March Madness bracket 2019: Upset predictions, Final Four pick in West Region | NCAA Basketball
NCAA Tournament bracket picks: West Region
In a region that will present excellent teams but no one frightening until possibly Gonzaga in the region final, could No. 6 seed Buffalo make a serious run? The Bulls won a huge game a year ago against Pac-12 Conference champion Arizona in the first round, but this is a far more complete team. They rank No. 19 in the nation in offense and No. 29 on defense. Their top seven players all are capable of making 3-point shots, and star guard CJ Massinburg hits nearly 40 percent. As usual, there is weakness in the West Region because of the committee’s indefensible aversion to asking teams to travel. It’s a long way from Buffalo to Anaheim, but this team will gladly make the trip. Could they be this year’s Loyola — minus the charming clergy member?
|Rui Hachimura||Power forward||Gonzaga|
|Markus Howard||Point guard||Marquette|
|Jarrett Culver||Shooting guard||Texas Tech|
|Ja Morant||Point guard||Murray State|
Best first-round game
No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray State. These are two of the most dynamic offenses in college basketball. Murray is No. 11 in scoring at 83.3 points per game, and Marquette is 59th at 77.7 points. Howard vs. Morant will be the best single player matchup of the first round. Both of them are members of the Sporting News All-America second team, and ranked among the nation’s leading scorers: Howard at 25 per game and Morant at 24.6
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Seeded too high
No. 5 Marquette. The Golden Eagles were very curiously seeded a line above Villanova, which won both the Big East regular season and tournament titles. There is data to support Marquette — such as 10 Quad 1 wins — but the Golden Eagles had to close the regular season with four consecutive losses to blow the championship, which, somehow, they did. That including a two-pointer to Georgetown just a few days after the Hoyas were blown out by last-place DePaul. Marquette ranked behind Villanova, Maryland (a No. 6) and Cincinnati (a No. 7) and still got this placement.
Seeded too low
No. 12 Murray State. No. 12 Murray State tied for the championship of the Ohio Valley Conference and won its tournament and automatic bid. Guess who got an 11-seed? The team the Racers beat for the title, Belmont. Sure, the Bruins have to play an extra game in the First Four, but if there was room on the 11 line for Saint Mary’s and Ohio State, which have a combined 25 losses, Murray State could have been allowed to climb a bit. Murray State was 25-4 against Division I, and their No. 44 NET ranking would suggest an 11-seed.
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No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette. The Racers are far from an elite defensive team, but this will be an important showcase for Morant. He has an opportunity to demonstrate that his elite athleticism can translate into elite defense. Howard is the most creative scorer in the tournament, capable of conjuring shots few others can imagine. Morant has the size to frustrate him, if he shows he can defend with great precision and intensity in a game that will demand it.
Best potential game
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Michigan. If it seems a bit boring to select the two top seeds in the region, let’s be perfectly honest: This is the Region of Misfit Toys. Through the top half of the region, the committee ranked first on its seed line was Marquette — which, as we suggested, probably was overvalued. So there aren’t as many glamorous matchups. That doesn’t mean there won’t be great games. That naturally includes the possible matchup between the Zags and Wolverines, losers of the 2017 and 2018 national championship games, respectively. It’d also be a matchup of the season’s No. 1 offense (Gonzaga) and No. 2 defense (Michigan). This game is not chosen merely by default.
Best potential player matchup
Buffalo SG CJ Massinburg vs. Texas Tech SG Jarrett Culver. This is another possible duel between elite scorers. Massinburg averages 18.3 points and shoots 46.6 percent from the field. Culver averages 18.5 points and shoots 48.5 percent from the field. Massinburg is the better long-range shooter, but Culver is a component of the KenPom’s top-ranked defense.
Get to know
Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen. He was hired in 2015, the year his boss at Alabama, Anthony Grant, was let go by the Crimson Tide. So Brannen walked away from potential unemployment into a head coaching position that’s essentially in his hometown: Alexandria, Ky., where he grew up, is 6.5 miles from NKU’s Highland Heights campus. After a first season that saw his team go 9-21, Brannen has led the Norse to two NCAA Tournaments, one NIT, two Horizon League regular season titles and two tournament titles. Talk about a dream come true, for both coach and program.
Don’t be surprised if …
Arizona State opens a branch campus in Dayton, Ohio. This is the Sun Devils’ second consecutive season opening the NCAA Tournament in the First Four. As they could very easily have been among the First Four Out, they don’t have much to complain about. One hopes, before they either head home or move on to Tulsa for a meeting with No. 6 Buffalo, they get at least one trip to the Pine Club for a fabulous steak dinner.
No. 7 Nevada. It was rather surprising to see this once-fearsome offense limited to just 56 points and 6-of-24 3-point shooting by a San Diego State defense the Wolf Pack punished for 81 points just a week earlier. We saw what they were capable of in their comebacks against Texas and Cincinnati in last year’s tournament. They still could shoot their way into prominence, though one wonders if Caleb and Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline — all averaging 32 minutes or more — might be a bit out of gas. Perhaps losing in the Mountain West semis gave them the break they need.
Final Four pick
Michigan. The Wolverines’ punishment for losing three times in one season to their rivals — the last two of which cost them a Big Ten regular-season title and a league tournament title — was to be shipped to this suspect region. So they are nearly 2,700 miles and potentially four games removed from having to deal with the Duke threat. Michigan quite possibly will need to contend with Gonzaga’s overpowering frontcourt duo of Clarke and Hachimura, but the Wolverines’ defense might be up to the job.