They’ve scratched, clawed, and fought for months to get to this point, but now with conference tournaments over and Selection Sunday passed, we finally know which 68 teams are going to be competing in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
The American Gaming Association says one in five adult Americans will bet on the tournament. But before you go out and gamble your money and fill out your brackets, check out this in-depth look at each of the regions of the tournament and the names, teams, and other things to watch as March Madness descends upon us.
#1 Overall Seed- Duke
Player to watch: Zion Williamson - The unstoppable force of nature returned with a vengeance in the ACC tournament. After the freak Shoegate disaster, Zion missed five games, and Duke went 3-2 in that stretch. He returned without missing a step as he pulverized UNC, Syracuse and FSU, averaging 27 points per game. Zion is a generational talent and the most dominant player I have seen in college since Anthony Davis seven years ago at Kentucky who, by the way, led the Wildcats to the championship that year.
Potential Cinderella: #12 seed Liberty - The Atlantic Sun champions are a balanced team. They have five guys who can shoot the three, and they play at one of the slowest tempos in the country. A balanced scoring attack, a slow pace, and a team that can shoot the three is a recipe for an upset.
Who’s on Upset Alert: #5 Seed Mississippi State - The Bulldogs face Liberty in the first round and we just learned why Liberty is a tough matchup. The other reason I have the Bulldogs listed here is because they were vastly overseeded. They only beat one ranked team all year (Auburn) and yet were a top 20 overall seed according to the committee. I don’t see how that’s possible. You have an 8 or 9 seed as a 5 seed, plus they have a tough matchup in the first round... yeah, it’s fair to say the Bulldogs are on major upset alert.
Best 1st round matchup: #7 Louisville vs #10 Minnesota - The Committee says they do not schedule 1st round matchups based on storylines/drama. Yeah, right. Minnesota vs Louisville is a drama game if I have ever seen one. Louisville was coached by Rick Pitino for 16 years before he was fired due to a recruiting scandal. Rick then sued the University of Louisville. So, to say there’s some bad blood between the two parties would be an understatement. How does this pertain to Minnesota? Well, the Golden Gophers just happen to be coached by Rick’s son Richard Pitino. Can you say “revenge game”? That, coupled with the fact that these are two very physical teams who should play a close game, and you are left with the most drama-fueled matchup of the entire first round.
#1 Seed - Virginia
Player to watch: Carsen Edwards - The diminutive point guard carried Purdue on his back this season as he led the team to a share of the Big Ten regular season title while averaging 23 points per game. No one else on the team averages more than 12 ppg, so it puts even more of a burden on the Boilermakers star to carry this team. If Edwards is on, he can win a few games in this tournament by himself; if he’s off, Purdue could be in for a short stay this postseason.
Potential Cinderella: #10 Iowa Hawkeyes - The Hawkeyes can score and shoot, as they have four guys who average double digits and four guys who shoot over 38 percent from three. The problem for Iowa is that they can’t stop anyone.Their defense has been awful as of late, and they have lost six of their past eight games. So, why are they potential cinderellas? Well, this team is clutch – they have won three games by 2 points or less, and facing slow-paced teams in the first round (Cincinnati) and potentially Tennessee in round 2 means that they aren’t going to be run off the court. If the shots are falling, Iowa can pull off the upset.
Who’s on Upset Alert: #6 Villanova - The defending national champions are coming off another Big East tournament title and seem to be finding their groove. However, they are facing a tough St. Mary’s team that is coming off a major upset of Gonzaga. Villanova likes to push the pace, but their defense simply isn’t good enough to expect Nova to make another title push this season. If this game is played at Mary’s pace, which I expect it to be, Nova is going to be in for a dogfight.
Best 1st round matchup: #12 Oregon vs #5 Wisconsin - Two teams that are going in opposite directions. Oregon has won eight straight games, including a win over heavily-favored Washington in the Pac 12 title game. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is 6-4 in their last 10, including a disappointing loss to MSU in the Big Ten tournament, and have been meandering through conference play for the better part of a month and a half. The calling card for the Badgers is their defense, and that, coupled with enough scoring from star Ethan Happ, should get the win. But if we see the Badgers struggle on offense like they have for over two months now (they have only scored over 70 once in that time span) then Oregon can keep the momentum going and pull off the upset. Plus, the game is in San Jose, so expect a heavy Oregon presence on the West Coast.
#1 Seed- North Carolina
Player to watch: Corey Davis Jr. - Flying under the radar most of the season, fans have not gotten to appreciate just how good Houston has been this year. They went 31-3 during the regular season, and the key to that incredible record was their senior leader, Corey Davis Jr. Averaging over 16ppg, Davis breaks down defenses in a multitude of ways, and whether it’s through his quick first step or his excellent shooting, he is a nightmare for defenses and could lead the Cougars to their first deep tournament run since the Phi Slamma Jamma days.
Potential Cinderella: #12 New Mexico State - The Aggies have dominated the WAC for ages, and this year was no exception. The Aggies were 30-4 on the year and went 15-1 in their conference. They’re on a 19 game winning streak, and they have all the tools to be dangerous in the tournament, including 13 players who average over 10 mins per game! They have excellent size, they shoot well from beyond the arc, and they are a superb rebounding team, which limits second chance opportunities. All of these make up one of the most well-rounded double-digit seeds in recent memory, and they are going to give Auburn a lot of trouble in round 1.
Who’s On Upset Alert: #4 Kansas - While I think Auburn could also be mentioned here, the Jayhawks are my pick to go down in the first round. Kansas just hasn’t been the same team since Udokaba Azubike went down for the season. They’ve gone 18-9 without their star Big Man and watched their Big 12 regular season title streak end as a result. Also, Northeastern is an excellent 3-point shooting team, and if they’re hot from beyond the arc, they are going to pull off the upset.
Best 1st round matchup: #5 Auburn vs #12 New Mexico State - I already highlighted how this is a prime upset alert game, but the matchup itself should be fun to watch. Auburn was breathtaking in the SEC tournament. Led by star guards Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, the Tigers ran up and down the court on their opponents throughout the season, and their pace and space game is something to behold. How do you handle a team that likes to push the pace? By having terrific depth, which is the key to New Mexico State. Their depth will be able to handle the pace of Auburn, and if they can find a way to force the Tigers off the 3 point arc, they have a great chance to pull off the upset.
#1 Seed - Gonzaga
Player to watch:
Player to watch: Ja Morant - As much as I want to go with dynamic scorer Marcus Howard, this tournament is set up to be the Morant show. All the NBA heads already know about Morant. The explosive star of the Murray State Racers is a projected top 5 pick in next year’s draft, and he has all the tools to be the breakout star of this tournament. From his incredible explosion and highlight reel dunks to his next-level passing, Morant is the whole damn show. He leads a dangerous Murray State team who could cause some havoc this postseason.
Potential Cinderella: #13 Vermont - The Catamounts run eight deep, which is uncommon for a mid major and are a very solid, well-rounded group. They are led by do-it-all forward Anthony Lamb, who averages over 21 points per game. They’ve played at Kansas and at Louisville, so they won’t be scared of the big stage. They also are an excellent shooting team, and with any cinderella, if you can shoot the three, one hot night from beyond the arc is all you need to pull off the upset.
Who’s on Upset Alert: #7 Nevada - The Wolfpack were a top 10 team for most of the season but haven’t looked right since their tech-fueled loss to Utah State a few weeks ago. They were shockingly upset in the Mountain West Tournament by San Diego State, and even though they have the talent, are they in the right frame of mind to get the job done? The Gators are coming off an excellent run in the SEC tournament, and after a buzzer-beating victory over LSU, are ripe to pull off the upset. Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen are a lethal combination, and they have to be on to lead the Gators to victory.
Best Matchup: #5 Marquette vs #12 Murray State - Ja Morant vs Marcus Howard is the most tantalizing individual matchup in the first round of the entire tournament. Both players are capable of dropping 40 at any given moment as unstoppable offensive forces. The issue for Marquette this year has been turnovers, and this could be a major problem when facing the Racers who are 3rd in the country in transition buckets. The other problem for Marquette is that there are questions about Howard’s health coming into this game. If he is healthy, the Golden Eagles should have enough to get the victory, but either way, expect a high-scoring fast-paced game between two teams that are truly fearless. This game is going to be must-watch viewing for all fans.
Heartbreak, triumph and history, thy name is March. Welcome to the Madness.