The 2016 NCAA Tournament gets underway tonight with the first pair of play-in games. Play in the South Region begins at 9:10 p.m. ET on tru TV, with two 11-seeds, Wichita State and Vanderbilt, facing off for the right to play Vanderbilt.
The South Region is very intriguing. It contains the No. 1 overall seed in the field, along with a number of teams capable of busting the bracket. We'll find out which team emerges on March 26 at the KFC YUM! Center in Louisville.
We're here to help you make your picks in the South, but we're not going with just chalk. Without further ado, let's look at our five bold predictions for the South Region.
5. Wichita State Goes From First Four To Sweet 16
The Shockers made it off the bubble and into a play-in match-up in Dayton against the Vanderbilt Commodores. They'll win that one in close fashion, setting up a date with No. 6 seed Arizona on Thursday evening.
There, spurred by momentum and the play of veteran guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, WSU pulls off the upset. In round two, they face a Miami team that has Final Four potential, but Wichita has the depth and balance to hang.
The Shockers shoot lights out and use their top-ranked scoring defense to knock off the 'Canes and advance to the program's third Sweet 16 in the last four seasons.
Seemingly every year, we see a team from the First Four make a run in the tournament. That team this year will be Wichita State.
4. Hawaii Rides The Wave To The Sweet 16
Wichita State is an 11-seed but they won't be the biggest underdogs to win in round one. Cal is talent-laden, led by future pros Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. Head coach Cuonzo Martin has his team playing its best ball as of late, and the Bears are a sneaky Final Four pick for many.
But they won't even win on Friday. We're always wary of teams that have talent and potential but struggle to reach it during the year. They usually don't turn it on as expected. Furthermore, Hawaii is loaded with juniors and seniors, and has a tremendous trio in big man Stefan Jankovic (15.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and guards Aaron Valdes (14.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Roderick Bobbitt (13.3 ppg, 5.5 apg).
The Rainbow Warriors have won 27 games thus far, and they'll notch No. 28 when they knock off Cal and then take out our next Cinderella in the Round of 32.
3. South Dakota State Tops Maryland
Maryland can win this region, without question. They have an incredible point guard in Melo Trimble, talent on the wing in Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman, and a rugged interior presence in freshman big man Diamond Stone.
But the Terps (25-8) haven't lived up to expectations. Remember, this was a top-five team in the pre-season.
SDSU (26-7) boasts five or six legitimate threats from behind the arc and can spread the Terps out. Freshman big man Mike Daum, the Jackrabbits' (fantastic nickname, by the way) leading scorer, is incredibly efficient. He shoots 56 percent from the field, and averages 15.2 points in just 20.5 minutes per game.
South Dakota State is making its third NCAA Tournament appearance in the last five years. Third time is the charm after two one-and-dones.
2. Iowa Gets Off The Ropes And Into The Elite Eight
Iowa was ranked in the top 10 as recently as Feb. 22. But the Hawkeyes have dropped five of their last six games, including a 68-66 stunner to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. They're now left with a No. 7 seed and a tough first-round match-up with 10th-seeded Temple.
The Hawkeyes still have Jarrod Uthoff, an All-American and Player of the Year candidate. They still have a veteran three-headed backcourt of Mike Gesell, Peter Jok and Anthony Clemmons. They played in the rugged Big Ten, so they have no issues with facing top competition.
Iowa gets past Temple in the first round before taking down overrated two-seed Villanova in round two. From there, they face the surging Wichita State Shockers in the Sweet 16. They'll win that game as well, but that's as far as their run will go, because....
1. A Kansas Role Player Will Lift The Jayhawks To The Final Four
The Jayhawks are loaded, entering the Big Dance as the No. 1 overall seed. KU fans are wary of being the favorite, given the program's history in that role, but they're also justifiably excited about the chance to cut down the nets in Houston.
Kansas is led by a quartet of players: guards Devontae Graham, Frank Mason and Wayne Selden and forward Perry Ellis. All four are capable of winning the MOP honors for this region.
But when it comes to getting the Jayhawks into the Final Four, none of them will be able to do it without the help of a key role player stepping up. We're picking either Brannen Greene or Svi Mykhailiuk to come up big from the perimeter (think Duke's Matt Jones against Gonzaga last year), but Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas could also fit the bill.