March Madness bracket 2019: Upset predictions, Final Four pick in East Region | NCAA Basketball
NCAA Tournament bracket picks: East Region
MORE NCAA BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: WEST
This is Zion’s region. Do we even need to say his last name? Perhaps to meet proper journalistic standards we should note his full name is Zion Williamson, that he is a forward at Duke playing in his first NCAA Tournament, that he is 6-7, 285 pounds and was named the Sporting News Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. But you probably know all of this.
There is a small segment of fans still to be introduced to him, who will come on board for March because that’s what they do each year when the bracket is released. If they haven’t yet seen Zion — but have heard vaguely about him — they are in for a treat.
Likewise, there is a segment of fans worn out from promotion of his feats, but is it really possible to be cynical about him when he creates magic like he did on Saturday night, with a full-court bounce pass through traffic with just enough backspin to make it perfectly catchable for Devil point guard Tre Jones. Zion is not Magic — but he is magical.
|Cassius Winston||Guard||Michigan State|
Holy heck, Zion, RJ and Cash are 60 percent of the Sporting News’ All-America first team.
Best first-round game
No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Minnesota. The committee members want us to believe they do not set up these “storyline” games in the bracket. I’ve been a part of the mock bracketing process four times, and I know they can happen by accident. But if the committee wanted everyone to believe such games are not contrived, they’d have taken this one off the board as soon as their bracketing exercise cooked it up. Gophers coach Richard Pitino against the school that fired his father 18 months ago? Not only is it awkward, it also invited those covering the tournament to dredge up the ugliness of the FBI investigation of the basketball talent game. Yeah, it’ll be a fine game, with the Gophers’ Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy up against Louisville star Jordan Nwora and his excellent supporting cast.
MARCH MADNESS: Get your printable NCAA Tournament bracket
Seeded too high
No. 5 Mississippi State. If seems like the Bulldogs lost most of their biggest games, it’s only because they did. They had Kentucky in their building and lost, LSU in their building and lost. They won six games against the field, but four of them were at home. They were under .500 against the field. Yes, Nevada botched their final few weeks, but there’s no way there are two seed lines between that team and this one. There was nothing about Mississippi State’s season that declared they had one of the game’s 20 best seasons.
Seeded too low
No. 2 Michigan State. The Spartans could have been a No. 1 seed, although their bad losses to Indiana and Illinois could reasonably be used against them. They could have been the No. 5 overall squad on the seed list, ahead of fellow No. 2 seed Tennessee. But even if you grant that the committee got those two decisions right, there’s no defense for putting the Spartans in the East Region with a potential game against overall No. 1 Duke. It had to be clear to everyone in that room that the extra 120 miles the Spartans would need to travel if placed in the Midwest Region at Kansas City would be preferable than to be paired with Duke. And they did it, anyway. Pathetic.
No. 9 UCF over No. 8 VCU. It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen UCF 7-6 center Tacko Fall how thoroughly he wrecks the game for Knights opponents. His vast presence makes challenging the rim impossible at times, forcing teams to rely more heavily on the 3-point shot. This is not good news for the Rams, who rank near the bottom of Division I in 3-point offense. Now, VCU certainly can force an opponent into turnovers, and that’s what they’ll have to do to UCF. That way, they can race down for layups before Fall is in the neighborhood to reject their shots.
Best potential game
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State. These are two of the nation’s best teams, even with MSU compromised by a series of injuries that has damaged their perimeter game. The latest was a severe ankle sprain that is expected to knock out junior wing Kyle Ahrens for the remainder of the season, an injury he suffered in the Big Ten Tournament championship game against rival Michigan. When the Spartans won and went to collect the trophy, the first two players to climb onto the podium — Ahrens and star wing Joshua Langford — did so in walking boots. It has heaped more pressure on Winston, but he has handled it beautifully. The most famous college basketball injury this season, to Williamson, is long since past the Devils; they will be at full strength. And that is a frightening proposition for all opponents.
Best potential player matchup
Michigan State PG Cassius Winston vs. LSU PG Tremont Waters. Winston is not a great defender, and Waters is disruptive with his ability to gathers steals — but not one to overpower the basketball. These two creative geniuses going at one another (Winston averages 7.5 assists, Waters averages 5.9) could be a brilliant display.
Get to know
Yale PG Miye Oni, who averages 17.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists and shot .388 from 3-point range. He is considered a professional prospect and could be a rare — very rare! — early NBA draft entrant from the Ivy League. Once committed to Division III Williams College, Oni started to catch the attention of Division I programs with a strong senior year at Viewpoint High in Calabasas, Calif., and when Yale became one of them he could not resist its prestigious education. He has averaged double-figure scoring in each of his three seasons and 1,286 career points.
Don’t be surprised if …
Bradley coach Brian Wardle meets with some degree of hostility at his news conference. Wardle and the school’s sports information department took the bizarre step of attempting to ban veteran beat writer Dave Reynolds from covering a press event to discuss the upcoming tournament with the Braves, who qualified by winning the Missouri Valley Conference. Reynolds has been covering the team for 29 years, but assistant director of athletic communications Jason Veniskey told Reynolds, “You don’t promote the Bradley brand” and told him player interviews were off limits. The United States Basketball Writers Association protested. The school since retreated from this stance, but not before turning one of the happiest occasions in the basketball program’s recent history — this is the first NCAA bid since 2006 — into a sorry occasion.
No. 4 Virginia Tech. They are not deep into the field, but think about this: The Hokies earned a 4-seed while playing for six weeks without top-notch point guard Justin Robinson, who averages 13.7 points and 5.2 assists and had 35 against Syracuse just a game before he went down with a foot injury. Tech beat Duke without him – yes, the Devils were without Zion, but still — and went 7-5 without him, with two of the losses coming to Florida State in overtime. They might be capable of something special as a complete team.
Final Four pick
Duke. The Devils are loaded with lottery picks and both score and defend at an elite level. The games in D.C. should be de facto home games, given their audience appeal on the East Coast. If they have to shoot the ball to win this thing, though, that might be an adventure. They’re still 338th in Division I in 3-point offense.