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Game by game NCAA Tournament picks and analysis

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Breaking down every game to be played.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Just because the NCAA Tournament field has been revealed doesn’t mean my job is done quite yet. Now that we’re done picking who will be in the NCAA Tournament, it’s time to pick who will actually win in the NCAA Tournament. We’ll go round-by-round making picks all the way through the National Championship. Some of you may based some of your picks off of this post and that’s great. But I jokingly admit I take no responsibility if this bracket blows up in my face. But that’s the fun of filling out a bracket, right? So with that in mind, let’s get started.

First Four

No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson over No. 16 Prairie View A&M

Prairie View is a pretty deep team, as they have nine players that average double-digit minutes, while Fairleigh Dickinson runs six players for at least 25 minutes per game. But Fairleigh Dickinson is a better team at the free throw line (73 percent compared to 68 percent) and have two players (Darnell Edge and Jahlil Jenkins) shooting at least 87 percent and in this setting, that will loom large. Knights advance to face Gonzaga.

No. 11 Belmont over No. 11 Temple

It’s Dylan Windler’s time to shine. The Bruins have to be on such a high after getting selected as an at-large to the tournament. The Bruins have never won a tournament game, despite being everyone’s favorite trendy upset pick. This is finally the year Rick Byrd can advance in the dance, where they will meet Maryland.

No. 16 North Dakota State over No. 16 North Carolina Central

The numbers are pretty similar for these two teams, as both are shooting about 45 percent from the floor and both average a little over 70 points per game. But the Bison have an edge from beyond the three-point line and from the free throw line, which might be enough to overcome the experience the Eagles will have of playing in their third straight NCAA Tournament and third straight First Four, which they have yet to escape from. The Bison make it three straight years the Eagles fail to reach the round of 64, while the Bison will meet No. 1 Duke.

No. 11 Arizona State over No. 11 St. John’s

This one may come down to Arizona State having a big edge on the boards, as the Sun Devils average nearly eight more rebounds per game than the Johnnies, led by the big in-state forward Zyland Cheatham, who is averaging a double-double. Both teams are sliding a bit heading into the dance, but the Johnnies are in more of a downhill slide than Arizona State. The Sun Devils advance to play Buffalo.

First Round

No. 1 Duke over No. 16 North Dakota State

There will be no repeat of a 16 seed upsetting the overall No. 1 seed. Duke will simply be too much for the Summit League champs, who will likely have worn themselves out some against North Carolina Central. Blue Devils advance.

No. 9 UCF over No. 8 VCU

Like any good 8 vs. 9 game, this one is very tough to call, but I like the way UCF is playing, despite the early exit in the American Athletic tournament. The Knights’ edge in three-point shooting could outweigh VCU at the line, though the Rams got good news in Marcus Evans likely being able to play in this game after being injured in the Atlantic 10 tournament. This is a true toss-up, but we’ll give the slight edge to UCF.

No. 12 Liberty over No. 5 Mississippi State

Easier said than done, but if the Flames can continue their strong ability to slow the pace of the game and not allow Mississippi State to create turnovers, Liberty has a puncher’s chance to pull the classic 12 over 5 upset.

No. 4 Virginia Tech over No. 13 Saint Louis

The Hokies get Justin Robinson back at the absolute best time possible. Saint Louis got things together just in time to claim the Atlantic 10 tournament, but this was an unfortunate draw for them in the first round. Virginia Tech moves on.

No. 11 Belmont over No. 6 Maryland

The 12 over 5 rule is still an unwritten rule that tends to be followed, but two other rules have popped up and have perhaps overtaken the 12 over 5 when filling out brackets. Those being selecting an 11 over a 6 and selecting a First Four winner to advance to the second round. Belmont feels like the best chance to pull off the double-dip there over a Maryland team that really struggled down the stretch. Bruins reach their first Round of 32.

No. 3 LSU over No. 14 Yale

LSU is ripe for the picking in this NCAA Tournament, but Yale won’t be the team to knock them off. If this were, say, Northern Kentucky, LSU would have been on high upset alert. But as it stands, LSU will get past a tough Bulldog team.

No. 7 Louisville over No. 10 Minnesota

The name “Pitino” will likely be heard more times than the squeaking of sneakers on the basketball court, as Minnesota coach Richard Pitino battles the team his father, Rick, used to coach and led to a “national championship”, as the title was later vacated by the NCAA. But Chris Mack did a nice job getting Louisville back in the picture after a one-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament and that should continue against what was an up-and-down Minnesota team.

No. 2 Michigan State over No. 15 Bradley

There was a lot of anger over Michigan State being placed in the same bracket as the No. 1 overall seed, but I don’t think Tom Izzo and the Spartans care. Besides, that’s way down the line. First things first, taking care of business against Bradley, which they should have no problem with.

No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson

Gonzaga begins their second tournament in three years as a No. 1 seed against the Northeast conference champions and with a lot of rest since the West Coast tournament, while Fairleigh Dickinson will be traveling from Dayton to Salt Lake City after the First Four. The jet lag, as well as the strength of Gonzaga, will be too much to overcome.

No. 9 Baylor over No. 8 Syracuse

Two pretty inconsistent teams and Syracuse feels very overseeded as a No. 8. That could come to fruition against a very deep Baylor team, especially with Syracuse having to travel across country to Salt Lake City. Despite the recent struggles, Scott Drew has done one of the better coaching jobs this season. That will continue into the second round.

No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette

The stars are shining bright in this one as Markus Howard and Ja Morant will be on the same court. But it feels like, similar to Belmont, this is the Racers’ year to win a tournament game. With four players averaging double-figures, Murray State can put up points to keep up with the Eagles and score the 12 over 5 upset.

No. 4 Florida State over No. 13 Vermont

Florida State had a strong case to be a No. 3 seed in the tournament after their run to the ACC final. They’ve quietly improved as the season progressed, since all the focus was on Duke, Virginia and North Carolina, and they have the talent, led by Mfiondu Kabengele, to make a return trip to the Elite 8. But Vermont will give them all they can handle, especially with the game being played in Hartford.

No. 6 Buffalo over No. 11 Arizona State

Last year, Buffalo stunned the college basketball world with their dominating first-round win over Arizona. This time, they get Arizona State in a much easier matchup as the MAC champions roll on to round two.

No. 3 Texas Tech over No. 14 Northern Kentucky

As mentioned earlier, I was really hoping for a better matchup for Northern Kentucky to move them into the second round. But it’s very tough to move them past Texas Tech, but their shooting will keep the Norse in the mix, but the Red Raiders will be a little too much in the end.

No. 10 Florida over No. 7 Nevada

Oh, what could have been for Nevada. After being a preseason top ten and spending most of the season there, Nevada really stumbled down the stretch, losing to San Diego State in the Mountain West semifinals and landing as a No. 7 seed. Now they get Florida, who is turning things around just in time, even with 15 losses. Both teams sport a strong defense, so this could be a low-scoring one. But I think the Gators advance.

No. 2 Michigan over No. 15 Montana

They couldn’t beat Michigan State this season, but the 2018 runners-up are still ready for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Montana easily took care of business in the Big Sky and may hang around for awhile, but Michigan will likely pull away as the game wears on to set up another athletic battle between Michigan and Florida.

No. 1 Virginia over No. 16 Gardner-Webb

Everyone is wondering how will Virginia fare after last season’s debacle. Well, let’s just say welcome to the tournament, Gardner-Webb. The Bulldogs’ first-ever tournament appearance comes against an angry Virginia team that will pull out all the stops to ensure a repeat of last year doesn’t even come close to coming to fruition.

No. 8 Ole Miss over No. 9 Oklahoma

Ole Miss shoots the ball and scores at a better pace than Oklahoma. Both teams are coming off one-and-done performances in their respective conference tournaments, but Ole Miss at least was playing an Alabama team trying to make a case for the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma was stunned by the worst team in the Big 12, West Virginia. The Rebels get the slight edge here to advance to round two.

No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin

Oregon is riding a lot of momentum into the NCAA Tournament with their run in the Pac-12 tournament, which included an impressive win over regular-season champion Washington in the championship game. I did not expect them to get a 12 seed and sometimes, it’s those low-seeded teams that make some noise. The Ducks continue their run over the Badgers.

No. 13 UC Irvine over No. 4 Kansas State

Oregon isn’t the only hot team in this part of the bracket. Only two teams (Wofford and New Mexico State) have longer active winning streaks than the 16-game stretch the Anteaters are on. And they have a stingy defense that’s strong enough to stifle Kansas State, a team that can get flustered at times. If there’s potential for a big upset in this tournament, this may be the best chance to find one. Anteaters move on.

No. 6 Villanova over No. 11 Saint Mary’s

Saint Mary’s had a great run to win the West Coast tournament, including a very impressive win over Gonzaga. But they get a tough draw against the defending national champions, who, while they may have backed their way to the Big East regular season title, have little diffiiculty winning the Big East tournament yet again. The champs march on.

No. 3 Purdue over No. 14 Old Dominion

Old Dominion is really going to need their defense to step up if they want to slow down Carsen Edwards, though he really struggled in the loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament. He still averages 23 points per game. Purdue is also a much better free-throw shooting team than Old Dominion. Boilermakers move on to get a shot at the reigning champs.

No. 7 Cincinnati over No. 10 Iowa

Cincinnati is on a high after their AAC title victory over Houston and they get the luxury of playing in the state of Ohio as they only have to travel to Columbus for this pod. They should fare well against an Iowa team that’s struggled on defense lately and slumped during the home stretch.

No. 2 Tennessee over No. 15 Colgate

The toothpaste jokes are already running rampant and that may be the highlight of the Raiders’ stay in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee is going to be too much for Colgate as they move on to round two. Still, it’s always nice to see teams end long tournament droughts, as Colgate hasn’t danced since 1996.

No. 1 North Carolina over No. 16 Iona

The No. 1 seeds are just too strong in this tournament compared to the No. 16 seeds. Sure, we said that last year before we saw UMBC, but it just doesn’t feel like any of the 16s will make any noise against this quartet of top seeds. North Carolina should have no problem disposing of Iona to move on.

No. 8 Utah State over No. 9 Washington

A matchup we thought may have been possible in the West region ends up in the Midwest. Utah State really turned up the heat in the second half of the season, leading to them sharing the Mountain West regular season title and winning the conference tournament. Washington struggled against top competition this year and hard to see that turning around this quick against the Aggies. Utah State moves on.

No. 5 Auburn over No. 12 New Mexico State

This is going to be a fun one. New Mexico State is rolling, winners of 19 straight, while Auburn is coming off their thrashing of Tennessee in the SEC tournament final. But Auburn has an edge on free-throw shooting and three-point shooting. New Mexico State will give Auburn all they can handle, but Bruce Pearl’s squad will move on to round two.

No. 4 Kansas over No. 13 Northeastern

Udoka Azubuike’s injury really stung the Jayhawks. You could very well make the argument they would have won the Big 12 with him. Dedric Lawson has done well carrying the load for Kansas thus far and it should continue against Northeastern. But there is some worry about Kansas making a deep run.

No. 6 Iowa State over No. 11 Ohio State

The Big 12 tournament champs are rolling while the Buckeyes simply are not. Their win over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament likely went a long toward them securing a spot in the field, but a date with the Cyclones and their strong offense will likely make Ohio State a one-and-done.

No. 3 Houston over No. 14 Georgia State

Unfortunately for Georgia State, R.J. Hunter is long gone and Houston has a stifling defense. Georgia State will have to be hot from three if they’re going to spring the upset. Here’s saying Houston weathers the storm and moves on.

No. 7 Wofford over No. 10 Seton Hall

Seton Hall is a tough matchup for Wofford but the Terriers have been up to any challenge all season long. They currently boast the nation’s longest winning streak heading into the dance, as they have won 20 straight. That grows to 21 thanks to their impressive three-point shooting.

No. 2 Kentucky over No. 15 Abilene Christian

It’s the battle of the Wildcats. The second team making their tournament debut gets to see one of the bluebloods of college basketball. Like Gardner-Webb, Abilene Christian’s first dance will be a short one. Kentucky will be too overpowering, setting up a very intriguing second-round game between Kentucky and Wofford.

Second Round

No. 1 Duke over No. 9 UCF

You’re gonna hear me say this quite often in this post, but Zion Williamson is just ridiculous and too much for just about any other team in the country. It was a good run for UCF, but they can’t hang with Duke. Blue Devils head to the Sweet 16.

No. 4 Virginia Tech over No. 12 Liberty

With Justin Robinson back and with a game under his belt at this point, the Hokies see the bracket break open for them with Liberty springing the upset of Mississippi State. The magic likely runs out there as Virginia Tech sets up an ACC showdown with Duke in the Sweet 16.

No. 11 Belmont over No. 3 LSU

Yale isn’t the team to finish off LSU as they’re mired in a mess with Will Wade. But Belmont is. Dylan Windler makes this a very magical run for Belmont and pushed them to the Sweet 16, bringing a strong season to a screeching and disappointing halt for the Tigers.

No. 2 Michigan State over No. 7 Louisville

Louisville can get away with being up and down against Minnesota, but absolutely not against Michigan State. Sparty will just be too much for the Cardinals and you can pencil them into the Sweet 16.

No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 9 Baylor

Gonzaga got a bit of a lucky draw, having two inconsistent teams matched up in their 8/9 game. The Bulldogs should be favored well against either Baylor or Syracuse and should be prime position to return to the Sweet 16.

No. 4 Florida State over No. 12 Murray State

The checkered flag will come out in the second round for Murray State, as the Seminoles will have too much talent for the Racers. As good as Ja Morant is, it’ll be tough for him to carry this team against a team as strong as Florida State, setting up a rematch of last year’s regional semifinal, won by then-No. 9 Florida State.

No. 3 Texas Tech over No. 6 Buffalo

Unfortunately, the strong season for Buffalo runs them right smack into Texas Tech and the shooting of Texas Tech will end a magical season for the Bulls, arguably the best ever for a team from the MAC. It’s too bad, because both of these teams would have been fun to see in the Sweet 16, but only one can get there and that will be Texas Tech.

No. 2 Michigan over No. 10 Florida

After Florida got the better of Michigan in the Peach Bowl, Michigan will get the better of Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Jordan Poole and company shoot the ball very well compared to the Gators, though Florida will cause some problems on defense. But it feels like this Michigan team is ready to make another run and they’ll be back in the Sweet 16 for an intriguing matchup with Texas Tech.

No. 1 Virginia over No. 8 Ole Miss

Ole Miss, with their inconsistency, will really need to figure out Virginia’s defense if they are to have any hope of hanging around at the end of this one. Here’s saying Virginia smothers the Rebels and has a pretty easy time reaching the regional semifinals.

No. 12 Oregon over No. 13 UC Irvine

The two hot teams in this region now get to meet up in the second round in San Jose. While the Anteaters have been playing fantastic, Oregon has the feel of being that sneaky pick to reach the second weekend, riding the momentum of their Pac-12 tournament title. Ducks get a shot at No. 1 Virginia.

No. 6 Villanova over No. 3 Purdue

This is a really tight one to call as these teams look pretty close on paper. The experience of Villanova may be the deciding factor in this one as the defending champs get back to the Sweet 16, ending the strong season for Purdue.

No. 2 Tennessee over No. 7 Cincinnati

This may feel like a road game, playing in Columbus, but the Vols are too talented on offense to slip up this early in the tournament, even against a tough challenge from Cincinnati. The Admiral and his crew sail on to the Sweet 16, where they’ll get a chance to dethrone the kings.

No. 1 North Carolina over No. 8 Utah State

After seeing the top seeds falter early in 2018, all four look poised to reach the second weekend in 2019 as North Carolina’s talent will swarm Utah State, though the Aggies will not go down without a fight. But Luke Maye will not let his Tar Heel career end this soon, especially after last year’s debacle in the second round against Texas A&M.

No. 5 Auburn over No. 4 Kansas

The bluebloods filled up the Midwest bracket, but not all of them will reach the regionals. Kansas’ woes away from home will finally catch up to them against red-hot Auburn and the Jayhawks won’t get the opportunity to return to Kansas City for the second weekend.

No. 3 Houston over No. 6 Iowa State

Even after losing to Cincinnati, the Cougars have the feel of a strong run with their outstanding defense, strong enough to tame the Cyclones’ talent. That defense will carry Houston through to Kansas City for the regionals.

No. 7 Wofford over No. 2 Kentucky

I can be a little nuts sometimes and this will be one of those times. I’m all in on Wofford and am starting to believe their three-point shooting will stay hot and stun Kentucky in the second round. This one really could go either way but why can’t Wofford make it to the Sweet 16? Here’s saying they can.

Sweet 16

No. 1 Duke over No. 4 Virginia Tech

On to the regionals and on to more talk of Zion Williamson. Justin Robinson’s return was nice, but Zion is Zion and Duke is Duke. Blue Devils move on to the Elite 8.

No. 2 Michigan State over No. 11 Belmont

It was a fun ride for Belmont, from Selection Sunday all the way through the Sweet 16. But the ride ends here as Tom Izzo rallies his troops and indeed sets up Duke vs. Michigan State for a spot in the Final Four.

No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 4 Florida State

Revenge is a dish best served cold and that’s what Gonzaga will do to Florida State. The Bulldogs have the momentum this time around and will carry that momentum right into the regional final.

No. 3 Texas Tech over No. 2 Michigan

This would be another great game if it happens but I think the shooting and the depth of Texas Tech will give the Red Raiders just enough fire power to get past the Wolverines, with eight players averaging at least 17 minutes per game. This could be either a pretty high-scoring game or a defensive struggle. Either way, I think Texas Tech has the slight edge and they make a return trip to the Elite 8.

No. 1 Virginia over No. 12 Oregon

Oregon has had a nice run up to this point but the defense and overall strength of Virginia will be too much for the Ducks to handle as they really haven’t seen a team the likes of Virginia all season long. But not a bad run for a team that was the No. 6 seed in what was going to be a two-bid Pac-12 before Oregon made their run.

No. 2 Tennessee over No. 6 Villanova

The reign as national champs ends in the Sweet 16 for the Wildcats as Tennessee finds their groove on offense at just the right time. Tennessee has faltered in some big games this season, but the draw breaks pretty well for them in the region, but a tough matchup awaits in the Elite 8.

No. 1 North Carolina over No. 5 Auburn

The experience and depth of North Carolina is so strong and will cause a lot of fits for Auburn. The lack of wins against top competition may finally rear its ugly head one last time for the Tigers as UNC will move on the regional final.

No. 3 Houston over No. 7 Wofford

What a season it was for the Terriers. Their win streak at this stage is 22 in a row. But that’s where it will end. The Cougars have to be happy not to be playing Kentucky, though Wofford will be no slouch. But Kelvin Sampson’s career resurrection continues on to the Elite 8 against North Carolina.

Elite 8

No. 1 Duke over No. 2 Michigan State

It’s the matchup we all want to see, even if fans raged it shouldn’t have been this early. And unfortunately for Michigan State, they, too, will have no answer for Zion Williamson, who will carry this team to the Final Four. And just so they don’t feel left out, here’s a shoutout to RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish.

No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 3 Texas Tech

Texas Tech is good, but Gonzaga is really good. Final Four good. Maybe even championship good. Second year in a row Texas Tech falls one step short of the Final Four as Gonzaga returns after a year away.

No. 2 Tennessee over No. 1 Virginia

Tennessee has figured out how to play quality basketball at this point and their offense is too strong even for Virginia’s tough defense. There’s just something about Virginia that makes me feel they just won’t make it to the Final Four. That opens the door for Tennessee, who get the last laugh as the last remaining SEC team.

No. 1 North Carolina over No. 3 Houston

North Carolina caught a lucky break seeing Kentucky go down in the second round, as the Wildcats really could’ve given UNC fits. But Luke Maye is eyeing that championship and not even Houston will stop him. Tar Heels go back to the Final Four.

Final Four

Duke over Gonzaga

In an epic rematch from an early-season contest, the big three at Duke help the Blue Devils get revenge on Gonzaga from that November loss and push Duke into the championship game. This one would be quite a high-scoring battle, though, with both teams being able to pound the glass and shoot outside. But you know Zion will take this game over somehow.

North Carolina over Tennessee

It just feels like one of those years where UNC is going to make a run. And they will, at the expense of Tennessee. Good on Tennessee for putting it all together at the right time, but North Carolina will just have too much firepower for the Vols. Classic coaching battle here, though, between Roy Williams and Rick Barnes.

National Championship

North Carolina over Duke

With how classic their three games have been this season, it just feels so fitting to have Duke vs. North Carolina for the national championship. And with both teams healthy. We know how much these can battle when both are healthy, as evidenced by Duke’s one-point win in the ACC semifinals. But as I said in the Final Four, Luke Maye is on a mission, just like Sean May in 2005 and Tyler Hansbrough in 2009. UNC can hang with anyone, including Duke. In the end, for the second time in three years and fourth time in his 15 years as head coach, Roy Williams will cut down the nets for North Carolina in Minneapolis.

So there you have it, all 67 games picked and your national champion crowned. Best of luck to you all in filling out your brackets and, most importantly, enjoy the NCAA Tournament, one of the best events in sports.