South Region Bracket Preview: Teams, Prediction and Odds (Is it Houston's Year?)

Mar 9, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars guard Jamal Shead (1) reacts after a play during
Mar 9, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars guard Jamal Shead (1) reacts after a play during / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston has been a fixture in the NCAA Tournament over the past several years, but hasn't been able to breakthrough as a National Championship winner under head coach Kelvin Sampson.

The Cougars are the No. 1 seed in the South Region and will look to continue its dominance through the college basketball world, its first as a high major conference member as the team wasn't fazed by the best conference in the sport of the Big 12. The Cougars have been the best defense in the country all season and have the elite guard play to win a title, but will the team avoid a March disappointment this season?

It's worth noting that Houston has a building list of injuries, most recently starting big man J'Wan Roberts, who was hampered in the Big 12 Tournament with a shin injury.

The Cougars are joined by a crowded group of contenders that will stand in its way, including No. 2 seed Marquette, No. 3 seed Kentucky and No. 4 seed Duke.

However, these teams are not without flaws, as Marquette is waiting for the return of lead guard Tyler Kolek from an oblique injury, Kentucky doesn't play defense very well, and Duke comes in out of form with an ACC Tournament loss to North Carolina State in the quarterfinals.

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Favorite: Houston

Houston will remain the favortie to win the region despite some injury concerns, this is a defense that is decimal points from being the best in the country and is led by a veteran point guard in Jamal Shead that negotiates the offense for the Cougars.

What makes Houston a tough team to take down, the team lost four games all season, is its style of basketball. The team is relentless on the glass, 13th in offensive rebounding rate and 10th in turnover percentage. The Cougars ability to generate more shots than its opponent is its biggest strength and it mitigates some cocnern about its shot making as the team is 229th in effective field goal percentage.

Dark Horse: Florida

The Gators are starting to realize its upside, making the SEC Tournament finals on Sunday before losing to Auburn. Todd Golden's bunch is dynamic on offense, 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom, buoyed by a jumbo lineup that is elite at offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line. The Gators are seventh in offensive rebounding percentage and 43rd in free trow rate.

While the defense has some concerns, the team is outside the top 300 in turnover percentage, the team is elite at limiting foes to shoot from the perimeter. The team's drop coverage pick-and-roll scheme and length on the perimeter funnels teams inside where the team ranks as a top 30 defense in field goal percentage allowed at the rim.

It's worth noting, though that the Gators lost 7'1" big man Micah Handlogten, who is an elite rim protector off the bench for the team.

Team to Fade: Kentucky

I can't get on board with Kentucky, who has continued to show it can't play sufficient defense to guarantee a deep March Madness run. Following a dismal effort on the defensive side of the ball against Texas A&M, the Wildcats fell to 108th in defensive efficiency.

Yes, the offense is elite. Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham are a petrifying duo to slow down, but the defense figures to be its Achilles heel as the team begins its NCAA Tournament run. Further, is there a cool down period ever coming for this group? Kentucky shot the ball better than any team in the country since February 1st, drilling 43% of its shots from beyond the arc according to Bart Torvik. That run is offsetting the fact that the team is 154th in adjusted defensive efficiency in that same span.

The draw may look appetizing with a few banged up teams in this region, but the defense will come back to haunt this team.

Cinderella? Texas A&M

While the team was on the outside looking in of the NCAA Tournament last week, the Aggies are now in following a win against Kentucky, and the draw sets up nicely for Buzz Williams' bunch.

Texas A&M, the best offensive rebounding team in the country, draws a Nebraska defense that lacks the physicality to hang with the Aggies and dynamic guard Wade Taylor in the first round before a potential date with Houston in the second round.

As noted above, the Cougars enter banged up and are a poor shooting team, very similar to this Texas A&M team. While the Aggies are not as good, can Taylor heat up in a one game sample and the No. 9 seed wins the rebounding battle while also making its free throws en route to an upset.

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