average of 1.8 teams seeded No. 13-16 have won their first round game. In that same period, we’ve seen an average of 3.2 first round wins for seeds 12-16 and an average of 4.7 wins for teams seeded No. 11-16.
That means we should expect around five of the lower seeded teams (11-16) to win and advance. That’s the average.
Last year was crazy. For a variety of reasons all related to COVID. Hell, we had an NCAA tournament game cancelled last year because of COVID! And with all of insanity, the result was only a slightly above average seven wins from teams seeded No. 11-16.
The clock will strike midnight for most of Round 1’s Cinderellas in their second game. Yet somewhere around three double-digit seeds will survive the opening weekend and play on in the Sweet 16.
That is exactly what has happened – between 1-3 teams seeded No. 10 or higher have made the Sweet 16 – in 31 of the past 36 tournaments.
Don’t get sucked into the hype. Don’t get swept up with the crowd. And don’t get rattled (or overconfident) by some early shenanigans in the bracket.
Now is the time to embrace The Madness. Even if, on a macro-level, it is all predictable and fairly prescribed.
Here are Doc’s Sports March Madness bracket predictions for the South Region:
No. 1 Seed: Arizona Wildcats (+100 to win South Region)
I will admit that I didn’t see this coming from the Wildcats. And considering that Arizona started the season unranked, I was hardly the only one stunned by the Wildcats this season. Former Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd stepped in for ousted head coach Sean Miller and didn’t miss a beat. The Wildcats have outscored opponents by an average of 18 points per game while pumping out the third-most points per game (84.7). Second-year freshmen Azuolas Tubelis, Bennedict Mathurin, Kerr Kriisa and Dalen Terry all made major jumps this season. Throw in third-year sophomore Christian Koloko, and Arizona has the size, talent and ability to manhandle anyone in the nation. Kriisa, one of the team’s top shooters and ball handlers, sprained his ankle in the conference tournament and is questionable for this weekend’s action. Yet this team still managed to take care of UCLA in the Pac-12 title game even without him.
Arizona NCAA Tournament Predictions: Beware: no team that started the season unranked and earned a top two seed (No. 1 or No. 2 in their region) has ever made the Final Four. Two-thirds of the teams that fit that bill didn’t even survive the opening weekend, including Alabama last season.
No. 2 Seed: Villanova Wildcats (+350 to win South Region)
This is a team that should need no introduction. That’s partially because so many of their top players, like Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, have been around for so long. And partially because this Villanova team is virtually indistinguishable from the same successful Wildcats squads we’ve been watching tear through college hoops over the past decade. The Wildcats play at one of the 10 slowest paces in college basketball. They are like a boa constrictor, slowly choking the life out of opponents with ruthless efficiency and precise execution on both ends of the floor. Gillespie is the triggerman and one of the best players in the country. The Wildcats are an outstanding 3-point shooting team and a record-setting free throw shooting team. And if they continue to stroke it, they will be a tough team to take out.
Villanova NCAA Tournament Predictions: The Wildcats have made 15 of the last 16 tournaments. They’ve actually failed to survive the opening weekend eight times. That includes four flops as a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed. This doesn’t feel like a championship Nova team to me, so be wary of getting sucked in with this group.
No. 3 Seed: Tennessee Volunteers (+925)
I like to remind everyone of this every single March: Rick Barnes did not make the Sweet 16 with Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin and the core of a team that made the Elite Eight the season prior. True story. And the moral of that story is not to trust Rick Barnes. Barnes is headed to his fourth tournament in six tries with the Vols. But his teams have been bounced before Monday in eight of his last nine appearances in The Dance dating back to 2009. The Vols are the SEC champions and looked great last weekend. They are on a 12-1 tear in their last 13 games and will lean on the talented guard duo of Santiago Vescovi and Kennedy Chandler. Like most teams in the SEC, they get it done with defense. And if they can avoid the scoring droughts that plagued them at times this season, the Vols should be a factor in the South.
Tennessee NCAA Tournament Predictions: It is fair to wonder how much this group has left in the tank after last week’s championship run. They wrapped up their title run in Tampa on Sunday and now must make a quick turnaround by playing in Indianapolis on Thursday (and Saturday). I don’t trust Barnes further than I can bowl him, though, so this won’t be a group that I rely on in my bracket.
No. 4 Seed: Illinois Illini (+1600)
Things just haven’t clicked for the Illini this season. Last year they closed the season on a 15-2 run that included a Big Ten tournament championship. They started this season No. 10 in the country and as one of the Big Ten favorites. Yet it just hasn’t come to fruition for these guys. There have been some suspensions, some COVID issues, and some nagging injuries. But the main culprit has been a lack of chemistry between guards Andrew Curbelo (a talented but unreliable point guard), Trent Frazier (an experienced but unassertive scorer) and Alfonso Plummer (a quality transfer). Kofi Cockburn is an absolute redwood in the post. If the guards can get on the same page and he can get just a little help in the frontcourt, this team has more than enough talent to make a move.
Illinois NCAA Tournament Predictions: Illinois is a sleeping giant. And with Cockburn in the center of things, you can take that literally. Houston would be a very difficult second round matchup. If Illinois can take out the Cougars, then there is nothing to say that they couldn’t beat Arizona in a rematch of a 83-79 loss on Dec. 11. Brad Underwood has yet to claw his way to the Sweet 16. Maybe this is the year.
No. 5 Seed: Houston Cougars (+1900)
Houston is another team that I have doubted all season long, to my own detriment. Kelvin Sampson just flat-out gets it done. He led the Cougars to the Final Four last season. And despite losing six of his top nine players from that squad – including injuries this season to Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark – Sampson’s squad hasn’t missed a beat. Transfers Josh Carlton, Kyler Edwards and Taze Moore have picked up the slack. Point guard Jamal Shead is a bulldog, and forward Reggie Chaney helps set the tone for this physical defense. Houston ran roughshod over the AAC last weekend in the conference tournament, winning three games by an average of 17 points per game. In fact, just one of Houston’s last 14 wins since Jan. 16 and just four of their 29 wins this season have come by fewer than 11 points! These teams don’t just beat people – they demolish them.
Houston NCAA Tournament Predictions: Houston is a jaw-dropping 113-21 straight up over the last four seasons. They made the Final Four last year and the Sweet 16 in the tournament prior. This a tough team to fade. And if they matchup with Illinois in the second round, it could turn out to be one of the best games of the tournament.
No. 6 Seed: Colorado State Rams (+1300)
I love Mountain West basketball and have been a fan for decades. I’m glad that Colorado State, a team that flirted with the Top 25 most of the season, got some love and was awarded a No. 6 seed. However, I’m tempering my expectations for this group. The Rams can play. They are experienced and versatile and very good on both ends. The problem is that they rely too much on their home court advantage. They are also light in the post, and their only regular season victory over a major conference team in the last four years came earlier this season against Creighton.
Colorado State Tournament Predictions: The Rams drew a tough matchup with Michigan in Round 1. The Wolverines started the season in the Top 10. And considering that Mountain West teams are a pathetic 22-51 straight up in the NCAA Tournament over the last three decades, I wouldn’t expect fireworks from this group.
Best first-round match up: No. 8 Seton Hall vs. No. 9 TCU
This game features a pair of sneaky-good mid-tier teams from major conferences, either of which can throw a scare into Arizona in the next round. TCU has faced Kansas thrice in last two weeks, winning once. Nothing Arizona has would scare Jamie Dixon, Mike Miles and Co. Seton Hall has more than enough size, strength and experience to bang with anyone in the country. And the battle of the two points guards – TCU’s Miles and Seton Hall’s Kadary Richmond – could end up as one of the best head-to-head matchups of the first round. This one will be a grind, and I’ll be stunned if it isn’t decided in the final two minutes.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 4 Illinois vs. No. 5 Houston
This might be the best potential second round matchup in any of the brackets. Houston was a Final Four team last year. Illinois was a No. 1 seed that didn’t make it out of the opening weekend last year. They’ve both spent time in the Top 10 this year, and they both have enough to bust this bracket wide open.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 6 Colorado State vs. No. 11 Michigan
I just keep going back to it: Mountain West teams are 22-51 in their last 73 NCAA tournament games. That makes Colorado State vulnerable. As does the size and length of this underachieving Michigan team. Hunter Dickinson is a bear in the post at 7-foot-1, and fellow starter Moussa Diabate stands 6-foot-11. Colorado State only has two guys on the roster taller than 6-foot-6, and neither are starters. That spells trouble for the Rams.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Michigan
I know that this one is kind of wishful thinking for the Wolverines. Look, we’ve seen teams get a second life in the NCAA Tournament before and go on a run. Michigan was headed for the NIT before the selection committee saved them with an undeserved bid. Now they are playing with house money. They have beaten Purdue, Iowa, Rutgers, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana and San Diego State this season. That’s seven tournament teams they have taken out! They have also gone toe-to-toe with a half-dozen other tourney teams. So, they won’t fear Tennessee in the slightest.
Dark Horse team: No. 4 Illinois
The Illini were a major dud in last year’s tournament. They have been a disappointment this season. This is an opportunity to finally play up to their potential.
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 2 Villanova
Could Villanova make it to the Final Four? Absolutely. Could Villanova fail to make it out of the opening weekend? Absolutely. Now, you can say that about almost any team in the field. But Villanova is a No. 2 seed and they are on the short list of the national title favorites right now. You’d think they would be above such uncertainty and you could at least pencil them into the Elite Eight. I love Gillespie. And he will be going balls out to extend his career. I just don’t know if he has enough help around him, and I don’t think he’s good enough to singlehandedly drag this team to New Orleans.
2022 South Region Predictions: Regions like this one are why I no longer fill out a bracket! It really is an exercise in masochism. Arizona, Villanova, Tennessee, Illinois and Houston are all legitimate threats to win the South. Yet, I would also be willing to bet that two of those teams won’t survive the opening weekend and four of them will likely be gone before the Elite Eight. So, who will be the last man standing? Your guess is as good as mine. But whoever it is will have certainly earned it.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has posted 12 of 15 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and you can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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