March Madness 2019
Is It Duke And Everyone Else, One Will One Of The Other Blue BloodsHave Something To Say About That?
March 19, 2019
With Selection Sundayin the rearview mirror, the time has once again come forthe best tournament in the world (sorry World Cup and Minnesota State High School Hockey fans). Theeyes of the country are once again diverted for a three-week stretch toward theultimate binge-watching experience of the year—at least among those involving unpaid amateurs(FBI investigations notwithstanding)and/or the upcoming final season of “Game Of Thrones.”Billions of dollars in relative productivitywill be lost and lunches will become half-day vacations in places of employmentfrom coast-to-coast only to see that onecoworkerwho can name little more than Duke,Carolina, and his or heralma mater emerge victorious for the second time in five years overthe office Jay Bilas and/or Nate Silverin the local bracket challenge.
College hoops fanshave been treated to storybookCinderella runs all the way to the Final Four, new teams emerge as perennial powers in the tournament,and traditional blue-blood programs clashing for championship banners in recent years.Last year, we saw Villanova roll through the tournament like few teams had since that fabled ’06 Gators team (Go Gators!), and both they and Michigan can effectively be rubber stamped as relevant tournament teams until further notice. Threeyears ago,Marcus Paige hit a miracle, double-clutch three-point shot with only seconds remaining to tie the game before Kris Jenkins buried athirty-footeras time expired to win the championship.Props to Roy Williams’ squad for being able to get up off of the mat and climb the mountain last year(even if it was the most boring title game since UConn/Butler).Within the last decadeand change, March Madness has gifted fans two unlikely runs to glory by UConn led by diminutive backcourts, back-to-back championship game journeys by Brad Stevens’Butler teams as a 5 and an 8 seed, respectively, and previously rare Final Four attendance by double-digit seeds George Mason (11 seed in 2006), VCU (11 seed in 2011), Wichita State (11 seed in 2013), and Syracuse (10 seed last year). We have seen two seeds get beat convincingly in the first round of games (which, thankfully, is once again referred to as round one and the play-in games are referred to as just that), including Michigan State losing soundly to Middle Tennessee last year, Georgetown getting run over by Lob City (A.K.A. Andy Enfield’s Florida Gulf Coast squad) in 2013, Duke losing to C.J. McCollum’s Lehigh team,and Missouri being bounced by Kyle O’Quinn’s Norfolk State team in 2012.Of course, this paragraph would not be complete without at least passing mention of a destruction of Tony Bennett’s UVA squad by UMBC last year. I will go on record as say, though, that no team has ever lost as a one-seed two years in a row, so I would take it easy on the Gardner Webb selections, people.
That about reaches thenostalgiaquotient for this article. Besides, the hours between the conclusion of CBS’ Selection Sunday show and Thursday at noon/11c (shout out,Minnesota)are about underprepared gambling and proving that you are some combination of luckier and more knowledgeable about college hoops than every one of your Facebook friends and office mates. Sprinkle in some favoritism towards alma maters, hasty internet research, and feeling obligated to choose at least one 5/12 upset, and presto! you have the 2019bracket.
In terms of title contenders, this year’s rosterhas the makings of a top-heavy bunch. Duke sits atop the list of contenders, and for a good reason. Carolina, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan State, and Michigan (Kind of. Hit some shots) are all solid squads as well. UVA?They are serious title contenders,too, at least on paper. However, they still pay at a snail’s pace (a UVA pace, if you will), and they still have a hard time against big, physical teams. More on that later. Frankly, based on both the math and the eye test, everyone else is playing to ruin the big boy’s Final Four run and then to get run by whichever team is waiting for them at US Bank Stadium in early April.With that in mind, and without further ado, let’s break down what has historically produced a bracket thatis will be a source of pride when handed inby lunch on Thursday.
Bracket construction will be developed with a middle out strategy (you are welcome, computer science majors and “Silicon Valley” fans). Subsequently, several teams will be categorized statistically in the following form:
TeamAdjusted Offensive Efficiency*(rank)/Adjusted Defensive Efficiency**(rank)/Eff.Margin(rank)
(These numbers could change very slightly based on Saturday and Sunday games)
Short prediction and discussion of team and its chances to make each stage of the tournament.
Grade: (I.e. first round upset potential, Sweet Sixteen lock, Final Four favorite, etc.).
*Offensive efficiency is the number of points a team scores per 100 possessions.
**Defensive efficiency is the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions.
Disclaimer: This author is not a professional gambler, nor does he play one on T.V. (not wealthy/good-looking/algorithm-oriented enough for either role). Take what you will from this data and analysis, butpleasedon’t get too mad if an upset happens. Turns out, upsets happen. That is why this is fun.So, before the FBI disqualifies a quarter of the field for payingtop players (coughLSU, Duke, Kentucky), let’s go!
Step 1: Pick Your Champion and A Tentative Final Four
Sure, it is fun to pick an under-the-radar team to ride all the way to the championship game, and the all-mascot selection methodgets lots of attention every year, but if you are serious about getting an “A” grade in Bracketology class this year, there are some fundamental strategies that have historically yielded strong brackets, especially when choosing Final Four teams.
When filling out a bracket, it is beneficial to first select a champion and then branch out. When selecting teams that will meet on Championship Monday, here are some characteristics that almost all eventual champions over the past 25 years have possessed:
- Your Champion should be a top-3 seed.
- 20of the past 23champions have been top-3 seeds.
- Champions are ranked in the AP pre-season poll.
- 29of the past 33champions have been ranked in the pre-season poll. The exceptions were the Carmelo Syracuse team, the first Gators championship team, the Kemba UConn team, and the ultimate Cinderella 1985 Villanova team.
- Championship game participants areoftentop-20 in offensive and defensive efficiency. Preferably top-15.
- Every champion in the past decade has been in the top twenty of offensive AND defensive efficiency.
- All but the 2011 UConn team were top ten offensive efficiency.
- KenPom adjusted rankings or more general Eff. rankings work here.
- Exception-UNC was a top-5 offensive team last year, but wasthe 24thranked defensive team going into the tournament last year. They were 3rdin total efficiency
- Make sure a team is very strong on at least one end of the floor
- Champions have a regular season margin of victory of at least 10 PPG. Very strong contenders are in the 12-15 PPG range.
- Final Four Teams beat teams by at least 8 PPG. Preferably 10.
- Ten of the past twelvechampions have been in the top-5 in margin of victory.
- Literally no other statistic correlates to a championship run better than an elite margin of victory.
- Championship contenders have a player that will be drafted in the 1stround of the NBA draft (preferably in the lottery). They should also have a guard that will be drafted.
- No team has won the NCAA tournament and not had a player drafted in the last 25 years.
- The only team that made it to the title game without a draft-bound point guard was Michigan State in 2005, though Kalin Lucas was the Big Ten Player of the Year.
- Final Four teams should be in the top 35 of the KenPom rankings. Preferably in the top 20. Championship game teams should be in the top 20 (lone exception was Butler in 2011).
- When looking at ranking systems, choose KenPom over RPI/BPI every time.
- Final Four teams should have a coach that has been to at least the Elite Eight in the past. Kevin Ollie and Brad Stevens are recent exceptions, but Ollie was on Jim Calhoun’s bench prior to taking over for him, and Brad Stevens had three future NBA playerson his teamsand is perhaps a top-5 basketball coach in the NBA right now.
- In choosing which teams to advance in the Final Four, consider if a team has had some level of success against high-quality competition.
- A poor record against top-25 teams is not a death sentence, but it is highly discouraging forFinal Four and especiallychampionship contenders.
- Championship contenders should have at least a .750 winning percentage, and any team not name Villanova, Xavier,Gonzaga, or Cincinnatishould be from a Power Five conference.
So which teams fit these criteria?As note earlier, a few of the blue blood teams are down this year. Of the teams that are ranked in the top 15,Duke, Virginia, Michigan, Michigan State, Gonzaga, and North Carolinaare in the top-twenty in both offensive and defensive efficiency,althoughGonzaga’s strength of schedule is, per usual, bad.
Selecting Mid-Round Games
After the dust settles on the first weekend and as the Sweet Sixteen begins, a majority of teams remaining are talented and equipped to make a title run. Matchups become much more important when selecting winning teams. Here are a couple of characteristics that can make this process a bit more palatable:
- You are pretty safe eliminating any 12 seed or lower at this point. The sweetheart run through the first weekend was memorable, but it’s time for the big dogs to eat now.
- Dominant players and great coaches start to shine here. If a team has both, they are best equipped to move forward.
- Veteran leadership, especially in the backcourt, becomes more important as teams start to equilibrate in terms of size and athleticism. Also, trapping and pressing become more difficult as athleticism and skill increase (closed-circuit to Bob Huggins).
- In games of like versus like (For instance, the potential secondround Auburn/Kansasgame), generally choose the team with the superior NBA or All-American talent.
- Take note of a team’s health. For instance,Kansas and Michigan State might be title frontrunners if they had their entire compliments, but injuries and suspensions have token their respective toll on these two perennial powers.
- Again, if the players (especially the backcourt) and/or the coach have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in past years, their likelihood of advancing further rises significantly.
There will be upsets. However, don’t miss the forest for the trees when filling out your bracket in the first and second. Sure, we can all think of a time that a colleague or friend correctly picked a 14 seed to beat a 3 seed, but that same person likely didn’t tell you about the two 5/12 matchups and the 4/13 matchup that they got wrong. No amount of first round foresight will supersede selecting 75% or more of the Elite Eight and Final Four participants, but having a Final Four team eliminated on Thursday or Friday can really hamper your brackets viability. Furthermore, as your bracket pool becomes larger, each point on your bracket becomes increasingly important. With all this in mind, let’s look into what makes a strong upset candidate and some strong principles for picking winners in the first and second round.
- Advance all 1 and 2 seeds. Statistically, you are better off automatically moving these teams into the round of 32, even with the relative increase in 2/15 upsets in the past ten years.
- If you do choose to pick a 15 to beat a 2 seed, choose that team to lose in the round of 32. Only one (Florida Gulf Coast) has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
- 2 seeds win their first-round game over almost 94% of the time, and incorrectly eliminating a two seed that advances to the Elite Eight or the Final Four can break your bracket quickly.
- Look at the Las Vegas game lines. If a team is favored by four points or more, that team is a strong candidate to advance. Granted, teams that are 6-10 point favorites will likely lose in the first round, but the early lines are good markers for which underdogs to take a closer look at. Also, 10 seeds will often be favored over 7 seeds, and some 11 seeds might even be favored over 6 seeds. Target these teams for first round upsets.
- 8/9 seed designations are irrelevant. Look at the Vegas spreads to determine which team is the favorite, and then go to the matchup to determine which team you like better. Many times a 9 seed will be an underperforming major conference team that is still better than the mid-major 8 seed.
- When looking at potential 3/14 upset and 4/13 upsets, look for teams that have an NBA player on their roster.
- CJ McCollum’s 15-seed Lehigh team beat Duke
- Kenneth Faried’s 13thseeded Morehead State beat Louisville
- Kyle O’Quinn’s 15thseeded Norfolk State beat Missouri
- RJ Hunter’s 14thseeded Georgia State beat Duke
JaMorantand Murray Statefit this mold nicely(5/12 matchup).Outside of him,this isn’t the strongest year for NBA-talent-driven upsets.
- When looking for upset candidates, look for teams that have been to the tournament before or that have a coach that has been to the Big Dance in the past.
- Don’t be beholden to math, but don’t ignore it, either.
- 5 seeds beat 12 seeds about 64% of the time. That amounts to one or two upsets per year.
- 6 seeds beat 11 seeds at the same 64% clip, meaning that the math would suggest one or two upsets per year.
- 7 seeds win their first-round matchup 60% of the time, meaning that two upsets here is not uncommon.
- The 8/9 matchups are a toss-up. Literally.
Rather than picking a set number of upsets in each seed-pairing group, you will probably be better of selecting 7-10 upsets overall with a relative bias towards picking 5/12, 6/11, and 7/10 upsets. Again, choose 8/9 matchups based on matchups (and Vegas lines).
- In terms of what to look for in upset-minded teams, look for teams that have veteran playmakers in the backcourt and/or teams that are dominant on the glass. Teams that can cause havoc from the perimeter can heat up enough to beat teams that are more talented in a one game scenario, and teams that are dominant rebounding teams can shrink games enough to win a war of attrition in a single game.
- Teams that fit the offensive mold areNevada, Seton Hall,VCU,and Old Dominion.
- Teams that fit the defense and rebounding mold areSt. Mary’s,and UCF.
- Don’t pick upsets against teams that are playing in their own backyard. It is hard enough to pick big-time upsets in the first place, so it is even more unlikely that it will happen when the opponent is playing a pseudo-home game.
- Take at least one double-digit seed into the second weekend. Preferably two. Neither of those teams should NOT be a 14 seed or lower, either.
First Tier: Championship or Bust
Duke:120.1 (6th)/88.3 (6th)/31.9 (3rd)
Analysis:Duke is the Vegas, analytical, and eye-test favorite to win the tournament, and for good reason. They are loaded with talent at essentially every position except center; however, given their depth at small forward, Zion can slide down and play a fair amount of big power forward or a little bit of center if necessary. Duke essentially has three weaknesses going into the tournament.
- They are not a great outside shooting team. It is hard to believe that “K” can’t recruit a spot up shooter at this late date, but here we are. Reddish is a solid catch-and-shoot guy, and Tre Jones can hit shots on the rare occasion that he actually puts one up, but Barrett and Williamson dominate so much of every possession that they often don’t get in a rhythm to start with. Jack White has a good stroke, but he has been an abysmal shooter for months.This really should not hurt them until the Final Four, they Barrett especially can and has shot them out of games before, and he could well do it again.
- They are not a great free throw shooting team, especially among guys who actually do the majority of getting to the line. This is certainly a long-standing tournament cliché, but it is also a cliché for a reason. If Duke cannot put away better teamsor expand leads against Final Four-caliber opponents, they risk giving away games that they will likely have dominated in every other facet.
- Zion destroys shoes. Just kidding—RJ Barrett has the ability the to be an all-time-level gunner. If he puts up a 5-17 performance against Carolina in the Final Four, Duke will need a Herculean performance from both Zion and Reddish to even stand a chance, as there are teams that can legitimately match Duke blow-for-blow for close to forty minutes this year.
With all that said, Duke still should be considered the team that every other team else has to overcome. They are elite in transition, excellent on the glass on both ends of the court, are much better on defense than past iterations of Duke teams because of their length and athleticism, and they have a point guard in Tre Jones who will orchestrate correctly if any team does manage to slow them down to any significant extent.Zionmightalreadybepicking out the suit that he will be wearing when he walks across the stage first at the NBA draft, but there is a good chance that he picks up an NCAA Titlebetween now and then.
GRADE: National Title Frontrunner
Duke lost multiple games with Zion this season, so they are not unbeatable.However, they havethree players who will go in the top ~eightpicks in the 2019 NBA Draft (and at least one more that will be drafted at some point), they have the metrics, and Zion is the best NBA prospect since Anthony Davis. Goahead and pick another team to cut down the nets if you’d like. Just pray that the sightlines at US Bank Stadium cause Duke to have a terrible shooting game come early April.
North Carolina:119.9 (7th)/90.8 (10th)/29.06 (6th)
Roy Williams brings a talented squad that contains a strong mix experienced upperclassmen and talented young guys. Luke Maye is diet Kevin Lovein that he initiate offense from the elbow out, set good screens to free up Coby White and Cam Johnson, and pull down defensive rebound after defensive rebound. The engine of the UNC offense is on the perimeter, starting first with point guard Coby White. White is excellent off the dribble, is a solid passer and finisher in transition, and is very good at initiating offense for the high-powered Tar Heels. Cam Johnson is a less polished but more athletic version of former Tar Heel Justin Johnson. He has emerged as the season has progressed, and he is poisedto bump himself up into the lottery-range if he has a great tournament. Speaking of lottery picks, Nassir Little will be exactly that come this June. All of this is to say that while Duke took up most of the oxygen in college basketball and the ACC this year, North Carolina is loaded with talent andis a legitimate pick toroll into the Final Four as the most authentic challenger to their tobacco road rivals. It is not unreasonable to think that round four of the greatest rivalry in college basketball might take place to decide who is the 2019 NCAA Champion.
Grade: Final Four Frontrunner, National Title Contender
North Carolina’s biggest challenge in making it to Minneapolis for the Final Four wears a different shade of blue. Kentucky has just as much talent as UNC does, and a meeting between these two titans in the Elite Eight could just as easily have been for the title. If UNC can overcome this iteration of Cal’s five-star recruits (plus Reid Travis),they will be poised to be as equipped as any teams to finish the job and cut down the nets. The combination of experience in the front court, a dynamic, top-5/6/7 pick at point guard in White, and scoring and length on the wing should give them a very slight advantage over Kentucky. However, calling them anything much above a coinflip in a possible matchup against UK would be disingenuous.
Kentucky:118.3 (13th)/90.9 (11th)/27.47 (7th)
Cal brings his best title contender in several years to this iteration of the tournament. PJ Washington,KeldonJohnson, and TylerHerrobring length, size, and scoring ability on the perimeter, Ashton Hagans is a solid, quick guard that is a more than willing to get out in transition, and Reid Travis is a solid physical presence down low (assuming he is healthy). Kentucky’s biggest challenge will be its lack of a hyper-athletic shot blocker that that have seemingly had every year since Cal arrived, making them more susceptible than in years past to an athletic opposing big. Kentucky is solid shooting from the outside, but they are not necessarily elite. Where they excel is in utilizing their length and size on the offensive glass to make every possession count and on the defensive glass in order to get out in transition. Defensive rebounding is a communal affair with this group, although they are vulnerable to very good rebounding opponents. Still, this team has only lost to Tennessee and LSU since January 5th, and few teams will be able to match up with them on a skill basis alone.It is unlikely they are afraid of a potential second round matchup with Seton Hall, who they lost to earlier this year. Houston will have a hard time matching up with the Wildcats from a pure athletic perspective, but their combination of tournament experience and efficiency on both sides of the floor has the potential to give UK problems if the Wildcats are not hitting shots. With that said, that corner of the bracket is tailormade for a class between blue bloods for a shot at the Final Four, and while UNC might be a point or two favorite right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the spread would be by next Sunday.
Grade: Final Four Contender
Kentucky has all of the talent to stand toe-to-toe with anyone in the country (perhaps outside of Duke). However, their youth, lack of a dominating rim-running big man, and vulnerability to physical big men raises some significant red flags in terms of their title chances. This team runs bad teams out of the gym,so they may well go into a third-round matchup with Houston or Iowa State with a couple of convincing wins under their belt, but this team will have to outscore a team or two that brings physical perimeter players andbigsthat will make Kentucky’s skill guys earn their buckets. It will indeed be tough for them to get by UNC, a suffocating defensive team from the South, and then a title game contender then. Proceed past the Elite Eight with appropriate caution and consideration.
Gonzaga:125.2 (1st)/92.5 (17th)/31.9 (2nd)
Stop me if you have heard this story before: The Zags have a gawdy record despite not playing anyone since mid-December. They have two future NBA players, including a likely top-five pick inHachimura. Clarke is a solid upperclassman who pairs nicely withHachimura’sgame. Norvell is (usually) a solid threat from the outside, though he will struggle to get his offense against good teams. Frankly, a lengthy analysis of Gonzaga could discuss if a prolonged layoff between real competition means anything,whether or not one should put any stock into the egg they laid against St. Mary’s in the conference tournament final, or evaluating exactly how good point guar Josh Perkins is. Here is the brasstax: this team will be over-rated a bit because they have an impressive record and because they beat Duke before anyone on Duke has taken a sociology test yet. They were competitive with Tennessee and UNC before eventually falling to them, which illustrates that they have both the size and the perimeter skill to stick with top-tier teams. However, there is a reason that Michigan State fans are mad that they ended up in Duke’s bracket rather than Gonzaga’s. Gonzaga is roughly equivalent to a very good but not elite major conference team. They are perfectly capable of making a Final Four run, but a relentlessly physical team like Michigan or an incredibly long team like Florida State will make them sweat it out to get there. This team is good, but they do not have the out-of-this-world metrics that the team that made it to the title game a few years ago did, so get ready to sweat out a few games if you are going to take them to the Final Four and beyond.
Grade: Final Four favorite out of the West
Michigan, Florida State, and even a pesky and highly skilled Buffalo team could all giveGonzaga a lot of trouble, but make no mistake—the Zags have tons of talent and are a legitimate one or two seed. They will be a difficult out for anyone in this tournament, let alone any teamin their bracket.
Tennessee:122.6 (3rd)/95.6 (33rd)/27.05 (8th)
Tennessee’s five losses are to Kansas (when they still had their full complement of players healthy), Kentucky, LSU, and Auburn twice. Each of these teams are top-fifteen level teams or better, and the Volunteers largely destroyed the rest of their competition in conference play as well as knocking off everyone but KU in the non-conference, including Gonzaga and Louisville. It is trite to say, but Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams play with as much heart and passion as anyone in college basketball, and Schofield especially is on a mission during this tournament after he came back for one more season for a shot at a deep tournament run. Rick Barnes has seen plenty of tournament action in his past years with Texas, although he was known more for his under-achievements in Austin than for his regular attendance at the dance. Back on the floor, Jordan Bone is a nice complementary piece in the backcourt that can both defend and score the basketball, including from distance. Make no mistake—this is not the same Tennessee that you saw in the tournament one year ago. They play faster, are more efficient on offense, and are a genuinely fun brand of ball to watch this year as opposed to the plodding, ultra-physical, lock-down defense model that they employed twelve months previous. They still play good defense and are still quite physical, but they are much more able to run bad teams out of the gym this year as opposed to last year. Their second round matchhas the potential to be interesting either way for very different reason, but their first chance at getting knocked out will likely come against Carson Edwards and the Boilermakers (assuming they can get past the upstart Wildcats). Purdue will either give them a heck of a game that will come down to the final minutes, or Tennessee will open up an early lead and run them out of the building and straight into an Elite Eight birth. Look for Rocky Top to be dancing all of the way to the Elite Eight; however, the road become very rocky after that.
Grade: Co-favorite with Virginia to emerge from the South
There is really no need to put much stock in the SEC title blowout loss—the Vols had very little to play for, and Auburn is the type of team with backcourt speed and athleticism that will give the Vols trouble. Purdue is a notorious choke artist in the tournament, but if a Painter-Barnes matchup should materialize, Carson Edwards could prove to be a major problem for the Vols. Teams that have a lot of length also tend to be able to give the Vols some trouble (assuming they can keep up). Tennessee has all of the makings of a Final Four contender. It will be difficult, however, for them to win three straight against teams that either defend as hard as they do or who have length and skill that supersedes theirs. Advance them to the Elite Eight. The impending matchup with UVA, et al., is a difficult call.
**For the record, Tennessee would be an aberration among title winners, as they are currently ranked 33rdin defensive efficiency. Almost all title winners are 20thor better in defensive rating.
Virginia:123.6 (2nd)/88.1 (5th)/35.54 (1st)
Let’s get the jokesand snarkout of the way.Has a team ever lost two years in a row as a number one seed? Is this is mostly the same Virginia team that lost to a sixteen seed last year?Is this is the same team, coached by Tony Bennett, whose style seemingly hasn’t worked in half a decade come tournament time despite being somewhere between a very good and quite literally the best regular season team in the country.Yes,thisteam still has Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and DeAndre Hunter, and an offense that would make 1900s-era Princeton teams blush. Still, let’s get one thing out of the way. Last year was an aberration.Certainly, the Virginia model has some major flaws when it comes to being down by multiple points in a single elimination tournament. TheHoosstill play with among the lowest paces of play in the country. This works great when shots are falling and you are inherently more talented than the opponent. However, when the other team has size, length, skill, of heat check advantages, this pace becomes something of a liability as soon as theHoosget down by more than five points. With all that said, UVA was still the best team in college basketball this season, and they have as good a chance of anyone outside of Duke and Carolina to make it to the Final Four. Once there, they will likely see familiar foes, several of which they have already bested.Finally, say what you will about Virginia’s tempo, but their offensive efficiency is still one of the five best in the country, and they are the top-ranked team in this year’sKenPomrankings.
Grade: Co-favorite to win the South bracket, On-paper favorite to win this region
UVA has experience in the backcourt, a top-ten pick and supremely versatile player in DeAndre Hunter, and a system that works flawlessly 80% of the time.They lack great depth, and they lack secondary NBA-level talent, but Guy and Jerome as seriously good college-level players, and UVA could just as easily be playing for a national title if they can get on a bit of a role. I would not bet much on it, but I also would not be the least bit surprised to see them at US Bank Stadium, either. In the meantime, Bennett should go ahead and tell Guy and Jerome to go ahead and push the ball in transition in order to take and make some of those three point shots that they are so good at.
Tier2: If The Slipper Fits
Michigan:115.6 (18th)/86.2 (2nd)/29.36 (5th)
This Wolverines squad was only denied a championship last season upon running into the buzz saw that was Villanova.Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson, MuhammadAbdur-Rahkman, and others might have since moved on, but this edition of the Wolverines still play the same level of defense game after game and rarely give away a game. On the other hand, though, they do nothave a lot of extra offensive firepower, especially withCharles Matthews battling an ankle injury.Brazdeikisand Poole are streaky scorers who can keep in Michigan in games if they are excelling. However, defense is the unquestionable calling card of this edition of the Wolverines. Zavier Simpson is the best defender in the BIGTEN, regardless of whether or not a bunch of voters want to reward Matt McQuaid for trying hard. Additionally, as is true of all Beilein-coached teams, Michigan is not going to beat themselves. Certainly, they do not have the same level of talent as some of the premiere teams in this year’s tournament. However, they are going to give themselves every chance tohit shots and stay in games against good teams. They were gifted a good draw in terms having Gonzaga at the top of their bracket, but the path to get to the Elite Eight game is little with potential roadblocks. Nevada, Texas Tech, and Buffalo are all very solid teams that would all pose serious challenges to Michigan as they try to get back to the Final Four.
Grade: Final Four contender
This Michigan team might have started off this season on a tear, but this year’s team is likely not as good as last years, and while they have the defensive ability and enough scoring to make it as far as the Final Four, this year’s team is much more susceptible togetting knocked out in the round of thirty-two or in the Sweet Sixteen. If they can get all the way to the Elite Eight, they will likely have to go up against Gonzaga, where they can win, but will almost certainly be underdogs.The Wolverines are the definition of a solid team that excels when they are hitting shots from the outside. The ball will have to bounce their way in several games in order for them to make a return trip to the 2019 edition of the Final Four and US Bank Stadium, however.
Michigan State:121.8 (4th)/90.5 (8th)/31.31 (4th)
Based on the rate of injury of this Spartans team, it is all the more impressive that Izzo has been able to put together the season that he has. Cassius Winston leads the charge for the Spartans on the offensive end. He is bothSparty’sprimarycreator and primary scorer on offense. On the defensive end, MSU has several solid players at all three levels, including DPOY Matt McQuaid. While he might not have deserved the award over Zavier Simpson, he is indeed a very solid perimeter defender, and he is an excellent three point shooter on the other end of the floor. Injuries to Josh Langford, Nick Ward, and Kyle Ahrens should be slowing down the Spartans, but Winston, McQuaid and, to a lesser extent Goins in the low block have powered the Spartans past essentially everyone outside of Indiana. If Ward and Ahrens are going to be limited come the Sweet Sixteen, State becomes eminently more vulnerable.The committee did not do the Spartans any favors by putting the Blue Devils at the top of their bracket. However, with Will Wade’s eligibility in question of LSU and Maryland not playing quite as well as they had been in months past, State does have the benefit of the best teams in their path potentially not being at full speed. Still, LSU is an excellent team with a number or resume wins, and State will be outmatched by them from an athletic standpoint if they do meet in Sweet Sixteen game. State seems like a solid bet to get by the Louisville/Minnesota winner in order to get to the third round. After that, they are going to have to battle to emerge victorious in each additional round, including a potential matchup with Duke to go to the Final Four.
Good bet to make the Sweet Sixteen. Coinflip to make it to the Elite Eight depending on health. Cinderella group to make it to the Final Four and knock of the terrible Duke machine. Still, LSUand Maryland would both provide significant challengesenroute to getting that chance.Unfortunately for the Spartans, though, the injury burden is reaching a possible breaking point, and it would not be surprising if an athletic Louisville team upset Izzo and company in the second round.
Tier 4: The Slipper Doesn’t Seem To Fit, Better Wish Upon A Star
LSU:118.6 (10th)/97.5 (62nd)/21.06 (17th)
LSU is an extremely athletic team with legitimate five-star talent that carried them all the way to an SEC regular-season championship. However, likely because of the manner in which he recruited said five-star talent, LSU’s coach Will Wade is currently on suspension. Add that to the fact that none of the relevant players of the Tiger’s roster have an relevant tournament experience, and the Tigers make for a dangerous combination of inexperienced and directionless.
That said, LSU has the ability to make win it’s first two or even three games on talent alone. They can fly in transition, Tremont Waters can break down just about anyone in the country off the dribble, and the Tigers are ferocious on the glass at both ends.NazReid is a KennethFariedtype who can also extend out to three point range, making LSU a dangerous combination ofathleticism and floor spacing. Both Maryland and Michigan State are very beatable, so if LSU can get its systems and game plans installed and executed, this team has more than enough talent to be favored to take on Duke in the Elite Eight.
Grade: Legitimate candidate to lose on the first weekend. Enough talent to make it to the Elite Eight or beyond.
Florida State:113.0 (31st)/90.5 (9th)/22.46 (14th)
Florida State is runningback the same model that Leonard Hamilton has become so comfortable with again this year. They have two definitive shot blockers and rim runners in ChristKoumadje
AndMfionduKabengele. The perimeter scoring is balanced amongst a group who are all at least two inches tall than the guy who will be guarding them most of the time. The team is stacked with guys who are at least decent shooters. Suffice to say that they are going to give smaller, less athletic teams fits. They guard the three point line very well for a college team, they have two guys who can erase mistakes at the rim, and they turn mistake on the defensive end into transition opportunities. The Seminoles struggle to generate enough offense to defeat high-powered elite teams, but we just saw that they can knock of a slower team like Virginia in post-season play.
Grade: FSU was done no favors by the selection committee in deciding to place them as a four seed rather than a three seed.To get to the Elite Eight, the will likely have to defeat an ultra-high-powered Marquette offense in the second round before running into a very game Gonzaga bunch in the Sweet Sixteen. The ‘Noleswould likely give the Zags a solid game, but that is a tough hill to climb for Hamilton and company given their offensive limitations.
Tier 5: Miracles Happen
Purdue:121.1 (5th)/95.1 (31st)/26.0 (10th)
Carson Edwards is a great player. He has the ability to keep Purdue in any game all by himself. He will also shoot Purdue out of a game, too. Matt Painter should get an immense amount of talent for getting this team to overachieve, but this team is also a prime candidate to exit early unless Edwards can (almost literally) carry themto an unexpected Elite Eight run, at best.
Texas Tech:112.8 (35th)/ 86.0 (1st)/26.72 (9th)
Tech has a high-powereddefensethat is capable ofstiflingany team—literally the best defensive efficiency in the country. Their offense is solid, too, but they tend to get into dogfights with good teams, and Buffalo is one of those good teams. Tech’s record is certainly impressive. However, the Red Raiders were a bit of a case of fattening up on a down conference, as they were mediocre at best against the decent teams in the conference (Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State, a healthy Kansas). They are in a good spot to escape in the first round, but Buffalo will give them everything they want and more in the round of thirty-two.
Tier 6: Wake Up, You’re Dreaming
Houston:114.2 (23rd)/91.8 (13th)/22.42 (15th)
The Cougars look great against Conference USA competition, and they do have wins against both Oregon and LSU. However, at that stage, LSU barely knew how to get around campus, and determining exactly how strong a tournament team Houston truly is has become a bit of an academic task. They won both regular season meetings against their most legitimate rival in conference USA in Cincinnati—a team with its usual formula of suffocating defense and a single player in Cumberland who can really score. Clearly their conference championship loss did not effect their tournament resume in any way, as there was no chance they were getting bumped up to a two seed. So we are left to decide if a veteran Houston team is superior to presumed opponents in Iowa State and the Kentucky. They certainly have the firepower on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball to take down Iowa State (or Ohio State). Few teams are better at finding different ways to win than the Cougars in terms of pace of play and distribution of scoring. However, it would take an out-of-body experience for the Cougars to take down Cal’s Kentucky team. They will be outmatched at nearly every position from an athleticism standpoint, and while they will certainly play a more fundamental game than Kentucky, it will be difficult to go blow-for-blow with Big Blue for forty minutes.
Marquette:114.1 (24th)/95.9 (36th)/18.24 (28th)
It sure is fun to watch them score, but they just do not play enough defense to make a Final Four run.Injuries have caught up with them, as well.
Buffalo:115.0 (15th)/94.6 (29th)/20.33 (22nd)
These guys are real candidates to make a run to the Elite Eight or even the Final Four, but they just do not have the size to win six games.
Virginia Tech:118.5 (12th)/94.1 (25th)/24.38 (11th)
The Hokies have the good fortune of being on the same side of the bracket as Duke, and frankly, this author hopes they progress that far, because while they rely too much on two scorers to be a likely Final Four contender, they do present one of the most legitimate challenges and bad matchups for the Blue Devils, especially in the East regional.
Best Candidates For First Round Upsets:
- Florida over Nevada
- Oregon overWisonsin
- Iowa over Cincinnati
- Seton Hall over Wofford
- Northeastern over Kansas
- Yale over LSU
- Murray State Over Marquette
- UC Irvine over Kansas State
Middle Seeds Equipped For An Extended Run
- Buffalo/Texas Tech winner
- Iowa State
- Virginia Tech (+/- the whole Duke roadblock)
Syracuse over Baylor
Utah State over Washington
Ole Miss over Oklahoma
- Iowa State
- Virginia Tech
- Kansas State
With that, the 2019Tournament Preview article reaches its merciful conclusion. If I missed anything, feel free to contact/rebuke/repremandme on social media, @ZKForTre.
Good luck everyone, and, above all, enjoy the greatest tournament on earth.