- March Madness is back!
- For those filling out brackets, you have until noon on Thursday to finalise your picks.
- Below we break down the bracket region-by-region, covering the favourites, contenders, and sleepers to represent the Final Four.
- Check out the rest of our March Madness coverage here.
March Madness has once again taken over the sports world, with 68 teams contending for the NCAA national championship.
Filling out a bracket can be a daunting task, and while it’s fun to fuss over a first-round upset, the picks that will make or break your bracket is your Final Four – nail three of the last four teams remaining in the tournament, and you have a great shot at cashing in your office pool.
Over the past 25 years, the average sum of the Final Four seeds has hovered around 11. That can translate to two top seeds, a No. 3 and a No. 6, or any other number of combinations. Still, every few years or so, an especially impressive team makes a run late in the tournament, as Loyola-Chicago did in 2018.
To account for every possibility, and give you the best chance and filling out a perfect Final Four, below we’ve broken the bracket down region-by-region, going through the top team, a contender, and a sleeper in every quadrant of the bracket.
Top seed: Duke
The Duke Blue Devils are the top overall team in the tournament and with good reason. Three of their players –Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish – are all expected to be lottery picks in the NBA draft, with Williamson likely to be taken with the first pick.
As of Monday, a whopping 42.5% of brackets on ESPN picked Duke as the eventual champion of the tournament. If you want to play it safe, back the Blue Devils to make it out of their region at the very least, but if you are feeling bold, predicting an early exit for Duke could pay huge dividends if you call it correctly.
Another contender: Michigan State
No. 2 Michigan State is on the path for a date with Duke in the Elite Eight as long as both teams can avoid an early upset. If you’re looking for a team outside of the favourites to put through to the Final Four, Spartans head coach Tom Izzo is the man to trust. Michigan State has made the Final Four in seven of the past 20 seasons under his leadership.
Potential Cinderella: Belmont
Belmont has the disadvantage of playing a First Four game on Tuesday night, but if they can beat Temple to secure their spot in the bracket of 64, the Bruins are a popular pick to cause some chaos in the tournament.
Don’t be surprised to see Belmont playing into the second weekend if they can catch a few breaks along the way.
Top seed: Gonzaga
Gonzaga has lost just three times all season. Forward Rui Hachimura is one of the most interesting prospects in the 2019 NBA draft class and could see his stock rise even higher if he can lead the Bulldogs back to the title game. That would come just two years after the team fell short to North Carolina in the championship.
Another contender: Texas Tech
Texas Tech the second-best team in the country when it came to opponents points per game, holding teams to an average of 58.6 points. They could eventually face Gonzaga, who scored more points than any other team in the country, in the Elite Eight, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
If you believe that defence wins championships, consider backing the Red Raiders to come out of the West.
Potential Cinderella: Murray State
No. 12 Murray State should have plenty of confidence heading into March Madness. The Racers have lost just four times all season, and have been perfect since the end of January.
Standout guard Ja Morant will likely be one of the top picks in the NBA draft and could provide the lightning bolt of offence Murray State needs to make a Cinderella run this March. The first-round match pitting Morant and Murray State against Markus Howard and Marquette should not be missed.
Top seed: Virginia
Virginia comes into the NCAA tournament on a mission to avenge last year’s embarrassing early exit at the hands of UMBC.
They have the best defence in the country and are one of the best teams in the country shooting from beyond the arc. If you buy into their arc of potential redemption, they should be a tough out in the South region.
Another contender: Villanova
Villanova is the reigning national champions, but have been difficult to track this season after an up-and-down year. Some are even picking them as a potential team to be upset in the opening round of the tournament.
That said, if they can survive through the first round, the Wildcats are undoubtedly a danger to make it back to the title game. Head coach Jay Wright has guided his team to a national championship in two of the past three seasons, and that type of experience means a lot in the chaos of March Madness.
Potential Cinderella: Oregon
Oregon’s year looked like it might spiral out of control after NBA prospect Bol Bol went down with a season-ending injury. Instead, the Ducks rallied, winning their final eight games to win the Pac-12 tournament.
The No. 12 Ducks are 2-point favourites over No. 5 Wisconsin, despite being the lower seed. If you’re looking for a team that’s playing its best basketball entering the tournament, Oregon might be the team to ride.
Top seed: North Carolina
Despite arch-rival Duke receiving the majority of the national media attention, North Carolina has been consistently great all season.
The Tar Heels have one of their most talented rosters, top to bottom, in recent memory, and have an appealing path to the Elite Eight.
Another contender: Kentucky
With John Calipari steering the ship and a consistent churn of amazing freshman talent, Kentucky is a threat to make a run in the tournament every year.
If you aren’t sold on North Carolina as the winner of the region, just remember that Kentucky got the 2-seed for a reason.
Potential Cinderella: Wofford
No. 7 Wofford is another hot team that has the potential to catch fire like Loyola-Chicago did last season.
No team is more comfortable winning than the Terriers, who are riding a 20-game winning streak. While the competition will be tougher now that they have entered March Madness, Wofford hasn’t lost since December, and might just think themselves unbeatable in their current form.
More March Madness 2019:
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