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2019 March Madness Preview

2019 March Madness Preview

March 20, 2019

March Madness is upon us. The 2019 NCAA Tournament will begin tomorrow, and thus will come one of the most exciting and unpredictable times of year that captivates the nation for roughly three weeks. Many will attempt to predict how the tournament games will shake out while rooting for small schools and unheralded players on the biggest stage against top-level competition.

The tournament features 68 college basketball teams that must work their way through a bracket to get to the championship game. The bracket features four regions with 16 teams in each (#1 being the best team, #16 being the worst), and each squad is looking to win six games in order to win the title in a win-or-go-home situation for every game.

Round 1= Round of 64

Round 2= Round of 32

Round 3=Sweet 16

Round 4= Elite 8

Round 5= Final Four

Round 6= Championship Game

The 2019 March Madness bracket was revealed this past Sunday, and the first round of action will commence tomorrow at 12:15 p.m.

Here are my predictions for how the tournament will shake out and who will be the winner:

East Region

Washington D.C.

Sweet 16 Picks

#1 Duke vs. #4 Virginia Tech

Winner: Duke

#2 Michigan State vs. #3 LSU

Winner: Michigan State

Elite 8 Pick

#1 Duke vs. #2 Michigan State

Winner: Duke

Most Likely Upset

#12 Liberty over #5 Mississippi State

The Bulldogs are a veteran squad that shoots the ball well, which are qualities that tend to bode well in the tournament. The Bulldogs have a lot of firepower, but Liberty is an even more experienced team that won a lot of games this season and could easily be that 12-over-5 upset in 2019.

Sleeper Team To Watch Out For

#4 Virginia Tech Hokies (24-8)

VT has been a solid team all season, but losing star point guard Justin Robinson hurt. Now, even though he may not be 100% right away, he is back, and will join Kerry Blackshear to lead a talented Hokie squad that has no glaring weaknesses. A Sweet 16 appearance is very attainable, and they have proven that they can beat Duke already this season (albeit a Zion-less Duke).

3 Stars To Watch Out For (excluding the obvious, Zion)

Cassius Winston (PG, Michigan State)

18.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 7.6 APG

Arguably the best point guard in the country will need to show up big for his Spartans this season. Cassius Winston runs the pick-and-roll better than a lot of NBA point guards, and he can shoot and defend with the best of them. Winston should put up some major numbers in the tourney.

Dylan Windler (SF, Belmont)

21.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.6 APG

Belmont just barely snuck into the field as an 11-seed, which is lucky for CBB fans. Dylan Windler was largely overshadowed by Ja Morant in the OVC, but he is an NBA prospect in his own right. He is a versatile big man who can score either inside or out, and he’s got the potential to carry this Belmont team to a couple of wins.

Tremont Waters (PG, LSU)
15.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 5.9 APG

LSU has a lot of negativity surrounding the program right now, but they still have potential for a deep tournament run. That will be determined by Tremont Waters, who was one of the better point guards in the nation for much of the year. Waters is a quick, crafty guard who runs this LSU offense at a highly-efficient level, and even though they have a lot of other skilled guys, Waters will be the key for this Tiger run.

 

West Region

Anaheim, CA

Sweet 16 Picks

#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Florida State

Winner: Gonzaga

#3 Texas Tech vs. #7 Nevada

Winner: Texas Tech

Elite 8 Pick

#1 Gonzaga vs. #3 Texas Tech

Winner: #1 Gonzaga

Most Likely Upset

#12 Murray State over #5 Marquette

It is an obvious pick for a lot of people, and the matchup of Ja Morant against Markus Howard will be something incredible to watch, but there is a lot to like about Murray State. The Racers have a complete roster with solid players around Morant, and his playmaking ability will always keep Murray State in this game. Marquette’s shooting ability will be tough to overcome, but I’ve got the Racers advancing onto the second round.

Sleeper Team To Watch For

#7 Nevada Wolfpack (29-4)

A lot of people are down on Nevada, and rightfully so. The Wolfpack struggled at times in Mountain West play and were an early exit in the Mountain West tournament, but this is still a very skilled team that can heat up quickly, much like they did in 2018. The Martin twins are joined Jordan Caroline to form a trio of guys that could get 20 points any night, and the Wolfpack can get hot from 3 at any moment. Michigan is likely the weakest 2 seed in the field, meaning that Nevada has a great shot to take them down in the Round of 32.

3 Stars To Watch

Jarrett Culver (SF, Texas Tech)

18.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.7 APG

Culver came out of nowhere to be an elite NBA prospect this season, and he is looking to leave his mark on the NCAA Tournament as well. The 6″5 senior does it all for this Red Raiders team, as he can create his own shot whenever needs be, rebound well, or create for teammates. He makes this team go, and if Culver is hot, then the sky is the limit for this team.

Ja Morant (PG, Murray State)

24.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 10.0 APG

Ja Morant has taken the nation by storm on his way to becoming a likely lottery pick in the 2019 Draft, and he now will be aiming to repay the school that gave him a chance with a couple of tournament wins. Morant is probably the most explosive player in the field and can compete with any player both athletically and with his basketball IQ. Morant will need to play some of his best basketball of the season if he wants to take the Racers on a run.

Rui Hachimura (PF, Gonzaga)

20.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.6 APG

Rui Hachimura was the star of college basketball earlier this season when he led the Zags to a win over Duke, but since then he has not received the same attention. Regardless, he is still one of the best NBA prospects this season and has star potential. His ability to dominated in the post or from the perimeter is rare, and he is a solid defender as well. Hachimura and this Zags team are determined to avenge last season’s early exit, and it will take a couple of big games from the Bulldogs’ big man to do so.

 

South Region

Louisville, KY

Sweet 16 Predictions

#1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon

Winner: Virginia

#2 Tennessee vs. #6 Villanova

Winner: Tennessee

Elite 8 Prediction

#1 Virginia vs. #2 Tennessee

Winner: Tennessee

Most Likely Upset

#13 UC Irvine vs. #4 Kansas State

Everything is pointing towards this being a possible 13-over-4 upset game. Kansas State will be without their leader in forward Dean Wade, and the Cats will miss his presence a lot. UC Irvine is an elite defensive squad that has won 30 games this season, and they are very capable of competing with KSU. This should be a low scoring game that stays close throughout, but the Anteaters should pull this one off as one of the bigger upsets of the tournament.

Sleeper Team To Watch For

#6 Villanova (25-9)

Villanova has not had the year they are accustomed to having as they have with multiple unexpected losses and inconsistent play from their bench. Despite their struggles this season, the Wildcats are still coached by one of the best coaches in the nation in Jay Wright and have enough talent to make a push in the tourney. Villanova could easily take down Saint Mary’s, and Purdue is a fairly weak 3-seed that is very beatable, and then that would likely set up a matchup with Tennessee. Don’t be surprised if Nova is in the Sweet 16 or possibly an Elite 8 appearance.

3 Stars To Watch For

Grant Williams (PF, Tennessee)

19.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.1 APG

The SEC’s leading scorer hailed from Knoxville this season, as junior forward Grant Williams had a stellar year en route to winning SEC Player of the Year. The 6″7, 236 lb. power forward is a master at carving out space down low and putting himself in position to score, and his game is versatile enough to score from anywhere on the floor. He will have to run into some tough defensive teams (Cincinnati, Villanova, possibly Virginia), but Williams has the talent and experience to keep up his 19.0 PPG average in each of those matchups and guide UT to a Final Four.

Carsen Edwards (PG, Purdue)

23.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.0 APG

Carsen Edwards has had an interesting season at the helm of the Purdue offense. He started out the year by taking the nation by storm with multiple 30+ point games, but when Big Ten play started, inconsistencies settled in. Edwards was ice cold in some games and took a lot shots, at times costing the Boilermakers some wins. Now, the question is which version of Edwards will show up. If he is hot, he could carry this team to an Elite 8 appearance and beyond, but if he is cold, Purdue could be a first round exit.

Ethan Happ (PF, Wisconsin)

17.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.6 APG

While Wisconsin’s offense has been up and down this season, Ethan Happ has usually not been. Happ has been one of the better players in the country all season long and is perhaps the best offensive post player we have in CBB. He has a plethora and moves to utilize and draws a lot of fouls, and he also has become a great passer out of the post. The Badgers will need Happ to play big in a matchup with Oregon’s shot blockers, and if UW wants to advance further, it’ll take a lot from the senior forward, who has been in this situation on multiple occasions.

 

Midwest Region

Kansas City

Sweet 16

#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Auburn

Winner: North Carolina

#2 Kentucky vs. #6 Iowa State

Winner: Kentucky

Elite 8 Prediction

#1 North Carolina vs. #2 Kentucky

Winner: North Carolina

Most Likely Upset

#14 Georgia State over #3 Houston

Ron Hunter and Georgia State have done this before, as they took down Baylor in 2016 as a 14-seed. The Panthers shoot well from behind the arc and have a variety of scorers they can rely upon. On the other hand, Houston has stumbled down the stretch with losses to Cincinnati and UCF, and they have struggled offensively. This one is shaping up to be an interesting game that should come down to the wire, and I trust the better shooting team in a close game.

Sleeper Team to Watch For

#6 Iowa State (23-11)

The Cyclones have had a very up and down season. After starting out Big 12 play hot and rising to close to the Top 10 in the AP poll, ISU lost five out of their last six games. Then, the Cyclones ripped off three straight wins in the Big 12 tournament to win it all, putting their offensive explosiveness on display. If this team can defend, which they did not do during their losing streak, ISU can beat nearly every team in this tournament, because they have the offensive talent to score with anybody.

3 Stars to Watch For

Myles Powell (SG, Seton Hall)

22.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.9 APG

Myles Powell was the lone returner from last season’s Seton Hall squad that featured a ton of veterans, and he has looked like it. Powell had a solid season to start, but in the months of February and March, when the Pirates needed some big wins to stay in the tourney hunt. Powell delievered. He put forth multiple huge scoring outings to carry this team to wins over Marquette  (twice), Villanova, and to guide this team to the Big East title. They have a tough draw by getting Wofford in the first round, but Powell has the potential to be a tournament star with the way he can shoot and put points on the board.

Sam Merrill (SG, Utah State)

21.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.2 APG

Utah State will likely have a tough time dealing with North Carolina in the second round (assuming they get past Washington), but lucky for them, they have a guy they can rely upon to score whenever they need it. Merrill was the Mountain West Player of the Year and a deadly shooter that can put points up in a hurry. He will be aiming to guide a sneaky good Utah State team into the second round to take on the aforementioned Tar Heels, who will likely get all they can handle from the Aggies.

PJ Washington (PF, Kentucky)

14.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.9 APG

It is not often that Kentucky has a star player that is only planning on being in the program for one season, but they had that this year with PJ Washington. The sophomore developed from a rotation player last season to a star for the Wildcats this season, as he became a force in the paint towards the end of SEC play. His physical play and versatility makes him a tough player to guard, and he should post big numbers against some more guard-oriented teams (Wofford, Seton Hall, Iowa State, Houston).

 

Final Four Predictions

#1 Duke vs. #1 Gonzaga

Winner: Duke

#2 Tennessee vs. #1 North Carolina

Winner: North Carolina

Championship Game

#1 Duke vs. #1 North Carolina

Winner: Duke

In the Final Four, to me, things are going to end up mostly chalk. North Carolina will survive a heavyweight bout with Kentucky, Tennessee will edge Virginia in a low-scoring game, Duke will cruise past Michigan State, and Gonzaga will win two close games over Florida State and Texas Tech to advance.

In the UNC-UT game, I just think that the stage will be too big for the Vols. They will have done well to make it to their first ever Final Four, but it will take a lot to take down UNC this deep in the bracket. Coby White will outplay Jordan Bone and Grant Williams will be locked up by Luke Maye as the Heels advance.

In the other matchup, Duke should get their revenge from and early season loss to the Zags. While Brandon Clarke can matchup with Zion Williamson athletically, he can not run with him in the open floor, as Williamson will have another huge game. Tre Jones versus Josh Perkins will be a battle worth watching at point guard, and Rui Hachimura will score his usual points to keep Gonzaga in the game, but ultimately, just too much firepower from the Duke side will be enough to get the Blue Devils back to the title game.

Whether or not people like seeing Duke and UNC in the championship game, to me, it is going to happen. These have been the two best teams in the country in my eyes, and they will play another instant classic in Minneapolis. Expect this to be a high-scoring game with plenty of highlights for ESPN to feature the next day, but it is very difficult to doubt Zion Williamson at this point. He was just so unstoppable in the ACC Tournament, and North Carolina still has no answer for his size, athleticism and physicality. It will be close, but Duke will secure another National Championship to bring home to Durham.

Games will be featured on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV for the next three weeks, with two rounds of games being played each weekend. The championship game will take place on April 8th in Minneapolis, Minn.

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