The NCAA Tournament Committee recently released the 2019 version of the March Madness bracket we all love so much. Everyone loves the release of the bracket for a variety of reasons. Whether you believe your team was snubbed from the tournament in general or just seeded too low, complaining about your team’s situation is a tradition unlike any other. With that said, let’s dig into the bracket region by region and go through some predictions.
It only feels right to start with the East Region given that that’s where the number one overall seed, the Duke Blue Devils, reside. It was no surprise that Duke earned the top overall seed after how dominant they looked when Zion Williamson returned. It’s hard to see Duke failing to make the Elite 8, with Virginia Tech and Mississippi State serving as their toughest competition to get there. A potential Duke-Michigan State Elite 8 matchup would make for a fantastic game.
Duke and Michigan State will obviously be the favorites from this region, and for good reason. There are a few other teams to watch, though. Belmont was one of the last at-large teams to make the field, but now that they’re in, they should be considered dangerous. They are always one of the best offensive teams in the country, and this season is no different. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if they ended up advancing to the second weekend of the tournament.
If you’re looking for a higher seed to meet Duke in the Elite 8, 7th seeded Louisville is a team to keep an eye on. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the country, and Louisville has a few marquee victories. Namely, their 20-point victory at North Carolina is prime example of the kind of game Louisville is capable of playing.
Moving along, we head to the South Region where Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad is the top seed. It seems that the committee decided to make the South the Virginia region in more than one way, as nearly every team in the South plays at a snails pace. In fact, 10 of the 16 teams in the South Region rank outside of the top 300 (!!) in pace this year. If defense is your thing, this is the region for you. Of the top 38 teams in KenPom defensive efficiency, 5 of those teams are in this region, including numbers 3, 4, and 5.
What does that mean for the region? Well, it sets up nicely for Virginia. For someone to beat them, they’ll have to do it playing the exact pace Virginia wants. It’s hard to imagine someone out-playing Virginia at their own game. If a team was going to beat Virginia, I’d look to Kansas State if Dean Wade is healthy.
As for a few sleepers, this region seems to have the most potential for a high number of upsets. Oregon over Wisconsin is already one of the most popular picks in the entire tournament. UC-Irvine over Kansas State, Saint Mary’s over Villanova, and Old Dominion over Purdue will also be trendy upset picks in the coming days. This bracket could get crazy really fast.
North Carolina captured the third overall seed, leading the way in the Midwest Region. With UNC, Kansas, and Kentucky in this region, there’s no shortage of blue-blood programs. It would be shocking to see any outcome other than UNC-Kentucky in the Elite 8, but Kentucky may actually have an easier route there than North Carolina does. Utah State in the second round and Auburn in the Sweet 16 are intriguing matchups. If you love points, root for an Auburn-UNC matchup. The over/under for that game would probably reach the upper 160s.
This is not to say that Kentucky has an easy path. Their second round game against either Wofford or Seton Hall would be fascinating. Remember, Seton Hall won at Rupp Arena earlier this season. I’d expect an Iowa State-Kentucky matchup in the Sweet 16, which Kentucky should be able to handle.
The sleepers in this region? Look to the 5-12 and 4-13 matchups. Both Auburn and Kansas should be on upset alert early. Especially with Kansas, it would be surprising to see them advance past the first weekend given how poorly they’ve played of late. This is not the Kansas team we are used to seeing.
The game of the first round in this region is, by far, the 7-10 game between Wofford and Seton Hall. Wofford is everyone’s favorite Cinderella team with a litany of sharpshooters led by Fletcher Magee. Magee, in case you didn’t know, will become the NCAA all-time leader in 3-point makes with three makes in the NCAA tournament. Seton Hall, on the other hand, is led by Myles Powell who is one of the most explosive scorers in the entire country.
Last, but certainly not least, Gonzaga headlines the West Region. At first glance, this feels like the region with the highest potential for chaos. The zone-defense that either Syracuse or Baylor will play against Gonzaga in the second round could cause some problems. Outside of the 1-16 game, there is no higher seed that is safe in the first round.
The matchup that everyone will want to talk about is Marquette-Murray State because of the Markus Howard-Ja Morant point guard matchup. That promises to be electrifying. The underrated game to this point is the 7-10 game between Nevada and Florida. Nevada is loaded with high-major level talent and is the same team with the same players as last year’s Sweet 16 team. Florida started the season slowly, but came on strong of late, and Mike White is one of the best coaches in the country that nobody talks about. Whoever wins that game will give Michigan (if they win) a whale of a game.
The bracket overall feels like it might break pretty heavy in favor of the top seeds this year, but the South might be the region that breaks up an all top-2 seed Final Four. Florida State and Texas Tech are the two teams to watch in this one. Texas Tech is the best defensive team in the country, and is led offensively by future top-5 pick Jarrett Culver. Florida State just beat Virginia in the ACC tournament by using their elite, NBA-level length to bother the Cavaliers. Most college teams will struggle with the Seminoles’ length on defense. They should be a team to keep an eye on for a Final Four berth.
Predicting the Final Four
The ACC has been the best conference in the country this year by a wide margin, which led them to have three of the four top overall seeds. If I had to guess, all three of those ACC teams (Duke, Virginia, North Carolina) will make the Final Four. I could see North Carolina not making the Final Four in favor of Kentucky, Auburn, Houston or Iowa State. Seton Hall could be a dark horse to get hot and ride Myles Powell to Final Four as well. Either way, I think North Carolina is the most likely to come out of that region.
That leaves the West Region’s representative in the Final Four. I’m predicting an all-ACC Final Four this year, with Florida State toppling Gonzaga and Michigan/Texas Tech/Nevada to get to Minneapolis. Their size and length is absurd, and I think that’s really going to bother teams.
That leaves Duke-Florida State and Virginia-North Carolina in the Final Four. I can’t in good conscience pick against Zion in this one. Duke can’t shoot, and that’s certainly a problem.
The difference, however, is that none of those teams that ESPN is referencing in their tweet had Zion Williamson. On the other half, North Carolina would have to play a perfect game to beat Virginia. The way that Virginia controls the pace of the game is a problem for North Carolina given how much they like to run. I’m taking Virginia over UNC to set up a Duke-Virginia championship game.
In the championship game, Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers slow down Zion enough to exercise their NCAA tournament demons and finally win the big one. The Virginia Cavaliers are your 2019 National Champions.