Looking Into Each Region and The Best First Round Games: A March Madness Preview


Oliver Thomas

South Region


Headlined by Alabama, the number 1 overall seed in this year’s tournament, the South Region holds a unique group of teams. From multiple powerhouse programs to mid-majors looking to shock the world, the South region has some of my favorite first-round matchups. Creighton and NC State are two teams with strong guard play and the ability to knock off multiple of the top seeds in this region. San Diego State and Baylor are both teams that have the ability to see success in their early games, as both teams return key pieces from their tournament appearances last year.


Best Matchups in the Region


(8) Maryland vs. (9) West Virginia


The round of 64 will be kicked off with 8-seed Maryland taking on 9-seed West Virginia. This game has two extremely explosive offenses and a pair of strong defenses. Both schools come from power 6 conferences and are battle tested from their tough conference competition. In this match, I lean towards the 8-seed West Virginia, who has a slight leg up on Maryland when it comes to Quad 1 record and computer metrics. With both teams being so close in the majority of rankings, West Virginia’s strong core of seniors and Maryland’s lack of ability to close out tight games will be what allows Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers to move on.


(7) Missouri vs. (10) Utah State


Utah State and Missouri look to be a thrilling matchup early Thursday afternoon. Fans are guaranteed a high-scoring shootout, as both Utah State and Missouri have extremely strong offenses. Both teams rank top 15 in adjusted offense and are very strong 3-point shooting teams. First-year coach Dennis Gates has been fantastic for Missouri, but I lean toward the Aggies in this matchup. Led by Junior Steven Ashworth, Utah States’ offense has been one of the best in the country, as the Aggies have 5 players averaging at least 10 points. With Missouri showing many signs of defensive struggles, the 3-point shooting of the Aggies will be too much for Missouri.


Pick to win region: Alabama


Sleeper pick: Utah State and NC State


East Region


With top seed Purdue looking shaky, the East Region is the most wide-open region in the tournament. Though the Boilermakers came out on top in this year’s Big 10 tournament,  Purdue ended regular season play with a shaky 4-4 record. Purdue’s Big 10 title run showed some concerning moments, whether starting a game off down 17-5 against Rutgers or blowing almost dropping the Championship due to an inability to close out games, there are many concerns around this Purdue team. This region also features a number of blue bloods, with Duke, Michigan State, and Kentucky all looking to make a final 4 push. Coming off a Big East title, Marquette has appeared as the popular pick from the public to come out of the East. Led by a sophomore guard due of Kam Jones and Tyler Kolek, the Golden Eagles have won 14 out of their last 15 and are playing as well as anyone right now.


Best Matchups in the Region


(8) Memphis vs. (9) FAU


In what might be the best matchup of the 1st round, 9-seed FAU takes on the red-hot AAC champs Memphis. Though many are blowing FAU off due to their weak schedule, the Owls very well can make a run in this year’s tournament. Tied for the best record in the country, the 31-3 Owls took care of business winning the Conference USA Championship and blowing out a UAB team that returns multiple key pieces from last year’s tournament appearance. Guards Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin have carried the scoring load for a deep FAU team that consistently runs a 9-man rotation. For Memphis, SMU transfer Kendric Davis and Senior DeAndre Williams have been the two main scorers on a strong offensive unit. Davis’s star power was shown last Sunday when Davis scored 31 in the Tiger’s route over 1-seed Houston in the ACC championship. This Friday looks to be a back-and-forth game that will most likely come down to the wire. Though Memphis is a popular team to make a run in this year’s tournament, the 3-point shooting from FAU’s guards will allow the Owls to pull off the upset and advance to the round of 32.


(5) Duke vs. (12) Oral Roberts


To cap off the first round, 5-seed Duke takes on 12-seed Oral Roberts. Once America’s sweetheart, Oral Roberts makes their 1st tournament appearance since their sweet 16 Cinderella run as a 15 seed in 2021. The Golden Eagles return their leading scorer from their 2021 run, as senior guard Max Abmas averages 22 points for the 23rd-rated offense in the country. Oral Roberts has only lost 1 game since Thanksgiving, playing some of the best basketball in the country. On the other side, blue-blooded powerhouse Blue Devils look to capitalize on their success with first-year Coach, John Scheyer. After some hiccups at the start of conference play, Duke is playing as well as anyone in the country, riding hot off of an ACC Championship and a 9-game winning streak. As they say, history repeats itself. Max Abmas and Oral Roberts will stun the Blue Devils and move on to the round of 32. 


Pick to win region: Marquette 


Sleeper pick: Oral Roberts and FAU 


West Region


In what may be the most talented region, the west has multiple national title contenders. With 5 teams in the top 11 in overall kenpom rankings, the West region will be a battle for whichever team makes it out. The defending national champions Kansas hold the 1 seed, but by no means have a cakewalk. Standing in Kansas’s way are two very talented Arkansas and Illinois teams as well as a number of other title contenders. On the other side of the bracket sits 2-seed UCLA and 3-seed Gonzaga. What looked at points this year as a national championship level team, UCLA’s leading rebounder and 2nd leading scorer, Jaylen was ruled out for the year with an Achilles injury. This devasting blow for the Bruins opens this part of the bracket up, giving Mark Few and Gonzaga a chance to make a run. The Bulldogs are ranked first in offense according to Kenpom and received a very favorable draw. Another dangerous team is Bobby Hurley and his 4-seed Uconn team is ranked 4th in overall kenpom. The Huskies held the number 1 spot in the AP poll for a good amount of the year, and have shown they can compete for a championship.


Best Matchups in the Region


(8) Arkansas vs. (9) Illinois


Tipping off at 4:30 from Des Moines, Arkansas, and Illinois face off. Both teams have had similar stories this year. Both come from two very talented conferences and have boatloads of talent on their rosters, but neither has been able to quite put it all together. Arkansas came into the 2022 season after back-to-back elite eights as well as their best recruiting class in school history, which ranked 2nd in the country. The Razorbacks entered the season ranked 10th in the country and only dropped 1 game before conference play, eventually completely falling apart after a plethora of injuries. Leading rebounder Trevon Brazile tore his ACL in December, sidelining him for the rest of the year. The Razorback’s 2nd leading scorer and top-ranked freshman, Nick Smith also missed significant time this year. Amidst all these injuries, Arkansas had gotten Smith back on the court and been able to show slight flashes of their potential, with big wins including a blowout win at Kentucky. For Illinois, their season started off with multiple bad losses, but have been able to piece things together towards the latter half of the season. Illinois managed to squeak out a couple of small winning streaks and has had very solid play from their 3-headed snake of Terrance Shannon, Matthew Mayer, and Coleman Hawkins. With a slightly more grounded state of recent play, I’m taking Illinois to take down the Razorbacks.


(5) Saint Mary’s vs. (12) VCU


Two schools both from small conferences, Saint Mary’s and VCU both play with similar focuses. In what will be a game focused on defense, the A10 Champs VCU has become a popular upset pick by the public. Led by Junior Ace Baldwin Jr., VCU has been an elite defense that has had the ability to shut down teams’ offenses. Their opponent, Saint Mary’s looks to bounce back after an underwhelming performance in the WCC Championship in a blow loss to Gonzaga. Outside of the Championship game, the Gaels took care of business in their regular season conference play, splitting the regular season title with Gonzaga. Saint Mary’s success has come from coach Randy Bennett’s defensive-minded preparation for games. The Gaels rank 4th in the country in opponents’ points per game and have been able to become one of the nation’s best defenses. Though VCU has many of the same traits as Saint Mary’s, the Gaels are better in all of them, as I see them taking care of business and advancing to face the winner of Uconn vs. Iona on Sunday.


Pick to win region: Gonzaga


Sleeper pick: Boise State


Midwest Region


Looking for vengeance after a disappointing loss in the AAC championship game, Kelvin Sampson and the Houston Cougars look to return to the Final Four returning an Elite Eight Run in last year’s tournament. The Cougar’s leading scorer and NBA draft prospect Marcus Sasser have been sidelined since last Saturday after suffering a groin injury against Cincinnati. With the status of Sasser unknown, there is a big question mark is left surrounding Houston’s future. On the bottom half of the bracket, the hottest team in the country, Texas, looks to make a push for a national championship. After winning the most difficult conference tournaments in the country, the Big 12 champions, Texas have managed to play their best basketball at the right time, even amidst Coach Chris Beard being fired due to a domestic violence charge. 


Best Matchups in the Region


(7) Texas A&M vs. (10) Penn State


In a game between two highly underserved teams, Texas A&M and Penn State faceoff Thursday night in Des Moines. Both the Nittany Lions and the Aggies were deserving of higher seeds, as both teams made runs to their conference championships. Led by Wooden Award finalist and one of the best players in the nation, Penn State’s Jalen Picket has put the team on his back, helping the Nittany Lions win 8 of their last 10. The last 5 wins for the Nittany Lions were decided by just 1 possession, as Pickett’s late-game heroics have allowed Penn State to be one of the best teams in crunch time. Their opponent, 7-seed Texas A&M, led by their guards Tyrece Radford and Wade Taylor, has won 10 of their last 12 and has turned the Aggies into a very balanced team. Ranked top 40 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, there are no major wholes on this Texas A&M team. Though I feel Texas A&M is capable of making a run, Penn State’s ability to win close games has been the best in the country, as I see the Nittany Lions advancing to play Texas in the 2nd round.


(4) Indiana vs. (13) Kent State


After a season full of ups and downs, Indiana landed a 4 seed and takes on the MAC champions Kent State. The Hoosiers hold multiple impressive wins on their resume, including a season sweep of 1-seed rival Purdue. Indiana’s go-to scorer has been 6’9 senior Trayce Jackson Davis, one of the most dominant players in the country. Freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schfino has been a strong 3-point shooter and another key to the Hooiser’s success. Looking to pull off the upset, former Ohio Mr. Basketball, Sincere Carry has brought Kent Stae to one of their best seasons in recent history. In non-conference play, the Golden Flashes gave top seeds Houtson and Gonzaga a run for their money and showed that they can compete with anyone. Kent State has a top 40-ranked defense and an offense that has scored at least 75 in their last 9 games. With a strong defense and a team that can be dangerous on offense, Kent State will pull off the upset and take down Indiana.


Pick to win region: Texas


Sleeper pick: Kent State and Drake