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NCAA Tournament South Region Preview: 5-8 Seeds

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The middle of the bracket has more pretenders than contenders, but beware the Bearcats of Cincinnati.

NCAA Basketball: AAC Conference Tournament-Cincinnati vs SMU David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our bracket preview of the South Region, where Cincinnati may have the talent to throw the bracket into chaos.

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 24-9 (11-7, 4th place in the Big 10)

Best Win: at Purdue, 91-82 (OT)

Worst Loss: at Penn State, 52-50

Key Player: Nate Mason (15.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.0 apg)

The fact that Minnesota is in the tournament may be one of the most impressive stories of the tournament. Fresh off an eight-win season last year, Rick Pitino’s crew engineered quite the turnaround. After suffering a five game losing streak, the Gophers reeled off nine wins in their final eleven games. That was good for 24 wins, and fourth place in the Big 10. However, as the lowest rated #5-seed according to kenpom.com, where they come in at 33rd, Minnesota is currently the trendy pick to be upset by Middle Tennessee St.

6. Cincinnati Bearcats

Record: 29-5 (16-2, 2nd place in the AAC)

Best Win: at Iowa St, 55-54 (OT)

Worst Loss: at UCF, 53-49

Key Player: Jacob Evans (13.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.6 apg)

Despite a 29-5 record, finishing 12th in the RPI (flawed, I know), the Bearcats slid into the tournament as a #6 seed. Much of that likely has to do with their conference, the AAC, which relatively underperformed this year. Don’t let that fool you, though. They are built in the mold of their coach Mick Cronin – controlling, grinding, and tough.

Their painfully slow offensive tempo (AdjT of 63.3, 327th in the nation) is paired with an impressive defensive tenacity (11th in AdjD at 91.9), the Bearcats resemble the Fighting Thomas Jeffersons from UVA. This team possesses the style of play that frustrates its opponents into turnovers and poor shots. That’s usually a recipe for an upset or two in March.

7. Dayton Flyers

Record: 24-7 (15-3, 1st place in the A-10)

Best Win: Vanderbilt 68-53

Worst Loss: at Massachusetts, 55-67

Key Player: Charles Cooke (16.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.9 apg)

Archie Miller, currently the coveted prodigal son of NC State, has led the Dayton Flyers to their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament. While the A-10 had a mediocre year as a conference, Dayton maintained its status among the nation’s best mid-majors. Boasting five upper classmen that have seen meaningful minutes throughout the season, and 10 players who averaged more than 10 minutes per game, they have the pedigree and experience to bust a few brackets. That is, of course, unless their first round opponent Wichita State, doesn’t beat them to it.

(Note: Folks, I messed up and put South Carolina as the #7 seed in the original article. My apologies. In researching the return of the NCAAT to Greenville, I mixed the East and South regions for a split second. Thanks for reading.)

8. Arkansas Razorbacks

Record: 25-9 (12-6, 4th place in the SEC)

Best Win: at South Carolina, 83-76

Worst Loss: at Missouri, 83-78

Key Player: Moses Kingsley (11.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg)

Ah, another SEC team, whose best win is arguably….South Carolina. Excuse me if I’m not completely terrified. However, Arkansas is essentially the exact opposite of their SEC brethren. Averaging 79.8 points per game, good for 42nd in the country according to sportreference.com, the Razorbacks have a potent offense. With four players averaging double-digit points, they do not rely on just one player. That could be dangerous for any number of teams in the South, such as UNC, Kentucky, or UCLA – emphasis on could. In reality, if the Razorbacks make it to the third round/second round/round of 32/whatever we’re calling it this year, the Tar Heels should dominate on the glass. Arkansas is among the worst defensive rebounding teams in the nation.