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A Look into March By Josh martins-caulfield

Photo by Streeter Lecka

March Madness is almost here as the NCAA selection committee unveiled the field of 68 teams that made the tournament this year. This means that the decade-long tradition of millions of people filling out brackets is upon us. With the first game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament coming up on Thursday, March 21, here are some things to watch for in each region when filling out your bracket:

EAST

Most likely first round upset

9) UCF over (8) VCU

This isn’t the most audacious possible upset as eight and nine seeds have split their 136 games since 1856 according to ESPN, but UCF is a good defensive team holding opponents to 64.3 points per game and they have a 7 foot 6 center named Tacko. VCU is also a weak eight seed as they are limping into the tourney as their star point guard Marcus Evans injured his knee in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament and may not be healthy for this game. I’ll take UCF in this match up.

Most audacious possible upset

(14) Yale over (3) LSU

A 14 seed hasn’t beaten a three seed in two tournaments, but Yale is in a unique position to do so. LSU is inconsistent; they beat great teams in Kentucky and Tennessee — both 2 seeds this year — but also lost to Oklahoma State and Arkansas — neither of which made the tournament. Also, LSU’s head coach was suspended from their team due to a scandal. Yale can score with any team in the country, exemplified by their 97 points against Harvard on March 17, and will be looking to score their way to a big upset against LSU.

Team to watch

(2) Michigan State

MSU is a really good team as their three wins vs Michigan displayed. Cassius Winston is one of the best players in the country and can almost always get any shot he wants, but the key to MSU getting to the final four will be the play of Xavier Tillman. If Tillman plays as well as he did in all three match ups with Michigan — stifling UM’s offense by plugging up the paint and mastering the pick and roll along with Winston — MSU could beat the number one overall seed Duke en route to a Final Four.

Most likely regional final match up

(1) Duke vs (2) Michigan State

Again, Michigan State is a very good team. They got unlucky to draw the top team in the tournament, however. Duke is the best team in college basketball because of the freshman phenom, Zion Williamson. The most likely pick for the most valuable player of the year was injured for a few weeks recently and Duke went 3-3 while he was off the court. Duke is 23-4 with him on the floor. Duke will most likely get out of the East region and make it to the final four.

WEST

Most likely first round upset

(12) Murray State over (5) Marquette

This game will be a battle of the point guards as Ja Morant of Murray State and Markus Howard of Marquette are two of the best point guards in the county. Ja Morant is looking like a top three draft pick in the upcoming NBA draft and averages 24.6 points per game this season. Howard, however, tops this with an even 25 points per game. This will be a close game but I expect Ja and his 10 assists per game to be a key factor to help Murray State get the win.

Most audacious possible upset

(15) Montana over (2) Michigan

I know, I know. I called MSU one of the best teams in the tournament and have Michigan looking at a possible first round exit, what kind of Michigan fan am I? First of all, there isn’t another upset in this region that I think is possible. Second, this rematch from last year’s tournament is actually a pretty tough match up for Michigan. Michigan is known for their slow stats — Montana led 10-0 early last year when these two teams met — and Michigan’s offense can be stagnant at times. If Montana can take advantage of this, they could get one of the signature upsets of the tournament.

Team to watch

(8) Syracuse

This region features the weakest one seed in the tournament in Gonzaga, and they could conceivably lose to a dangerous Syracuse team that beat Duke this season (with Zion). Syracuse is led by point guard Tyus Battle — who is currently injured but should be ready for the tournament — and bench player Marek Dolezaj. Syracuse’s length and 2-3 zone is extremely tough to prepare for in just a day, as MSU fans know from last year when Syracuse upset the Spartans in the round of 32. Syracuse is in a prime position to do the same to Gonzaga and get as far as the final four.

Most likely regional final match up

(1) Gonzaga vs (2) Michigan

Even though I railed against both of these teams above, I can’t bring myself to pick against either of them. Both teams got lucky with such a weak region, even though Michigan can get hot and look like one of the best teams in the country evidenced by their blowout wins vs North Carolina and Villanova earlier this season. I have no similar confidence in Gonzaga, however, so I’ll pick Michigan to move on to the Final Four.

SOUTH

Most likely first round upset

(12) Oregon over (5) Wisconsin

To be clear, I don’t think this will happen, but I don’t see any other upset happening, so this is the most likely one. Oregon is one of the hottest teams in the country as they are riding an 8 game win streak. Wisconsin, however, just lost by 12 to Michigan State in a game where they looked pretty bad. I still think that Ethan Happ and Wisconsin’s sluggish pace of play will carry them to victory, but Oregon has more of a chance of the upset than any other match up in this region.

Most audacious possible upset

(14) Old Dominion over (3) Purdue

In my second 14 over 3 possible upset, Old Dominion is looking to beat Carson Edwards and Purdue. I have very strong feelings about Purdue — I think they are an awful team, especially when Edwards chucks up 20+ bad shots per game — but they have shown (to my relative annoyance as I rooting for them to lose most of the season to let Michigan have a chance at the Big Ten championship) that they squeak by teams they are better than. Old Dominion does have one of the best defenses in the country and is a senior led team, so an unlikely early exit for Purdue is possible.

Team to watch

(7) Cincinnati

Cincinnati was seeded in the Columbus part of the region, so they basically have two home games to start the tournament. I think they easily dispatch (10) Iowa in the first round, and the very pro Cincy crowd could galvanize them past (2) Tennessee in the second. Senior guard Jarron Cumberland leads the team with 18.1 points per game this season and has the bearcats looking dangerous this year.

Most likely regional final match up

(1) Virginia vs (2) Tennessee

I hate to be boring with my third one vs two seed in three regions, but Virginia and Tennessee are the best teams in the region. As stated, Tennessee could have a scare against Cincinnati, but I don’t think anyone challenges Virginia. Tennessee is a very experienced team with seniors Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams leading the Volunteers in scoring, and Jordan Bone running the point is one of the best in the country. However, Virginia is the best defensive team in the country, and has two guards in Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy who can knock down threes easily. De’Andre Hunter completes the team as a future lottery pick as a wing who can score and defend at an elite level. Virginia is my pick to win the whole thing so give me Virginia in this match up.

MIDWEST

Most likely first round upset

(10) Seton Hall over (7) Wofford

Seton Hall has been on fire lately winning four of their last five, but Wofford hasn’t lost since Dec. 19. However, Wofford also hasn’t played against a tournament team in that span, and lost all four of their match ups with tournament teams by double digits. Seton Hall has a prolific scorer in junior guard Myles Powell, so I expect Seton Hall to win this game.

Most audacious possible upset

(12) New Mexico State over (5) Auburn

Auburn’s play style of shooting over 30 three pointers per game is a strategy that could backfire on them if their shot doesn’t fall, so anyone could beat them on a bad night. New Mexico State is also one of the deepest and best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, so this upset is plausible depending on how well Auburn’s shooting night is going.

Team to watch

(3) Houston

Houston started the year 15-0 behind guard Corey Davis Jr’s stellar play. He is averaging 16.3 points per game this season and has been their best player. Houston only lost three games all year, including a surprising loss this past weekend to Cincinnati in the American conference tournament championship game. But Houston is still a three seed, which means they have the relatively easy road of (14) Georgia State and the winner of (6) Iowa State and (11) Ohio State. Iowa State is a potentially scary team, but they can also be a rather frightening team at times so depending on what Iowa State team shows up to the tournament, Houston could breeze through their first two games into a match up with (2) Kentucky. While they will probably lose there, their experience in winning and Davis Jr’s leadership could make them a dangerous team in the tournament.

Most likely regional final match up

(1) North Carolina vs (2) Kentucky

I really hate to go with the one vs two again, but I suppose there’s a reason why those teams were seeded that way. North Carolina is a weak one seed to me, depend too heavily on their star freshman point guard Coby White to make crazy plays and struggle against good defensive teams leading to losses against Virginia and Michigan. Kentucky, on the other hand, is a strong two seed in my opinion. Kentucky has a great inside presence with PJ Washington and Reid Travis patrolling the paint, and are my pick to beat North Carolina and make the Final Four.

MY FINAL FOUR

(1) Duke vs (2) Michigan

Michigan and John Beilein should make their second straight Final Four appearance and go no further. Duke just has way too much firepower with Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett who can both score in a myriad of manners. Michigan’s stellar defense should be able to contain some of the scoring, especially from Michigan point guard, Zavier Simpson, making Duke point guard Tre Jones’ life miserable the whole game. But Michigan just doesn’t match up well with Williamson and Barrett, which is where I see Duke taking full advantage of the match up to carry them to the final four.

(1) Virginia vs (2) Kentucky

Virginia’s defense is a very difficult thing to overcome, but Kentucky may be up to the task. PJ Washington and Tyler Herro are a great duo, Herro as the slasher and Washington as the clean up crew. Virginia’s offense, though, is just too good for Kentucky to keep up with. I have Virginia moving on.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

(1) Virginia vs (2) Duke

Virginia and Duke have met twice this season, with Duke winning both times. Taking a closer look at the games reveals ways in which the Blue Devils won by both teams doing things they don’t normally do. For example, in the first match up, neither team was shooting well from three point range. Virginia was just 3/17 and Duke 2/14. In the second match up, both teams were shooting quite well from three. Virginia was 10/24 and Duke was 13/21. Normally, Virginia is the third best team in college basketball at three point shooting, shooting at a clip of 41.4 percent. Duke is the 333rd best team in college basketball at three point shooting. Duke’s percentage vs Virginia in that second match up was double their average of 30.6 percent. All of this is to say that if they played to their normal percentages from deep, Virginia probably would have won both games. That is why I expect Virginia to win this year’s tournament.

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