March Madness 2019: Dates, Predictions, TV Schedule and Bracket Analysis

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMarch 17, 2019

Duke's Zion Williamson (1) celebrates after he scored against North Carolina State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)
Chris Seward/Associated Press

After a four-month regular season and two weeks of conference tournaments across the country, college basketball's moment in the spotlight has finally arrived with the unveiling of the 68-team NCAA men's tournament Sunday. 

Before getting into the key storylines to follow, here are the dates for the NCAA tournament so you can plan your schedule accordingly:

First Four: March 19-20 (truTV)

First and Second Rounds: March 21-24 (CBS, TBS, TNT, TruTV)

Regional Semifinals and Finals: March 28-31 (CBS, TBS)

Final Four: April 6 (CBS)

National Championship: April 8 (CBS)


Tournament Bracket

Even with a handful of dominant teams atop the rankings all season, including Gonzaga, Virginia, North Carolina and Duke, there's a wide open feeling to this year's tournament because there are obvious flaws with everyone that can be exposed. 


Key NCAA Tournament Storylines

Is Duke unstoppable with Zion Williamson back at 100 percent?

It's strange to think a tournament of 68 teams could come down to one player on one team, but the difference for Duke with and without Zion Williamson this season has been remarkable. 

The Blue Devils went 3-3 in the final six games of the regular season without their star freshman. They only scored more than 80 points once during that stretch—against a 14-18 Miami Hurricanes team. 

For comparison, Duke scored fewer than 80 points six times in 25 games with Williamson in the lineup. 

When Williamson returned for the ACC tournament, Duke once again looked like the best team in the country. He led the team in scoring all three games, averaging 27 points on 76.7 percent shooting, en route to being named MVP of the tournament. 

In addition to those offensive numbers, Jeff Boozell of NCAA.com broke down how Williamson's absence impacts what Duke is able to do on defense:

"When both teams were at full strength, it didn't seem like North Carolina matched up well with Duke. A big reason why was because Williamson, the best defender in America, is perfectly suited to shut down Luke Maye.

"Maye exploded with Williamson out of that game, going for 30 points and 15 rebounds. He was too quick for Bolden, and too big for the rest of the Blue Devils. Maye was a menace on the offensive glass, and his face-up game was unstoppable."

The Blue Devils weren't perfect with Williamson healthy. They lost two games against Gonzaga and Syracuse. Their 30.2 three-point shooting percentage is tied for 339th out of 350 Division I teams, per ESPN.com

But even with those caveats, Duke consistently looked like the best team in the nation with Williamson in the lineup. Him being back automatically puts Mike Krzyzewski on a path to winning his sixth national title. 


If Duke isn't the favorite, who is?

Based on ESPN's basketball power index, the team with the best chance to reach the Final Four is Gonzaga:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

According to BPI, Gonzaga has the highest chances to make it to the Final Four at 62%.

The Bulldogs have spent the past three weeks atop the Associated Press Top 25 and Coaches' Poll. They beat Duke in December when the Blue Devils were at full strength and had articles written about them possibly going undefeated. 

Losing to Saint Mary's by scoring a season-low 47 points in the West Coast Conference title game is a concern for the Bulldogs, but their entire body of work shouldn't be negated by one poor performance. 

The last time Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed in 2016-17, it reached the national title game before losing to North Carolina. 

As Mike Lopresti of NCAA.com wrote last month, the Bulldogs have been the most balanced team in college basketball this season:

"We could go on about Gonzaga’s balance, and how it has had at least four players score in double figures in 22 of 23 games. Or its stability, and how the same lineup has started all 23 games. Or the Zags’ consistency, and how they have outshot 83 of 96 opponents since the start of the 2016-17 season. Or their efficiency and power, and how they lead the nation in scoring, scoring margin, shooting and assist-turnover ratio."

One potential red flag is Gonzaga lost two of its three biggest games this season, against Tennessee and at North Carolina. 

Speaking of the Tar Heels, head coach Roy Williams has his team rolling with seven straight wins to end the regular season. Their 72.9 points allowed per game is tied for 224th in the nation, but it looks better from an efficiency angle. 

Per Sports-Reference.com, North Carolina ranks 42nd in defensive efficiency with 95.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. This team can score with anyone in the nation and is good enough on defense to let its offense take down the opposition. 

The Tar Heels stood toe to toe with Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals, proving their two wins against their rivals during the regular season when Williamson was out weren't mere flukes. 

Another ACC team that looks poised to make a deep run is Virginia. There will be natural hesitation to pick the Cavaliers after they became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed last year, but De'Andre Hunter wasn't available in that game due to a broken wrist. 

It also doesn't help that they laid an egg in the ACC tournament semifinals against Florida State by shooting 41.5 percent, including 5-of-24 from three-point range, in a 69-59 loss. 

Head coach Tony Bennett appears to have his most complete team in 10 seasons at Virginia. Its the only program in the country ranked in the top five in KenPom's adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

The Cavs' two losses in the regular season were against Duke. They've got victories over currently-ranked teams like North Carolina, Florida State, Wisconsin, Maryland and Virginia Tech. Only eight opponents have scored more than 60 points against Bennett's defense. 

No team in the nation is more balanced on both sides of the ball than Virginia. After last year's tournament failure, this group has the potential to make up for it by winning the program's first-ever national title. 


OK, who are the sleepers?

After going through a list of every favorite that will be talked about ad nauseam until they are eliminated or the tournament ends with one of them victorious, it's only fair to give equal time to some under-the-rader candidates in the field. 

Even though Houston hasn't been disrespected after getting a No. 3 seed with a 31-2 record, this is a program that has the strengths to compete with the usual powerhouse teams. 

Unlike Duke, the Cougars are an excellent three-point shooting team. They tied for 81st in the nation with a 36.4 percent success rate from behind the arc. Dejon Jarreau and Armoni Brooks both make over 40 percent of their three-point attempts. 

Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson's defense ranks eightth in points allowed per game (61.0) and 13th in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency. 

Since Houston may not be a traditional Cinderella, the Midwest Region's No. 7 Wofford is a team with the potential to reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. 

The Southern Conference champions can shoot with anyone in the nation. They rank second with a 41.6 percent rate from three-point range, and each of their top four shooters make more than 40 percent of their attempts behind the arc. 

Head coach Mike Young has made the Terriers into a strong mid-major with five tournament appearances since 2009-10. 

Jeff Goodman @GoodmanHoops

Mike Young — Doesn’t get nearly enough credit. Has Wofford 15-0 in loaded SoCon this season. Someone needs to hire this guy at a bigger spot. Hell of a coach who has gone to 4 NCAA tourneys at one of tougher spots in country. Had been one of worst jobs in league until recently.

Wofford's overall resume leaves something to be desired with zero quality wins in ESPN.com's basketball power index. Its four losses came against in its four biggest games of the season—against North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi State. 

If the Terriers can shoot all tournament like they have throughout the regular season, opposing teams will have problems keeping up with them.