Well, it was the first region that was revealed* and it, on first blush, appeared to be the easiest bracket as well. In today’s preview, we’ll look at all teams, forecast the regional final, and give you the team that will advance to the Final Four.
*By the way, going back to the original format of revealing one region at a time was a good idea. This is a case of a company taking viewer input and applying it. Anyway, here’s the preview.
#1 Duke Blue Devils (Overall: 29-5, ACC: 14-4)
Duke has the nation’s best player in Zion Williamson (I bet you didn't know that), but they also have a bevy of talented stars in case Zion doesn't score all their points. Cam Reddish, Tre Jones, and RJ Barrett are all difference makers and, of course Duke has the ageless Mike Krzyzewski leading them.
#16 North Carolina Central Eagles (Overall: 18-15, MEAC: 10-6)
Raassean Davis is their leading points and rebounding man at 14.6 and 8.9 per game. He’s their big guy. As a team, they shoot 31.5% from deep and they do a good job of spreading the wealth. Reggie Gardner shoots the most from deep.
#16 North Dakota State Bison (Overall: 18-15, Summit League: 9-7)
Guard Vinnie Shahid is their main man, and if the Bison are to succeed, he likely needs to be as good as we was in the Summit League tournament where he averaged almost 13 points per game.
#8 VCU Rams (Overall: 25-7, Atlantic 10: 16-2)
The Rams won the A-10 regular season this year (paging Shaka Smart) and grabbed wins over Texas (paging Shaka Smart) and Wichita State this season. Four players average double figures in scoring for the Rams, and so this could be a battle of the wills in the first round against UCF.
#9 UCF Knights (Overall: 23-8, American: 13-5)
This team can be a bit Jerkyll and Hyde. They beat tournament teams Cincinnati and Houston but also got smashed in their conference tournament by 24 to Memphis. Guard BJ Taylor and center Tacko Fall are their main attacking threats. This team rarely scores in lumps, so defense will be their key.
#5 Mississippi State Bulldogs (Overall: 23-10, SEC: 10-8)
This team was the third best three point shooting team in SEC play and Quinndary Weatherspoon is a huge reason why. He hit threes at nearly a 40% clip this season and averages over 18 points per contest.
#12 Liberty Flames (Overall: 28-6, Atlantic Sun: 14-2)
This team beat UCLA in the regular season (I know, no big deal, but it is a big deal) and could pose a major problem for the Bulldogs. They also had close losses (under 10 points) to Georgetown, Alabama, and Vanderbilt. They are 18-2 in their last 20.
#4 Virginia Tech Hokies (Overall: 24-8, ACC: 12-6)
Virginia Tech finished sixth in the ACC, but when you factor in who finished ahead of them, this team could be a threat to do some damage. The beat Duke (no Zion) in conference play, but also got smashed by North Carolina and Virginia. Nationally, they rank in the top 10 in three point shooting.
#13 Saint Louis Billikens (Overall: 23-12, Atlantic 10: 10-8)
They finished sixth in the A-10, and knocked another team out when they won the conference tournament. They beat teams that were in front of them in the standings to do it (Davidson, Dayton, St. Bonaventure), but were lucky to avoid VCU.
#6 Maryland Terrapins (Overall: 22-10, Big 10: 13-7)
I still can’t get used to this team being in the Big 10, but that’s neither here nor there. Bruno Fernando and Anthony Cowan, Jr. are the main guns for Mark Turgeon’s team. Their season has been a roller coaster of emotions with good wins (Wisconsin) and stupid losses (Illinois).
#11 Belmont Bruins (Overall: 26-5, Ohio Valley: 16-2)
They won the regular season OVC championship with Murray State and got in as an at large bid. The Bruins are the real deal with Dylan Windler, Kevin McClain, and Nick Muszynski all averaging over 14 points per game.
#11 Temple Owls (Overall: 23-9, American: 13-5)
Another at-large bid. The Owls snuck in after a fifth place finish in conference. Non conference wins against Missouri and Georgia don’t really tell you much about this team. Your guess is good as mine as to why they made it.
#3 LSU Tigers (Overall:26-6, SEC: 16-2)
Will the off the court issues and the fact that their head coach isn’t there affect these guys? That’s the real question. They have lots of real pro talent (they beat Kentucky and Tennessee this year), but we’ll see how far they can go.
#14 Yale Bulldogs (Overall: 22-7, Ivy League: 10-4)
Miye Oni is their star and averages 17.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game from the guard position. They won the league and the conference title and you know that they won’t be short on confidence against a possibly broken LSU.
#7 Louisville Cardinals (Overall: 20-13, ACC: 10-8)
This team finished on a bit of a dismal run (4-7 to end the year), but it also included that weirdo Duke game that they fell apart in and let a big lead slip. After missing the tournament because of violations, it’s nice to see the Cardinals back in it.
#10 Minnesota Golden Gophers (Overall: 21-13, Big 10: 9-11)
This team finished 7th in the Big 10, but managed to beat Purdue twice in the last ten days and got gifted a ten seed for their troubles. The key men are Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy, the former averaging 16.3 PPG and the later averaging 11.5 RPG.
#2 Michigan State Spartans (Overall: 28-6, Big 10: 16-4)
Tom Izzo is a darling of the NCAA tournament, but this could be his most dangerous team in years, simply because of depth. They’ve overcome some injuries, and Cassius Winston is one of the best players in college basketball right now. The path to the Elite 8 seems pretty straightforward.
#15 Bradley Braves (Overall: 20-14, Missouri Valley: 9-9)
The Braves finished 5th in the MVC, and it took a miracle run to get to the dance. That miracle will end at the hands of Michigan State.
Well, in the end, its going to come down to #1 Duke against #2 Michigan State isn't it? This bracket has a three seed that is mired in controversy, a weak five seed, and a four seed that will be “rewarded” with playing a conference foe if they make it to the Sweet 16. If there’s going to be a sleeper, Belmont could do some damage, and Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech will certainly be ready for Duke if that matchup happens. But, in the end, it’s going to be Duke against MSU in Washington, DC, and I’ll take Duke to get to the Final Four.