Your Guide To The 2019 NCAA Men’s Tournament: East region
Top seed prognosis: According to this FiveThirtyEight version, high seed Duke has the best chance of advancing to the Final Four in the entire area (53 percent probability) as well as the best odds of winning the national title (19 percent).
The Blue Devils are led by four soon-to-be first-round draft picks, including Zion Williamson, among the most significant talents in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel on the offensive end and much stingier on defense than many may realize. This is one of Mike Krzyzewski’s most-balanced teams and projects to become his first since 2010 to rank within the top six at Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and protection metrics. That team won the national title.1
What this team lacks, however, is touch along the perimeter. Duke shoots a ghastly 30.2 percent from outside the arc, the worst mark among tournament-qualifying teams. Within an offensive age increasingly dominated by distance and perimeter scoring, the Blue Devils could match the trend punishing the rim.
On the other side of the region is that the winner of the Big Ten conference tournament, Michigan State. As their benefit, the No. 2 Spartans have the honour of a potential matchup from the top overall seed in the Elite Eight. Head coach Tom Izzo was none too happy. The Spartans are pummeled by accidents but remain one of the most balanced teams in the country, ranking within the top eight in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 4 Virginia Tech. Led by the celebrity pairing of Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Hokies are a balanced squad which ranks among Pomeroy’s Top 25 teams on both defense and offense. Although they have lost eight times, only two of those were by double-digits. Virginia Tech also includes a not-altogether-unfriendly attraction, with extremely winnable opening matches against Saint Louis (87 percent) and the Mississippi State-Liberty winner (63 percent) before most likely running to Duke’s juggernaut. We provide the Hokies a decent 25 percent chance against the Blue Devils — along with a 54 percent chance against individuals emerges from the bottom of the area if they do manage to knock off Duke.
Do not wager on: No. 3 LSU. With trainer Will Wade embroiled in a pay-for-play scandal and his team likely overvalued as a 3-seed, the Bayou Bengals could be ripe for an upset in this tournament. They ranked only 18th in Pomeroy’s ratings — about the caliber of a No. 5 seed — thanks in large part to a defense which didn’t even crack the nation’s top 60 in adjusted efficiency. (This showed up at the 51 second-half points that they allowed to Florida while shedding their first game of the SEC tournament.) Their NCAA course isn’t very easy, either: Yale is no pushover as a No. 14 seed, nor will be potential second-round competitor Maryland, and we give the Tigers a mere 26 percent likelihood of beating Michigan State when the teams meet in the Sweet Sixteen. This is easily the lowest-rated top-three seed in the field.
Cinderella see: No. 11 Belmont. The East is top-heavy, together with Duke and Michigan State soaking up most of the Final Four chances. But the Bruins are an intriguing lower-seeded team because of an impressive crime led by do-everything swingman Dylan Windler. According to Pomeroy, Belmont ranks 20th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (and second nationwide in raw points per game behind Gonzaga), whereas Windler was among only three players nationally to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Although the Bruins do need to acquire a play-in match against Temple only to make the field of 64 — we give them a 59 percent chance — they would have a very aggressive 39 percent probability of bothering Maryland in the first round and an even better opportunity against the LSU/Yale winner.
Player to watch: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Three years ago, zzo said he thought his 6-foot-1 freshman would be Michigan State’s best passer because Magic Johnson. The Spartans’ do-everything point guard — one of the greatest facilitators in the country — is validating his trainer’s comment. Just Murray State’s Ja Morant, a surefire lottery pick in this year’s draft, has a higher assist speed than Winston (46.0 percent). And behind Winston, the Spartans help on the highest rate of field goals in the country.
The junior also happens to be Izzo’s top scorer and among the nation’s greatest perimeter threats, shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. As injuries have relentlessly sapped the Spartans of the on-court production, Winston has raised his game to compensate. As he put it to The Athletic,”that I must do a whole lot for my own team to win.”
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Central Florida over No. 8 VCU (47 percent); No. 11 Belmont* over No. 6 Maryland (39 percent); No. 10 Minnesota over No. 7 Louisville (34 percent)
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