March Madness 2019: Predicting Favorites, Sleepers and Latest Bubble Teams

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2019

The Duke Blue Devils may be the most dangerous team in the NCAA tournament.
The Duke Blue Devils may be the most dangerous team in the NCAA tournament.Nell Redmond/Associated Press

The NCAA tournament is one of the most exciting times of year on the sporting calendar, and the focus on that event has been intensifying during the week as the conference championships play out.

The countdown is on as the 68 teams in the tournament will be revealed Sunday, and that will lead to brackets being filled out online or printed throughout the country.

With that thought in mind, the belief here is that everyone can use a little help, especially those who are filling out multiple brackets. Here's our take on favorites, sleepers and a look at the latest bubble teams.

             

Favorites

Duke

The Blue Devils got their stud back in power forward Zion Williamson after he missed five games with a knee injury. He was a powerful force in the ACC conference tournament, just as he had been when he came on the scene at the start of the season.

Duke won the ACC tournament, and whether the Blue Devils get a No. 1 seed or not, they will be one of the tournament favorites. OddsShark listed Duke at +210 (bet $100 to win $210) to win the NCAA tournament, and it is a powerful team featuring Williamson (22.1 points per game, 69.3 field-goal percentage), RJ Barrett (22.9 PPG) and Cam Reddish (13.7 PPG). It will be shocking if and when it loses.

The Blue Devils should be top of mind for all who fill out brackets.

               

Gonzaga

The Bulldogs have done it all this seasonwith the exception of winning the West Coast Conference tournament. Gonzaga had an elite record at 30-3, but one of those losses came in the conference title game against Saint Mary's. 

That loss should not take away from what the best team on the West Coast has done this season. The Bulldogs will almost certainly gain a No. 1 seed, and they have been among the most consistent teams in men's basketball for years.

Forward Rui Hachimura is averaging 20.1 points per game and connecting on 60.9 percent of his shots, and Gonzaga has three other players in Brandon Clarke, Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins who are averaging in double figures this season. The Bulldogs are +800 to win the tournament for the first time in school history.

               

North Carolina

The Tar Heels beat Duke twice during the regular season, but those wins should come with an asterisk. That's because Williamson was lost early in the first meeting with the infamous exploding shoe incident that caused his knee problems, and he missed the second game.

The third meeting between the two teams was a back-and-forth classic in the ACC tournament semifinal game, and after Williamson put the Blue Devils ahead with a sensational follow-up of his own missed shot, North Carolina was unable to counter with a winning basket.

The argument can be made that the Tar Heels stayed with the most dangerous team in the nation when it was at its best, and no other team may be able to hang in with Duke in a similar manner. The Tar Heels have a Big Three of Cameron Johnson (16.9 PPG), Coby White (16.3 PPG) and Luke Maye (14.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG), and they appear to be well worth consideration at +1100, per OddsShark.

              

Sleepers

Texas Tech 

The Red Raiders had an excellent regular season in the Big 12, tying Kansas State for the title, and they have rolled to a 26-6 record.

However, Texas Tech lost its first-round game in the Big 12 tournament to a West Virginia team that finished in last place in the conference standings. That loss should improve the focus of the Red Raiders as they prepare for the tournament. 

Jarrett Culver is one of the best players in the sport and should be one of the top picks in the upcoming NBA draft, as NBADraft.net has him going with the No. 11 pick. 

The Red Raiders are listed at +3500 by OddsShark, and they should be able to win at least two games if properly focused.

             

Seton Hall

The Pirates were a third-place team in the Big East, and they finished the regular season with a 20-13 record.

However, the Pirates closed the Big East regular season with back-to-back wins over Marquette and Villanova, and then won Big East tournament games against Georgetown and Marquette to reach the conference title game against Villanova.

While they dropped a tight 74-72 decision to the Wildcats, the Pirates showed they are a tough and tenacious team that will not be an easy out. 

Guard Myles Powell is averaging a team-high 22.9 points per game, and he can get hot at any time and help carry this team. 

Seton Hall is listed at +11000 by OddsShark, but it could be a dangerous opponent for a higher-seeded opponent despite those enormous odds.

             

Saint Mary's

If we like Gonzaga as one of the tournament favorites, we have to like the team that beat them in the WCC tournament.

The Gaels are not easily intimidated, and they will go into the tournament with plenty of confidence as a result of their 60-47 victory over the Bulldogs. Saint Mary's had a fine 22-11 season, and the Gaels are peaking as the season begins. 

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Gaels as a No. 12 seed, and if he is accurate with that projection, that puts Saint Mary's in a 5-12 matchup, which means an upset is a distinct possibility.

Guard Jordan Ford is averaging a team-high 21.3 points per game and connecting on 49.4 percent of his shots, while Malik Fitts is adding 15.3 points per night and is averaging 7.6 rebounds.

       

Bubble teams

Selection Sunday is a time for celebration for many of the lower-seeded teams that have earned their way into the tournament.

However, it is an overly tense time for teams that are waiting for the NCAA selection committee to decide if they are worthy of getting into the Big Dance.

The "Last Four In" according to Lunardi are Arizona State, Temple, St. John's and TCU, while the "First Four Out" are North Carolina State, Belmont, Texas and Indiana.

CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm lists Ohio State, TCU, St. John's and Arizona State as the Last Four In, while UNC-Greensboro, Creighton, Furman and Belmont are his First Four Out.

All of those teams will be filled with anxiety as the tournament announcements are made. They will feel a wave of relief if their names are called and overwhelming disappointment if they are ignored.

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