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Breaking down the South Region and the path ahead for Mizzou

The Tigers reside in an offense-oriented region with plenty of star players.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Semifinals - Alabama vs Missouri Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

“One Shining Moment” begins playing, and Dennis Gates and Kobe Brown hoist the NCAA Tournament Trophy as the team cheers around them…

That’s the dream that every Mizzou fan hopes to become a reality on April 3. To do so, the Tigers will have to pull off its fair share of upsets and play their best ball of the season.

The road begins on Thursday, March 17 when the Tigers take on Utah State in Sacramento, CA. However, with Mr. Brandon Haynes handling everything you will need to know about the Aggies, I’ll be taking a look ahead at the rest of the South Region and Mizzou’s potential path to the Final Four.

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The Favorites

No. 1 Alabama (29-5)

The Crimson Tide have been among the nation’s elite throughout the season, and they were rewarded with the No. 1 overall seed in this bracket, their first ever time being ranked so highly. They’re the odds-on favorite to win it all, and for good reason.

Brandon Miller exploded for 61 total points in the SEC Tournament, and he has the makings of a March legend. With Miller, Noah Clowney, Charles Bediako and Noah Gurley, the Crimson Tide have enough size and length to cause problems for any team they come across. Throw in veteran guards Mark Sears and Jahvon Quinerly, and you have a team with few weaknesses and plenty of strengths.

The Alabama offense has been unstoppable at times this season, but its defense has quietly been solid as well. The Tide only allow 69.2 points and record over five blocks per game.

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament Championship Arizona vs UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2 Arizona (28-6)

Fresh off a Pac-12 Tournament title victory over UCLA, Tommy Lloyd’s Arizona squad is humming. There’s star power across the floor for the Wildcats, and their inside-out game can be tough to stop when the offense is in a rhythm.

Azoulas Tubelis averaged 19.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and is an All-American candidate. He’s joined by the imposing Oumar Ballo in the frontcourt, Arizona’s second-leading scorer at 14.2 points per game. With Tubelis at 6-foot-11 and Ballo at 7-foot, this Wildcat team can overwhelm teams with its presence in the paint.

Courtney Ramey and Kerry Kriisa run the offense from the perimeter. Ramey, a Texas transfer (and St. Louis native), shoots 40% from behind the arc, second only to Kriisa’s 41.1% mark. Kriisa also leads the team with 5.2 assists per game and is as scrappy as they come in this tournament.

No. 3 Baylor (22-10)

By their recent standards, it was a down year for the Baylor Bears. Playing in the loaded Big 12 means that the Bears had to fight for every win they got, and they were rewarded a No. 3 seed for their efforts.

While they enter this tournament coming off a loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals, Baylor has plenty of reason for optimism in March. The backcourt trio of freshman phenom Keyonte George and veterans Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer can take this team as far as they want. Each of them can take over a game at a moment’s notice, and Flagler and Cryer know what it takes to advance in March Madness. They won’t be a trendy pick, but Baylor has the making of a Final Four contender if their frontcourt can stand tall.

Potential Cinderella Stories

NCAA Basketball: CAA Tournament Championship Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

No. 12 Charleston (31-3)

They’ve been a fan favorite throughout the season. The Charleston Cougars fell to only North Carolina in non-conference play and then ran rampant through the Colonial Athletic Association. With wins over Virginia Tech, Kent State and a CAA tournament title to their name, the Cougars know that they can compete with anybody in the field.

That confidence stems from being one of the most balanced teams in the nation. Charleston collects 35.1% of their misses on offense and shoots at a 52.9% clip from 2-point land. On the other side of the floor, Charleston forces teams to shoot at a paltry 30.3% from behind the arc, and teams rarely have a chance to attack the glass for misses.

Nearly every player that steps on the floor for the Cougars can shoot the 3-ball, and they have five guys who average double-figures. If the shooting can show up and Charleston can continue to win on the glass, they will be a tough out for a San Diego State team that prides itself on defense and rebounding.

No. 13 Furman (27-7)

The Paladins are another team in this region that makes a living on the offensive end. They shoot just over 48% from the field as a team on average and score 82.1 points per game. They also force opposing teams into 13 turnovers per game to further support their potent offense.

Fifth-year guard Mike Bothwell spearheads the attack. He scores 18 points per game and is third on the team with three assists per game this season. At 6-foot-3, Bothwell is a big guard that opposing teams struggle to find a consistent matchup for 40 minutes.

Fellow fifth-year Jalen Slawson complements Bothwell from his frontcourt position. He leads the team with 7.1 rebounds per game despite standing at just 6-foot-7, and he also pours in 15.7 points per game.

If the ‘Dins can survive Virginia’s suffocating defense, they are more than capable of making a Sweet 16 run.

The Sleeper

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

No. 6 Creighton (21-12)

The Bluejays are one of the most intriguing teams in this entire bracket. With Ryan Nembhard, Ryan Kalkbrenner, Trey Alexander, Arthur Kaluma and Baylor Sheierman, Creighton has an experienced and extremely talented team on paper. At their best, this team was ranked inside of the top 10 this season. At their worst (in large part thanks to injuries), the Bluejays lost six games in a row in November/December.

Creighton certainly has the potential to make a deep run in this tournament, but that requires them to play at their “A” game, which they have only done on occasion this season. A first-round date with NC State is very winnable, and that would set up a Round Two matchup with Baylor. Win that swing game, and the South Region is there for the taking.

With the 7-foot Kalkbrenner and Kaluma manning the interior and Nembhard, Alexander and Scheierman lighting it up from the perimeter, this team has the balance to compete with any of the favorites in the region. Poor defensive rebounding and an inability to get to the free throw line has plagued this team at times, and those will be the two stats worth monitoring.

The Pathway

So, what does that pathway to a Final Four look like for Mizzou?

If the Tigers are to win an opening-round game with Utah State, that would set up a date with Arizona, barring a miraculous Princeton victory. The Wildcats’ size and overall team talent would be very tough to overcome, especially for an undersized Missouri team. Still, the Tigers have proven that they can upset teams behind their hot shooting and aggressive defense.

Taking down Arizona would set up a Sweet 16 matchup with likely either Baylor or Creighton. The Bears’ guards could cause problems for Mizzou’s perimeter players, as Flager and Co. really like to get in people’s grills and take away all of their usual shots. For Creighton, containing Kalkbrenner would be the biggest (literally) concern.

Make it out of the Sweet 16, and a third round with Alabama would in all likelihood await. With Kobe Brown playing in the SEC Tournament semifinal, Mizzou managed to hang with the Crimson Tide before Miller and the Tide offense overwhelmed it late.

The good news is that Missouri is a team with a high-risk, high-rewarded play style. If they are rewarded, the Tigers could certainly write their own Cinderella story.

Ceiling: Missouri gets red-hot from behind the arc, D’Moi Hodge and Kobe Brown have multiple electric performances and the team forces turnovers at a high-rate. Tigers advance to the Elite 8 before falling to Alabama.

Realistic: Missouri edges Utah State in a tightly-contested shootout, but Arizona’s size and balance prove to be too much to overcome in the Round of 32.

Floor: Tigers come out shooting poorly against the Aggies, lose by 10+ in Round One of the tournament.