2019 NCAA Tournament Preview
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First Round-Columbia, SC
#1 Duke over #16 North Dakota State
NCCU Coach LeVelle Morton said his nightmare would be to face Duke in the first round he no longer has to worry about that after losing to North Dakota State. The Bison may have a strong football program, and perhaps sending their football team could be a better course as Duke advances easily.
#8 VCU over #9 UCF
Central Florida is making their first tournament appearance since 2005, while VCU has been tournament regulars over the last decade. The Golden Knights had a great season with the big shot ability of B.J. Taylor. This year’s Rams team made it to the tournament on the strength of a strong defense that was ranked in the top ten in the country. Look for that defense to get them into the second round.
#1 Duke over #8 VCU
When healthy Duke has been unbeatable. Look for VCU to keep the game close for a half, but in the end, too much Zion Williamson, as the Blue Devils will quickly wear down VCU and win the game by at least 20 points.
First Round-San Jose, CA
#12 Liberty over #5 Mississippi State
Mississippi State is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in ten years. Liberty is making its first appearance since 2013 and could have the best team in school history as their previous three appearances saw them saddled with a #16 seed. Look for Scottie James to create havoc for the Flames, as they get the upset win in San Jose.
#4 Virginia Tech over #13 Saint Louis
It was a tumultuous season for Saint Louis who began the season with high expectations. The Billikens struggled in conference play and came into the A-10 Tournament needing to win in it to get in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia Tech meanwhile had a strong season in the ACC, posting a record of 24-8 with some of the best three-point shooters in the country.
#4 Virginia Tech over #12 Liberty
Virginia Tech is in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, an accomplishment they had not done previously. The Hokies have not been in the Sweet 16 since 1967. Look for that trend to come to an end as they are able to shoot the lights out from downtown as Liberty after winning its first tournament game runs out of gas.
First Round—Jacksonville, FL
#11 Belmont over #6 Maryland
Every year there seems to be one team out of the First Four that goes on a mini-run. The team most likely to do that is Belmont. Who became a rare at-large bid from the OVC after losing in the championship game to Murray State. In that loss, they were without Nick Muszynski, who looked healthy in their win over Temple. This is the one shining moment that longtime coach Rick Byrd has waited for. Look for the Bruins to score the upset over Maryland who lost three of their last four games.
#14 Yale over #3 LSU
Yale won its first tournament game three and gave Duke a fight in the second round. The Bulldogs this year draw one of the top teams in the nation in LSU. However, the Bayou Bengals come in with a high degree of uncertainty as Coach Will Wade is suspended due to an investigation surrounding his recruiting abuses. Things could really unravel in Baton Rouge and the distraction of Wade’s absence leaves them vulnerable.
#11 Belmont over #14 Yale
A battle of Cinderella’s will highlight the games in Jacksonville. Belmont is one of the top shooting teams in the Nation, led by Dylan Windler who could be playing an NBA arena near you. The Bruins have always been a hard out, and now they reach new heights by getting to the Sweet 16
First Round—Des Moines, IA
#10 Minnesota over #7 Louisville
This matchup shows the sense of humor from the committee, as Richard Pitino coached Minnesota, His father, of course, is locked in a lawsuit with Louisville over wrongful termination. These two teams are almost carbon copies of each other, with each team struggling late, but securing tournament bids with a strong showing in their conference tournament. Overall Louisville looks like the better team but expect an inspired effort from the Gophers to get the win.
#2 Michigan State over # 15 Bradley
Michigan State could have easily been a #1 seed after beating Michigan in the Big Ten Championship. The Spartans closed the season strong, winning 10 of their last 11 games, including three wins over the Wolverines. In addition, if Cassius Winston is at the top of his game against anyone, Sparty will be hard to beat.
#2 Michigan State over #10 Minnesota
Michigan State swept Minnesota in the regular season, the first meeting in East Lansing was too close for comfort for Sparty, as Minnesota lost 59-57. The second meeting was an old-fashioned ass whopping. I think the third meeting will also be a blowout, as the Gophers don’t shoot the ball well enough to win this game.
#1Duke, #2 Michigan State, #4 Virginia Tech, #11 Belmont
East Regional Semifinals—Washington, DC
#1 Duke over #4 Virginia Tech
On February 26th, Virginia Tech handed Duke in their one meeting in the regular season in Blacksburg. That was of course while Zion Williamson was sitting out with a knee sprain. This time with Duke at full power, the Hokies will face the wrath of Duke as they plucked apart in a big way.
#2 Michigan State over # 11 Belmont
Looking at how this region is set, it is hard not to imagine the top two seeds advancing to the Elite Eight. Duke is the top overall seed, and Michigan State may be the best of the #2 seeds. Belmont just winning a few tournament games will be a proud moment for their program that has been long one of the top teams in the OVC. Look for the Spartans to simply overwhelm the Bruins.
East Regional Final— Washington, DC
#1 Duke over #2 Michigan State
If Duke is to win their sixth National Championship, Michigan State will be one of the biggest obstacles. Zion Williamson is by far the best player in the country and when he is going strong, the Blue Devils are untouchable. However, still a freshman an experienced team like Michigan State could be a tough battle, especially if Cassius Winston is able to showcase his playmaking abilities. For Duke to win, this may be the game in which they need RJ Barrett to make the big plays. This one should be exciting, with Duke surviving on the way to the Twin Cities.
East Region Most Outstanding Player:
Zion Williams, Duke
First Round--Salt Lake City, UT
#1 Gonzaga over #16 Farleigh Dickinson
Farleigh Dickinson began the tournament with a win in the First Four over Prairie View. However, it would be fairly ridiculous to think they have a chance to go any further. Last season saw the first win by a #16 seed. However, Gonzaga tested consistent tournament performer will not fall victim to such an upset as they will be rested and ready to play when the ball tips on Thursday.
#8 Syracuse over #9 Baylor
It was a season of ups and downs for Syracuse, who stunned Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in January, but struggled late in the regular season. Like the Orange, Baylor also backed into the tournament, losing their last four games as they have dealt with injuries. The Bears hope Makai Mason can return and give a full 40 minutes if he can’t play, their chances to win take a big hit. Look for Syracuse to out-physical Baylor to advance.
#8 Syracuse over #1 Gonzaga
Gonzaga and Syracuse each beat Duke during the regular season. Gonzaga believes they can win the entire tournament as they had four of five starters named All-Conference. However, as the loss to St. Mary’s show they are not infallible. Syracuse has the tallest team in the tournament led by Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, and Elijah Hughes. Look for the size of the Orange to Crush the hopes of Gonzaga to pull off the upset.
First Round--Hartford, CT
#12 Murray State over #5 Marquette
Marquette sputtered down the stretch, losing five of their last six games after cracking the Top Ten. Look for the Golden Eagles to continue to struggle, as Murray State has one of the top defenses against the three-pointer. Marquette all season has lived and died by the three. Look for Ja Morant to show why he is a highly regarded pro prospect as he leads the Racers to their first tournament win in nearly a decade.
#4 Florida State over #13 Vermont
Florida State has been one of the hottest teams in the nation over the last eight weeks. Since January 20th, the Seminoles are 14-2, having reached the Finals of the ACC Tournament. Vermont is a strong team, after reclaiming the crown in the America East. The Seminoles right now are a buzz saw as they look to return to the Elite Eight where they fell last season.
#4 Florida State over #12 Murray State
Florida State and Murray State each finished strong, but when they are on the same court it will be the depth of the Seminoles that ends up being the deciding factor. Ja Morant is a solid pro prospect but he can’t handle the depth of Florida State on his own.
First Round—Tulsa, OK
#6 Buffalo over #11 Arizona State
Buffalo won its first tournament game since moving to Division 1, last season. Had they been in a bigger conference they would have been given a better seeding, as they posted a record of 31-3. The committee simply has not seen enough from the Bulls, to reward them a #3 seed. That will change as they go on a nice run this season beating the Arizona State. Ironically the Sun Devils are coached by Bobby Hurley who is largely responsible for the Bulls recent success.
#3 Texas Tech over #14 Northern Kentucky
Heading into the Big XII Tournament, the Red Raiders were on a roll, winning 11 of 12. The hope in Lubbock is that the first-round stumble in the Big XII Tournament was just a mere speed bump. With the #2 ranked defense in the country, expect Texas Tech to come out strong and win this one easily, as Northern Kentucky just does not match up well in this game.
#6 Buffalo over #3 Texas Tech
Led by C.J. Massinburg and Jeremy Harris, Buffalo is strong on both sides of the floor. Ranked #18, the Bulls are relative unknowns coming out of the MAC. That will all change this year as Buffalo has the talent to make a run to the Final Four. Look for them to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time by upending Texas Tech.
First Round-Des Moines, IA
#10 Florida over #7 Nevada
Nevada at one time this season looked like one of the top teams in the nation as they won 24 of their first 25 games. However, down the stretch, the Wolf Pack had their struggles as they have seemingly unraveled in pressure situations. Florida meanwhile is coming off a strong showing in the SEC Tournament as they won three games to reach the Semifinals, including a win over LSU. Look for the Gators to continue that strong play and reach the second round.
#2 Michigan over #15 Montana
After reaching the Championship Game last season, Michigan is hungry to complete the mission and bring the first National Championship to Ann Arbor in 30 years. The Wolverines are just as strong as they were last year, and they are battle tested. Look for them to easily dispatch Montana to reach the second round.
#2 Michigan over #10 Florida
At one point this season Michigan was 17-0, while they appeared to be on cruise control most of the season in the Big Ten, they are clearly capable of returning to the Final Four. Look for them to among the best teams in the first weekend as they easily win their first two games to reach the Sweet 16.
#2 Michigan, #2 #4 Florida State, #6 Buffalo, #8 Syracuse
Western Regional Semifinals—Anaheim, CA
#4 Florida State over #8 Syracuse
A battle of ACC teams on the other coast highlights the Western Regional Semifinals. In their lone meeting in the regular season, the Seminoles marched into Syracuse and won 80-62. Look for Florida State to continue their strong play and reach the Elite Eight again, as the Seminoles are deep and have too much firepower for the Orange to handle.
#6 Buffalo over #2 Michigan
On their path to the Final Four, the biggest obstacle for Michigan might be Buffalo, who is the best team that nobody knows about. With players like C.J. Massinburg and Jeremy Hill, the Bulls play at a frenetic pace as they give everyone what was once called 40 minutes of hell. Looking to put their stamp on the Nation, look for Buffalo to shuffle off to the Elite Eight.
West Regional Final
#4 Florida State over #6 Buffalo
At 27-7, Florida State may have been the best team in school history as they try to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1972. The Seminoles came one game away last year, losing to Michigan in the Elite Eight. This time, Florida State gets the win in the Regional Finals as they prove to be too deep for Buffalo, with players like Terrance Mann, Mflondu Kabengele and M.J. Walker leading the way.
East Region Most Outstanding Player:
M.J. Walker, Florida State
#1 Duke, #4 Florida State, #1 Virginia, #1 North Carolina
National Semifinals—Minneapolis, MN
#1 Duke over #4 Florida
Did you like the ACC Tournament? Well, watch for the Final Four as the superiority of the ACC reaches a crescendo as they get four teams to the Twin Cities. Duke beat Florida State in both meetings this season, including a 73-63 win in the ACC Championship Game. The Blue Devils go as far as Zion Williamson can take them. After missing three weeks, the consensus #1 pro prospect showed no ill effect leading the Blue Devils to three straight wins in Charlotte to win the ACC Championship. When Zion has been healthy, Duke has been unbeatable look for that trend to continue.
#1 North Carolina over #1 Virginia
In their lone meeting this season, Virginia stunned North Carolina at the Dean Dome, 69-61. The Tar Heels would not lose another game, until the ACC Semifinals. Look for Carolina to come out shooting and win a close back and forth battle. North Carolina has the experience and that is what will be the deciding factor, as Virginia has trouble finding the player to make the big shot late, while the Tar Heels have a handful who can win a game in the final minutes.
National Championship Game
#1 Duke 82 #1 North Carolina 80 Overtime
Duke and North Carolina separated ten miles of road, have been the best rivalry in College Basketball, as the two schools have won more championships than any other team over the last 30 years. In a regular season meeting this season, Super Bowl type prices were being asked on the secondary market, as even former President Barack Obama had to stop what he was doing to get floor seats. The Tar Heels won both regular-season matchups, as Zion Williamson was hurt early in the first game and missed the second meeting in Chapel Hill. However, in the ACC Semifinals, the Blue Devils won a back and forth thriller that came down to the final seconds.
Their regular season meetings over the years have been epic, they have staged great battles in the ACC Tournament. Just what will happen if these two bitter rivals were to meet with the National Championship on the line? Can U.S. Bank Stadium withstand this type of drama and intensity? One thing for sure, this could be an epic final talked about for years, as it will be more than a game it will be World War III. Just imagine if this game goes to overtime, a distinct possibility. Can the planet handle that?
In the end, its Zion’s world and we live in it. The last two times the Final Four were in the Twin Cities, 1992 and 2001 Duke cut down the nets. Look for deja vu as the Blue Devils win a sixth Championship.
Most Outstanding Player
Zion Williamson, Duke
First Round—Columbia, SC
#1 Virginia over #16 Gardner-Webb
After becoming the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed, Virginia is bound and determined to get some redemption as they are again a #1 seed. The South Region is the weakest of the four regions and sets up well for the Cavaliers to make a long run. If they are unable to make a deep run, Tony Bennett and his squad will be exposed as frauds.
#8 Mississippi over #9 Oklahoma
Ole Miss had a great season, as they were better than expected in the SEC. Led by Breein Tyree, Terence Davis, and Devonte Shuler; the Rebels possess a great backcourt that is solid at shooting the ball. This game should be a rather even matchup, with Oklahoma having a solid defense. However, when it comes down to the final minutes, do the Sooners have the shooter to take the game-winning shot? Ole Miss has three players who can get that done.
#1 Virginia over #8 Mississippi
Virginia has always had a strong defense under Tony Bennett, but their offense has let them down in key situations too many times in the past. This year’s Cavaliers team has shot the ball better, and that will be key the deeper they go in the tournament. After their shocking loss last season, no team will be more focused in the first week than Virginia who will cruise to the Sweet 16.
First Round—San Jose, CA
#5 Wisconsin over #12 Oregon
Had it not been for their win in the Pac 12 tournament, Oregon would not be in this tournament. While it is easy to expect the Ducks to carry the momentum forward, their play has been far too inconsistent to expect them to have another big weekend. Look for Wisconsin as always has a strong defense and rarely makes the big mistake.
#13 UC-Irvine over #4 Kansas State
Be wary of the Ant Eaters, as the UC-Irvine has lost just one game since the start of the New Year. Kanas State had a great season and won Big XII regular season title but suffered a letdown in the Conference Tournament. Look for another letdown in San Jose as they are upended in the first round.
#5 Wisconsin over #13 UC-Irvine
Wisconsin always seems to bring their best come March. After missing the tournament last season, the Badgers came back recharged in 2019, led by Ethan Happ, who may be among the best seniors in the nation. As usual, Wisconsin has a strong defense, but what makes them a hard out is how they don’t make turnovers. Teams like that usually don’t fall victim to double-digit seeds.
First Round—Hartford, CT
#6 Villanova over #11 St. Mary’s
Villanova comes in as defending champions, but they are a shell of the team that went on their run last season, having lost their top players to the NBA. Sr. Mary’s is a giant slayer, having beaten Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament. However, the Gales have not played in two weeks. Villanova coached by Jay Wright meanwhile showed the muscle memory of a champion, winning the Big East Tournament for the third straight year.
#3 Purdue over # 14 Old Dominion
Purdue is a funny team. They have the ability to go on a long tournament run. However, they also have the habit of playing to the level of their opponent and blowing games they should win. ODU has a pair of guards in Ahmad Carver and B.J. Stith that could give the Boilermakers fits. Purdue though is too strong and will at least get past the first round.
#6 Villanova over #3 Purdue
This will be a virtual road game for Purdue, with Villanova having the ability to send a large group of fans into Hartford. Purdue will always have a stretch where it looks like they are not pushing it all the way, and this is where Villanova and Jay Wright will take advantage as that muscle memory of a champion carries the Wildcats back to the Sweet 16.
First Round—Columbus, OH
#10 Iowa over #7 Cincinnati
Iowa has shown flashes all season of being a team that could be a legitimate Final Four contender. They have also had periods where they looked like a team that should not even see March. Such inconsistency has frustrated Hawkeye fans all season. The tournament though will bring out the best in Iowa, who has been strong offensively all season. Cincinnati has had their problems in March, and with the size of Iowa matching their physical defense look for the Hawkeyes to move on.
#2 Tennessee over #15 Colgate
Tennessee has been one of the best teams all season, after a 23-1 start. However, their 20-point loss in the SEC Championship which cost them a #1 seed showed some troubling signs. Colgate should not provide too much resistance as the Vols have too much talent to go down in the first round.
#10 Iowa over #2 Tennessee
It has been two decades since Iowa has reached the Sweet 16. With an offense capable of putting up big numbers, the Hawkeyes, if they are hitting their shots from downtown, can give any team problems. This is the type of team that has given the Vols problems all season. Look for the Hawkeyes to reach the magic number of 73 points, in which they are 18-2 on the season to get the upset win.
#1 Virginia, #5 Wisconsin, #6 Villanova, #10 Iowa
South Regional Semifinals—Louisville, KY
#1 Virginia over #5 Wisconsin
This game could set basketball back to the era of the two-handed set shot, as both Virginia and Wisconsin love to slow things down and play hard-nosed defense. In the past its been teams like this that have given Virginia fits. However, no team will be more focused and determined to erase the memories of last year. In a close battle expect the Cavaliers to survive.
#6 Villanova over #10 Iowa
When you win two NCAA Tournament in three years, playing in March becomes second nature. While a bulk of the core moved on to the NBA, Phil Booth is still making the big shots for Villanova. Booth, a senior has two National Championship rings and knows how to raise his game to a different level. While it has been a down year in some respects, nobody should doubt they can go on a long tournament run.
South Regional Final—Louisville, KY
#1 Virginia over #6 Villanova
Reaching the final four will not erase the memory of becoming the first team to lose to a #16 seed, but it will certainly redeem Virginia. The committee did them a big favor, as the South Region is the weakest, with no other teams you can call a true title contender. Each of the 15 other teams have too many flaws, and while Villanova has the championship pedigree, the Cavaliers have the talent.
South Region Most Outstanding Player:
De’Andre Hunter, Virginia
First Round—Columbus, OH
#1 North Carolina over #16 Iona
Iona is in the tournament for the fourth straight year, but for the fourth straight year, they face an impossible task. While they were able to throw a scare in Duke last season, no team has been stronger in these games than the Tar Heels, as Coach Roy Williams has never lost a first-round game.
#8 Utah State over #9 Washington
Utah State emerged late in the season, winning 16 of their last 17 games to capture the WAC Championship. Washington was the best team in the regular season in a down season for the Pac-12. However, they came out flat in the tournament championship. Look for Sam Merrill to make the big shots to carry the Aggies on to the second round.
#1 North Carolina over #8 Utah State
North Carolina beware, Utah State is going to be a live dog in this game. Coached by Craig Smith, the Aggies have been one of the better teams in the second half of the season. If the Tar Heels are not careful, they could fall. Look for the Tar Heels to sweat it out for 40 minutes before getting the win as Coby White lead the way.
First Round—Salt Lake City, UT
#12 New Mexico State over #5 Auburn
With the return of Austin Wiley, Auburn finished the SEC Tournament strong, blowing out Tennessee in the championship game. The Tigers live and die by the three-point shot which is quite dangerous. New Mexico State has been one of the top mid-major teams all season, as they come into the tournament with a 19-game winning streak. Used to playing at altitude the Aggies are set up for a nice weekend.
#13 Northeastern over #4 Kansas
It was truly a down year for the Jayhawks, as their long reign in the Big XII Conference came to an end. In many ways, Bill Self did a great job as Kansas does not have nearly the talent it has had in the past. However, come March when the rubber meets the road, their issues will be on full display as Northeastern scores the upset as Vasa Puscia’s ability to shoot the lights out carries the Huskies forward.
#12 New Mexico State over #13 Northeastern
New Mexico State has been the tournament nine times in the last ten years, but they have not been to the Sweet 16 in 27 years. That ends now, as they continue to rule at high altitude beating Northeastern. The Aggies are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. Look for them to carry that ability to rule the boards to win their way to Kansas City.
First Round—Tulsa, OK
#6 Iowa State over #11 Ohio State
Both of these teams have been largely inconsistent all season. The Cyclones come in with some momentum, having won the Big XII Tournament, but when they are off, they could lose to just about anyone. Ohio State on its best days can win a game like this, but they are two one dimensional and will fall in the first round.
#3Houston over #14 Georgia State
Don’t sleep on the Cougars, while they had a disappointing loss in the AAC Championship, they have been one of the best-kept secrets in the Nation, posting a record of 31-3. Look for them to come out strong and roll all over a mismatched team from Georgia State.
#3 Houston over #6 Iowa State
Iowa State on its best day could give Houston a fit, but they are far too inconsistent to trust in a situation like this. Look for the Cougars to win this game by double digits as they show why they may be the best team on the three line.
First Round—Jacksonville, FL
#7 Wofford over #10 Seton Hall
The Terriers of Wofford come into the tournament with a 20-game winning streak. Led by Fletcher Magee they are a dangerous team that could challenge just about anyone. Seton Hall had a good run in the Big East Tournament and did beat Kentucky earlier in the season, but too much Magee will lead to the ship sinking early for the Pirates.
#2 Kentucky over #15 Abilene Christian
Abilene Christian the coach with the torn pants is in the tournament for the first time, Kentucky is a March regular. While the Wildcats have had their hiccups, their strong play at the end of the season had people taking note. Don’t be shocked if Kentucky wins another title as they improved throughout the season.
#2 Kentucky over #7 Wofford
Once again Kentucky is loaded as they hit the NCAA Tournament. Wofford will not be an easy game, as Fletcher Magee could find a way to win the game. However, while Magee has great pro potential, the Wildcats have several players who are his equal, including P.J. Washington who was Kentucky’s top player all season.
#1 North Carolina, #2 Kentucky, #3 Houston, #12 New Mexico State
Midwest Regional Semifinals—Kansas City, MO
#1 North Carolina over #12 New Mexico State
North Carolina comes into the tournament as one of the deepest teams in the nation. Look for them to come out strong in Kansas City, as seniors like Luke Maye and Kenny Williams know what it takes to win in March.
#3 Houston over #2 Kentucky
This could be one of the best games of the Sweet 16 round as both teams are capable of winning the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars defense should be able to give Kentucky fits. While their foul shooting could be an issue. I like Houston to have just enough to advance as they have their more balanced team.
Midwest Regional Finals
#1 North Carolina over #3 Houston
Houston has the defense and the balance to beat North Carolina. However, the Tar Heels have the veteran leadership and the big play ability needed to win these games late. The Cougars biggest weakness is their ability to hit free throws. When you miss your foul shots against a team like North Carolina you are set up for disaster. Look for the shot making ability to be the big deciding factor in this one.
Midwest Region Most Outstanding Player:
Cam Johnson, North Carolina