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March Madness 2019: Tournament Dates, Schedule and Early Favorites

Jake RillContributor IIIMarch 11, 2019

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 09: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils watches on from the bench during their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Dean Smith Center on March 09, 2019 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This week will be filled with conference tournaments around college basketball. But by March 17, fans will be filling out their brackets and gearing up for March Madness to get into full swing.

The NCAA tournament begins on March 19 and concludes with the national championship game on April 8 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Although the bracket won't be set until Sunday evening, it's not too early to predict which schools should be among the top contenders for this year's national title. College basketball season has been going on since November, and certain teams have risen to the top of the rankings and polls.

March Madness is about to get underway, and it will be fun to see which of these early favorites can live up to their potential and which ones may get upset by this year's Cinderella teams.

     

March Madness Schedule

Selection Sunday: March 17

First Four: March 19-20

First round: March 21-22

Second round: March 23-24

Sweet Sixteen: March 28-29

Elite Eight: March 30-31

Final Four: April 6

National Championship: April 8

      

Early Favorites (Odds Via OddsShark)

Duke (+210; Bet $100 to win $210)

The Blue Devils may have the best odds at this point, but that could change if star forward Zion Williamson doesn't return from his knee sprain or isn't at 100 percent if he does come back.

However, Duke is still a favorite ahead of the ACC tournament because even without Williamson, it has two talented top scorers in RJ Barrett (23.4 points per game) and Cam Reddish (14.3).

Williamson left injured during the Blue Devils' loss to North Carolina on Feb. 20. That was the start of a 3-3 finish for Duke as Williamson has still not returned to the lineup.

The Blue Devils are the No. 3 seed for the ACC tournament behind Virginia and North Carolina. They beat the Cavaliers twice during the regular season but lost both matchups against the Tar Heels.

Mike Krzyzewski has had tremendous success guiding Duke to the NCAA tournament during his storied career as its coach. The Blue Devils last won a national championship in 2015, and last year they made it to the Elite Eight.

If Williamson returns and is healthy, there might not be a team in the country that can take down Duke during March Madness.

     

Gonzaga (+800)

STOCKTON, CA - FEBRUARY 28:  Geno Crandall #0 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs goes up for a slam dunk against the Universisty Of The Pacific Tigers during the first half of their NCAA basketball game at Alex G. Spanos Center on February 28, 2019 in Stockton, Cali
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Bulldogs are the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll as they prepare to play in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament on Monday.

Playing in a weaker conference, Gonzaga has a strong chance of winning the WCC tournament and securing an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. At 29-2 with a win over Duke on Nov. 21, there's also a good chance that the Bulldogs will earn a No. 1 seed for March Madness.

Gonzaga hasn't lost since Dec. 15, when it fell to North Carolina, and it should enter the NCAA tournament on a 22-game winning streak. Perhaps the Bulldogs can carry that momentum into a deep tourney run.

Rui Hachimura leads Gonzaga's scoring attack with 20.6 points per game, while Brandon Clarke (16.6) and Zach Norvell Jr. (15.7) are also top offensive threats for the Bulldogs.

Gonzaga has never won a national championship, but this year's team appears talented enough to be in contention.

      

Virginia (+800)

SYRACUSE, NY - MARCH 04:  Ty Jerome #11 slaps hands with De'Andre Hunter #12 of the Virginia Cavaliers during the first half against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome on March 4, 2019 in Syracuse, New York. Virginia defeats Syracuse 79-53.  (Photo b
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Despite playing in the tough ACC, Virginia doesn't have a bad loss this year. In fact, the Cavaliers' only two losses both came against Duke at a time when the Blue Devils had Williamson in the lineup.

Much like Duke, Virginia could secure the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament if it navigates its way to the ACC tournament championship. The Cavaliers are the No. 1 seed in the ACC tourney after going 16-2 in conference play.

Virginia won eight straight games to end the regular season and could be building momentum at the right time. Plus, if North Carolina knocks out Duke in the bottom side of the ACC tourney bracket, the Cavaliers may not have to face the only team they've lost to this season.

Three guards lead Virginia's scoring offense—Kyle Guy (15.3 points per game), De'Andre Hunter (15.2) and Ty Jerome (13.5).

The Cavaliers have been in the NCAA tournament five straight seasons, but last year, they became the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed when they fell to UMBC in the first round. Seeking better results, they could be extra motivated to avoid another disappointing finish.

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