March Madness 2019: Previewing the Sweet 16 and Beyond

The Sweet 16 is almost here, and though my bracket isn’t anywhere near perfect, 8 of my projected Sweet 16 and my 2 finalists are still alive.  Remember, I have Kentucky over Duke in the championship.  You can see my initial bracket below for reference:

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But luckily, ESPN has allowed everyone a second chance bracket.  I did not have many upsets on my bracket, but there haven’t been many yet, so I don’t want to overdo it in these later rounds, especially because there’s only two teams left that don’t own a Top 4 seed in their region.  Here is my Second Chance bracket below:

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But how did I come up with these picks?  Read below for an analysis of each game in the Sweet 16 and and a brief look ahead to the later rounds.  I also wrote regional previews before the tournament: so you can check those out below:

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March Madness 2019: Regional Previews

March Madness 2019: Previewing the East Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the West Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the South Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the Midwest Region

Sweet 16 Preview

East Region

#1 Duke Image result for duke blue devils vs. Related image #4 Virginia Tech

The Blue Devils nearly choked against Tacko Fall and the UCF Knights.  But they know Virginia Tech well.  Even though the Hokies beat Duke earlier this season, I feel that Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and company will rise to the occasion to take down Virginia Tech.  Plus, Williamson was out when Duke lost to Virginia Tech, and though Duke was pretty good without Zion, they are nearly unstoppable with Zion.

The Pick: Duke

#2 Michigan State Image result for michigan state spartans logo vs.Image result for lsu logo purple background  #3 LSU

The Spartans dominated in their first two games of the tournament, led by star guard Cassius Winston.  But the Tigers will not be an easy opponent, as Tremont Waters and Naz Reid led LSU to similar results in their first two games.  Whoever wins this game should head into the Elite 8 with momentum and confidence.  Though these teams are pretty evenly matched, LSU lost their head coach for the tourney, and I see Tom Izzo out-coaching LSU and winning this game.

The Pick: Michigan State

West Region

#1 Gonzaga Image result for gonzaga bulldogs logo  vs. Image result for florida state seminoles logo red #4 Florida State

‘Zags was able to squeeze in here after Syracuse was upset by Baylor, but Florida State is not here to mess around.  The Seminoles put up a very strong season in a tough ACC, and they followed that up by holding off Vermont ending Murray State’s run.  I have Terance Mann and the Seminoles pulling the upset, as Gonzaga made it here on pure chance.

The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Florida State

#2 Michigan  vs. Related image #3 Texas Tech

I did not see this coming, but the Red Raiders powered their way past Buffalo to make the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.  They were led by Jarrett Culver after a strong regular season in the Big 12 that almost led to a Big 12 win.  But Michigan was undefeated for nearly half the season despite a late stumble.  After they shut down an underrated Florida team, I think they’re ready to make a big run, starting with the win here.  I know I underrated Texas Tech a bit, but their run should end here as expected.

The Pick: Michigan

South Region

#1 Virginia  vs. Related image #12 Oregon

I originally had the Cavaliers losing to Oklahoma in the Round of 32.  They were fine against Oklahoma, but they were struggling in the first half against #16 Gardner-Webb.  Though I think the Cavs are overrated, I did not expect Oregon to make this deep a run or even defeat Ethan Happ and the Wisconsin Badgers.  Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter should at least lead Virginia to the Elite 8 at this point.  But don’t expect a crazy deep run.

The Pick: Virginia

#2 Tennessee Image result for tennessee volunteers logo vs. Related image  #3 Purdue

The Boilermakers were able to shut down the Old Dominion Monarchs in the first round.  Since then, things have been smooth sailing thanks to the leadership of Carsen Edwards and Matt Haarms.  But Tennessee is their toughest opponent yet in this tourney.  After struggling in their inter-conference play early this season, Purdue may have momentum in their favor.  But I cannot see them taking down Grant Williams and the Volunteers, who dominated against both #15 Colgate and #10 Iowa.

The Pick: Tennessee

Midwest Region

#1 North Carolina Image result for unc tar heels logo vs. Image result for auburn logo  #5 Auburn

The Tar Heels were able to get past Washington easily despite a first half scare from #16 Iona.  Auburn’s also in a good position.  Though they barely won, they did hold off upset-hungry New Mexico State in the first round and went on to upset an upset-prone Kansas team as I had expected NM State to do.  Led by Luke Maye and Nassir Little, I think North Carolina will outplay Auburn, but this will be a close game; a battle of two imperfect, but strong teams.

The Pick: North Carolina

#2 Kentucky Image result for kentucky wildcats logo  vs. Image result for houston cougars logo  #3 Houston

Houston did impress this year, losing just a few games.  Even in the AAC, which is technically a mid-major conference, this should be considered a good performance.  But despite some inconsistencies earlier this season, Kentucky has been nothing but dominant in this tournament, just like they were against SEC teams this year and just like they were expected to be.  Led by freshman Tyler Herro, they should get past the Cougars and come into the Elite 8 with momentum in their favor.

The Pick: Kentucky

Elite 8 and Beyond

Here are my projected Elite 8 match-ups:

#1 Duke Image result for duke blue devils  vs. Image result for michigan state spartans logo #2 Michigan State

#2 Michigan   vs. Image result for florida state seminoles logo red #4 Florida State

#1 Virginia   vs. Image result for tennessee volunteers logo #2 Tennessee

#1 North Carolina Image result for unc tar heels logo  vs. Image result for kentucky wildcats logo #2 Kentucky

Sparty should have a good chance to defeat Duke after being coached to victory against LSU.  But the Blue Devils are extremely difficult to beat, and after losing Joshua Langford for the season this year, I have Michigan State falling just short.  Michigan should be able to get past an overrated Texas Tech squad, but Florida State will power past the Wolverines after a triumphant upset over Gonzaga and head to the Final 4.  Virginia’s run will also end here, as Grant Williams and the Vols finally eliminate a flawed Cavaliers team.  Virginia’s regular season was pretty impressive, but they have never been the best playoff team.  The Wildcats should get past UNC.  They performed almost as well as UNC during the regular season, and they have outperformed UNC so far in this tournament.

And my projected champion is….

Image result for kentucky wildcats logo #2 Kentucky

The Wildcats began a dominant run before this tournament even started.  Since their loss to Alabama to begin January, they have gone 19-3, only losing to Tennessee (twice) and LSU (with their head coach).  I think they’ll continue to run with the momentum and get revenge on Tennessee.  Duke will knock out FSU, and the championship will be set.  Though Duke is much better on paper, I think Kentucky will outmatch Duke and win the championship.

That’s all for my preview of the Sweet 16 and beyond.  Stay tuned for more basketball coverage and coverage on other sports soon.

 

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March Madness 2019: Previewing the East Region

The bracket is out.  At 6PM today, the Selection Show aired on CBS, revealing this year’s March Madness bracket.  Right after, I put together my primary bracket.  Throughout the week, I’ll be breaking it down region by region, starting with the East Region today.  Below is my official 2019 March Madness bracket:

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My final four is made up of:

  • Duke
  • Syracuse
  • Wisconsin
  • Kentucky

I have Kentucky winning it all this year.  But how will these four get there?  In these previews, I will look at each of these team’s paths to the Final Four.  Now, let’s get started with the East Region.  I have also included links to all articles in the series below (I will add links as articles come out):

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March Madness 2019: Regional Previews

March Madness 2019: Previewing the East Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the West Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the South Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the Midwest Region

I will be previewing the Sweet 16 next week as well!

Round of 64 Preview

Columbia, SC: Games start Friday, March 22, 2019, at 7:10 PM EST on CBS

#1 Duke Image result for duke blue devils vs. Image result for ncaa #16 North Dakota State/NC Central

The Blue Devils put up a dominant season led by Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and R.J. Barrett.  Williamson was hurt for a little while, and Duke wasn’t quite as dominant during that time, but Williamson returned just in time for the ACC semifinals.  In this game, Duke took down UNC and they went on to win the ACC.  It is no longer unprecedented to predict 16-1 upsets after last year’s shocker, but it won’t happen here.  Duke is one of the strongest college teams in a long time.  They should easily grab a win here, even if they face NC Central, who earned their way into the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.

The Pick: Duke

#8 VCU Image result for vcu rams logo vs. Related image #9 UCF

UCF’s season was above average, but they did not have the consistent track record in the AAC that VCU had going in the A10.  VCU struggled mildly early in the season, but their season came together when A10 conference play began.  VCU may have struggled in the A10 tournament, but you should expect them to back up their strong regular season with a victory here.

The Pick: VCU

San Jose, CA: Games start Friday, March 22, 2019, at 7:27 PM EST on truTV

#5 Mississippi State Image result for mississippi state logo vs. Related image #12 Liberty

Mississippi State was competitive in the SEC, backing up a strong start to the season with a respectable finish.  They may have tumbled slightly towards the very end of the regular season, but they should be able to recover here and defeat Liberty.  Liberty will not be an easy opponent though.  They come in with momentum after a 28-6 season and an Atlantic Sun tourney victory.

The Pick: Mississippi State

#4 Virginia Tech Related image vs. Related image #13 Saint Louis

The Hokies also tumbled slightly late in the regular season, but they kept up with Virginia, Duke, and UNC in the ACC for most of the season.  However, Saint Louis comes in with momentum after early A10 dominance and a surprise A10 tournament victory.  Virginia Tech lost their momentum after their late season slip, so the Billikens could capitalize on this momentum and pull the upset.

The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Saint Louis

Jacksonville, FL: Games start Thursday, March 21, at 12:40 PM EST on truTV

#3 LSU Image result for lsu logo purple background  vs. Image result for yale logo  #14 Yale

Yale also comes in with momentum after a late season surge to the top of the Ivy League standings.  But LSU also finished on a good note as they began to catch up with Kentucky and Tennessee after finishing the SEC regular season with 5 straight wins, including one win over the Volunteers.  Expect them to outplay Yale in this game despite a close one led by the trio of Naz Reid, Tremont Waters, and Skylar Mays.

The Pick: LSU

#6 Maryland Image result for maryland logo  vs.Image result for ncaa #11 Belmont/Temple

I’ll tell you one thing for sure: the Belmont-Temple First Four game will come down to the wire.  Belmont may have lost the OVC championship, but their 5-loss season was enough to qualify them for an at-large bid.  They will take advantage of the opportunity.  But Temple will provide a challenge after an underrated regular season performance.  They are not as far behind their AAC rivals as it seems, and they may surprise people here as well.  Either of these teams is capable of defeating Maryland.  Maryland may have improved from last year, but could be upset prone after an inconsistent B1G performance and an early B1G tournament exit.

The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Belmont/Temple

Des Moines, IA: Games start Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 12:15 PM EST on CBS

#7 Louisville Image result for louisville cardinals logo vs. Image result for minnesota golden gophers logo #10 Minnesota

The Cardinals were somewhat inconsistent for the second year in a row.  But they have proven that they can beat top teams, so I have a certain level of confidence in them.  Despite losing to them later in the ACC tournament, they did defeat UNC in January.  They also defeated Virginia Tech.  They may have gotten off to an underwhelming start and regressed a bit heading into the ACC tournament, but they should be able to take down Minnesota, who probably wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t made it to the B1G semifinals.

The Pick: Louisville

#2 Michigan State Image result for michigan state spartans logo vs. Image result for bradley braves logo  #15 Bradley

Bradley surprised many when they won the MVC.  Their momentum could have helped them make a run.  However, with the #15 seed and a Round of 64 date with Sparty, I can’t see it happening.  The Spartans made a miraculous comeback today in the final two minutes when they played rival school Michigan in the B1G championship.  They were led by guards Cassius Winston and Matt McQuaid.  They come into this with more experience, far more quality wins, and just as much, if not more momentum.  It should be easy pickings for MSU.

The Pick: Michigan State

Round of 32 and Beyond

Here are my projected Round of 32 match-ups:

#1 Duke Image result for duke blue devils vs. Image result for vcu rams logo #8 VCU

#5 Mississippi State Image result for mississippi state logo vs.Related image #13 Saint Louis

#3 LSU Image result for lsu logo purple background  vs. Image result for ncaa #11 Belmont/Temple

#2 Michigan State Image result for michigan state spartans logo  vs. Image result for louisville cardinals logo #7 Louisville

Duke has a much better track record than VCU and their freshman trio should easily outplay the Rams.  The Rams just found their footing in January and February and could lose steam easily as the later rounds occur.  Mississippi State may have been able to take down Liberty, but Saint Louis is out here to prove something after nearly missing out on the tourney thanks to a late regular season stumble.  They will be highly motivated to win and should be able to take down an inconsistent Mississippi State squad.  Maryland was easy to get past, but LSU will provide a challenging match-up to whoever they face here.  I can’t see an 11 seed taking them down.  Sparty will put an end to Louisville’s run after a huge win over Bradley.

And the Projected East Champion is…

 Image result for duke blue devils #1 Duke

Michigan State and LSU will be fun to watch at the Eastern Regionals.  Whoever of the two faces Duke in the East championship will make sure Duke has to earn their Final 4 bid.  But Duke should easily defeat Saint Louis, and building on their momentum, I have this team winning in the Elite 8 to go to the Final Four.  At full health, this team has the potential to be legendary.  I cannot see them being dethroned for a while. We will at least have to wait until the Final 4 to see it happen if it happens at all.  But this tournament is called March Madness for a reason: anything can happen.

Next up, I’ll be previewing the West Region, where we may see madness in its most chaotic form.

March Madness 2018: Previewing the East Region

Welcome to part two of my March Madness preview series, where I break down each region on the bracket and pick my winners for the first two rounds and make my pick on who’s going to the final four.  If you’d like to see my full bracket, click on the link below.

Tournament Challenge – ESPN – Boston Sports Mania.pdf

Missed a previous article?  Check them out below.

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NCAA March Madness Previews

Tuesday, March 13: March Madness 2018: Previewing the Midwest Region

Wednesday, March 14: March Madness 2018: Previewing the East Region

Wednesday, March 14: March Madness 2018: Previewing the South Region

Thursday, March 15: March Madness 2018: Previewing the West Region

 

Today, I’ll be taking a look at the East Region.  Villanova is the clear favorite here and assuming West Virginia or Wichita State doesn’t mess up their momentum, they have a clear path to the Final Four.  But don’t be surprised if some underdogs such as Wichita State and Florida challenge them for the crown.

Round of 64 Preview

Pittsburgh: Games Start Thursday, March 15, 2018, at 6:50 PM EST on TNT

#1 Villanova Image result for villanova logo vs. Related image #16 Radford (Beat LIU Brooklyn in First Four)

Radford lucked out when UNC Asheville and Winthrop lost early in the Big South tournament, and they may be better than LIU Brooklyn (who’s only here due to their success vs. Wagner).  But they do not have a chance against Villanova.  The Wildcats are one of the best teams in the tournament this year, and Jalen Brunson will lead them to a deep run, starting with a win here.  Villanova’s high-powered offense will just be too much for Radford.

The Pick: Villanova

 

#8 Virginia Tech Related image vs. Related image #9 Alabama

I was giving Alabama a hard time early on, but when I realized they had the third toughest schedule, I cut them some slack.  It just so happened to turn out that way, and I regret rejecting to place them in my projected Field of 68 until they made a run in the SEC tourney.  Doing what they did on the third toughest schedule after missing the tournament last year is very impressive, and they will keep up the good work against Virginia Tech, led by Collin Sexton.  Virginia Tech had a great season, but they won’t stay on top of Alabama, who is coming into this tournament with plenty of momentum.

The Pick: Alabama

 

San Diego: Games Start Friday, March 16, 2018 at 1:30 PM EST on TNT

#4 Wichita State Related image  vs. Related image #13 Marshall

The Thundering Herd made a great run in the C-USA tournament, defeating Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky to win the conference.  But they did not have a good season.  Wichita State was able to win March Madness games in lower seeds.  Now that they joined the AAC and got the #4 seed, they will be even stronger.  Expect a deep run out of the Shockers, who will continue to shock at the Big Dance.  It all starts with an easier win here.

The Pick: Wichita State

#5 West Virginia Image result for west virginia logo colored background vs. Image result for murray state #12 Murray State

Murray State could pull an upset here.  They are 47th in RPI, which is a pretty high mark for a mid-major.  But West Virginia has been upset a couple times in recent years, and they will learn from their mistakes.  The Mountaineers should be able to get past this ambitious Murray State squad.  The Racers were 26-5 after winning the OVC, but they did not beat anyone from a high major conference.

The Pick: West Virginia

 

Dallas: Games Start Thursday, March 15, 2018 at 7:27 PM EST on truTV

#3 Texas Tech Image result for texas tech red raiders logo  vs. Image result for stpehen f austin logo colored background #14 Stephen F. Austin

SF Austin is one mid-major team who has made a name for themselves in the NCAA tournament.  The Lumberjacks quietly had a strong season in the Southland conference, and they came up big in the conference tourney.  Their offense will compete with Texas Tech’s, as they have scored 81.1 PPG this season despite an easy schedule.  But SFA beat the tougher teams on their schedule like LSU and North Dakota State, coming very close against Mississippi State and Missouri.  I’m sensing an upset here.  SFA pulled a similar one in 2016 against West Virginia, and they can do it again, this time against Texas Tech, who lost their momentum coming into the Big Dance by losing 4 of their final 5 regular season games and losing to WVU in the Big 12 semifinals.

The Pick: Stephen F. Austin

 

#6 Florida Image result for gators logo vs. Image result for bonnies logo #11 Saint Bonaventure (Beat UCLA in First Four)

The Bonnies had an impressive win against another Pac-12 team who failed to make the Round of 64 (USC was in the first four out, and Arizona State could lose to Syracuse).  But Florida is underrated.  The Gators have an interesting profile, with wins over Cincinnati, Gonzaga and others early to go along with a late run, despite some bad losses.   They started well and ended well, which makes their season pretty memorable.  I could picture them beating the Bonnies.  If they can ride their late season momentum, they have the potential to make a deep run.

The Pick: Florida

 

Detroit: Games Start Friday, March 16 at 12:40 PM EST on truTV

#2 Purdue Related image  vs. Image result for csu fullerton logo #15 CSU Fullerton

CSU Fullerton is another team that made an impressive conference tourney run but will fail to keep up their momentum in the NCAA Tournament.  Carsen Edwards leads a strong group that makes Purdue’s core this season.  Edwards is averaging 18.5 PPG for the Boilermakers, and he will lead a strong offense to the Round of 32 and beyond.  Ranking 9th in RPI and averaging 81.1 PPG as a team, the Boilermakers are well on their way.

The Pick: Purdue

 

#7 Arkansas Related image vs. Image result for butler logo  #10 Butler

The Bulldogs had a good season, but despite making the Big East semifinals, Butler struggled to keep up with the tough but tight Big East.  The Razorbacks also rode a late run into the tourney with a SEC tourney semifinal appearance.  But I think Arkansas had the better season overall with better wins.  They advance to the Round of 32.

The Pick: Arkansas

 

Round of 32 Preview

If my first round picks are correct, the Round of 32 will line up like this:

#1 Villanova Image result for villanova logo vs. Related image #9 Alabama

#4 Wichita State Related image  vs. Image result for west virginia logo colored background #5 West Virginia

#6 Florida Image result for gators logo vs.  Image result for stpehen f austin logo colored background #14 Stephen F. Austin

#2 Purdue Related image  vs. Related image  #7 Arkansas

Collin Sexton will challenge Villanova’s offense, but I trust Jalen Brunson to lead Villanova back to the Sweet 16 after Wisconsin upset them in the Round of 32 last year.  Wichita State will advance to play them, as they shock West Virginia.  West Virginia may have learned from their mistakes in the 1st round, but it’s always difficult to beat Wichita State.  I don’t think SF Austin will make the Sweet 16, even though I’m very confident in picking them in the 1st round.  Florida continues their momentum from late in the regular season, advancing to the Sweet 16.  Lastly, I think the red hot Razorbacks will challenge Purdue, but Carsen Edwards and co. will lead Purdue to the Sweet 16.

And The Projected East Champion Is…

#6 Florida Image result for gators logo

The Gators are underrated and on a good streak right now, and if they can start off this tournament strong, it will take them places.  Purdue and Villanova/Wichita State could give them a real challenge for the crown, but Florida is my underdog to make the Final Four.  However, on my safer brackets, I picked Villanova to make their second Final Four in three years.  Wichita State and Purdue will also contend.

That’s all for this preview.  Stay tuned for Part 3, where I will take a look at the East Region.  In addition, I’ll be releasing an update on the NFL free agent frenzy this weekend, including how I’ve done on my predictions so far, the top stories you may have missed, and my thoughts on what happens next.