March Madness bracket 2019: Upset predictions, Final Four pick in South Region | NCAA Basketball
NCAA Tournament bracket picks: South Region
Can Virginia recover from the lingering UMBC nightmare to reach its first Final Four under coach Tony Bennett — and its first in 35 years? The Cavaliers have been subtly punished through much of this season for becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16, when they were manhandled by the UMBC Retrievers in one of the last of 2018’s first-round games. For a while, their ranking was suppressed as AP Poll voters remained unimpressed by an undefeated start that lasted 16 games. They were 15-0 in mid-January and ranked No. 4! They never made it to No. 1 as Duke held the top spot, then Tennessee, then Gonzaga. But they’re in the No. 1 spot that matters, with a great path to Minneapolis through the South Region.
|Grant Williams||Power forward||Tennessee|
|Jarron Cumberland||Shooting guard||Cincinnati|
|Carsen Edwards||Shooting guard||Purdue|
Best first-round game
No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 10 Iowa. The Bearcats played 21 games against American Conference competition, and 12 of them were decided by two or fewer possessions; they play nothing but “best games.” (Cincinnati lost just two of those games, by the way). Iowa played six such games out of their final 11, including those won on last-second shots by guard Jordan Bohannon (Northwestern) and freshman Joe Wieskamp (Rutgers) and clutch shooting barrages by Bohannon (Indiana, twice). This can’t help but be entertaining, can it?
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Seeded too high
No. 9 Oklahoma. The Sooners’ appeal to the committee (and to the bracketologists who presaged it) remains elusive. They had a 4-10 record against Quad 1 and a loss in Quad 3. They were 3-10 against the field. Baylor, on the same seed line, was 7-7 against the field. Indiana, which didn’t even make it, was 5-11. The Hoosiers probably didn’t deserve it, but the Sooners at best should be scrambling to make arrangements for a trip to Dayton.
Seeded too low
No. 7 Cincinnati. The Bearcats were 13-5 against combined Quad 1 and 2 opponents, won the championship of the American Conference tournament by beating the No. 4 team in the NET ranking (Houston) and finished 28-6 overall. For this, with a 5-5 record against the field, they received the same seed as Louisville, which lost 13 games as a member of the ACC, and Wofford, which went 0-4 against the field. It was apparent the committee didn’t want to be bothered with the late result of the American championship. But that win at the very least pushed Cincinnati’s resume ahead of East No. 6 Maryland.
No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin. In a matchup against a lesser coach, Wisconsin’s uncommon style might allow the Badgers to grind their way through this one and maybe into the Sweet 16. But Dana Altman is not a lesser coach. He is only two years removed from a Final Four and rescued this Ducks team from possible oblivion to direct them through the Pac-12 Tournament for an automatic NCAA bid. The Ducks are a dynamic group and they have a reliable, proven guard in Payton Pritchard. The Badgers’ shooting has been too sporadic of late, dropping them all the way to 52nd in the nation in offense.
Best potential game
No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Purdue. For a couple of programs with defensive reputations, the Vols and Boilers own the nation’s 34th- and 32nd-ranked defenses, according to KenPom. Really. But their offenses are No. 3 and No. 5, respectively. No kidding. Each team has players in their rotations with offensive limitations, but they’re so precise about how they operate, they manage to excel regardless. And though they surely will not defend one another, the prospect of Sporting News All-Americans Grant Williams (6-7) and Carsen Edwards (6-1) is inviting.
Best potential player matchup
Jarron Cumberland, SF, Cincinnati vs. Admiral Schofield, SF, Tennessee. Cumberland is the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Schofield is first-team All-SEC. But forget basketball: This showdown should be on a beach somewhere, with the two muscle men flexing in the sun. Or perhaps in a weight room, with the two of them trying to outperform one another doing power cleans. You won’t get a couple more rugged dudes on a basketball court, anywhere. And yes, they can ball: Cumberland set the AAC Tournament record with 33 points in UC’s title-game upset of Houston, and Schofield smacked Kentucky with 21 points and five assists in an SEC Tournament win that secured a 2-seed for the Vols.
Get to know
Old Dominion senior guard B.J. Stith. He is playing three decades later for the same coach as his father did: Jeff Jones. Bryant Stith played under Jones up the road at Virginia and is still the school’s all-time leading scorer. B.J. tried to follow his father’s footsteps by joining the Cavaliers, but played in only 13 games as a freshman. So he decided to follow his father’s footsteps in a different direction, toward Jones. That has worked out much better: B.J. this season leads the Monarchs with 16.9 points per game and 7.4 rebounds and has made 71 3-pointers.
Don’t be surprised if …
Villanova doesn’t last as long in this tournament as the last one. The reigning NCAA champion Wildcats fought off Xavier and Seton Hall to win the Big East Tournament, but one of those teams didn’t make this tournament and the other is a double-digit seed. Villanova got some brilliant play this season from veterans Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, but it appears the title they celebrated Saturday in Madison Square Garden will be the last great moment for those two great champions.
No. 13 UC Irvine. The Big West is not a league of heavyweights, but there was something about the way the Anteaters dominated their championship game that against Cal State Fullerton that ought to have NCAA opponent Kansas State concerned. (There’s also something about that nickname: Anteaters). UCI won road games at Texas A&M and Saint Mary’s, so one cannot accurately say the Anteaters’ 30-5 record is purely the product of a suspect conference. This is not a great offensive team, ranking 125th in efficiency with a leading scorer, Max Hazzard, getting 12.5 points per game. By the way: Hazzard’s grandfather is the late UCLA legend, Walt Hazzard.
Final Four pick
Virginia. When this region was placed on the television screen, it seemed as though Thomas Jefferson himself had been in the room where it happened. The committee identified Tennessee as the strongest of the No. 2 seeds, but we’re talking about a team that blew two championship shots in the last two weeks. Should they really be trusted to hold up with a Final Four berth at stake? The other teams in the region are tactically strong, but boast few game-changing players. There is not a single projected lottery pick in the region save UVA’s De’Andre Hunter, and only two others expected to have a shot to be called late in the first round (Williams and Paschall). This is the best shot UVA will have for a while.