NCAA Bracket 2019: Complete Guide to East Region

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2019

NCAA Bracket 2019: Complete Guide to East Region

0 of 9

    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    The 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket is set, with games scheduled to begin on Tuesday. The bracket's East Region will be garnering the most attention, due to the presence of a star-studded (and top-seeded) Duke, but there's no shortage of other intrigue.

    The East Region includes two of the First Four matchups, pitting North Dakota State against North Carolina Central for the right to face Duke, and a pair of No. 11 seeds in Temple and Belmont will face off for the right to play No. 6 Maryland.

    Other teams in the region this year include LSU, Mississippi State, Michigan State and Yale—a good mix of top-tier talent and a few intriguing underdogs.

    Here's everything you need to know about what should be the most high-profile region of the March Madness bracket.

1st-Round Schedule, Betting Odds and TV Info

1 of 9

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Tuesday (First Four in Dayton, OH)

    No. 11 Belmont (Spread: -2.5) vs. No. 11 Temple, 9:10 p.m. ET, truTV


    Wednesday (First Four in Dayton, OH)

    North Dakota State (-4) vs. North Carolina Central, 6:40 p.m. ET, truTV



    (Games in Des Moines, IA)

    No. 7 Louisville (-5) vs. No. 10 Minnesota, 12:15 p.m. ET, CBS

    No. 2 Michigan State (-20) vs. No. 15 Bradley, 2:45 p.m. ET, CBS

    (Games in Jacksonville, FL)

    No. 3 LSU (-8) vs. No. 14 Yale, 12:40 p.m. ET, truTV

    No. 6 Maryland (22-10) vs. Belmont or Temple, 3:10 p.m. ET, truTV



    (Games in Columbia, SC)

    No. 1 Duke (29-5) vs. North Dakota State or North Carolina Central, 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

    No. 8 VCU (-1) vs. No. 9 UCF, 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

    (Games in San Jose, CA)

    No. 5 Mississippi State (-8) vs. No. 12 Liberty, 7:27 p.m. ET, truTV

    No. 4 Virginia Tech (-10.5) vs. No. 13 St. Louis, 9:57 p.m. ET, truTV

Must-See Games

2 of 9

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    No. 1 Duke vs. North Dakota State or North Carolina Central

    The game itself is unlikely to be close, no matter who Duke faces. But the presence of Zion Williamson makes any Blue Devils game appointment viewing, and the first Tournament game will be no exception.

    Even in blowouts, Williamson is usually good for a couple of jaw-dropping highlight plays per night, and that will give what could be an otherwise one-sided first-round matchup some intrigue.


    No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Liberty

    The Bulldogs have a lot going for them—they were third in the SEC in three-point percentage, shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc. But they'll have their work cut out in the first round against a tough Liberty team that's played some major opponents close.


    No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Minnesota

    Both of these teams have been inconsistent this season, but Minnesota is coming off a strong performance in the Big Ten tournament, which ensured its selection for March Madness. Louisville's inconsistent offensive performance this season could make it vulnerable, but its defense is as good as anyone's.

    This one will come down to which team gets hot at the right time.

Top Storylines

3 of 9

    Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press

    Can Duke go all the way?

    Zion Williamson missed the end of the regular season following the infamous exploding-shoe incident. However, he returned for the ACC Tournament and picked up right where he left off, leading the Blue Devils to a conference championship.

    As long as he's healthy, Duke will have the best player in the Tournament, and there's plenty of other talent up and down their roster. Will that be enough to capture their first title in four years?


    Will Michigan State stay resilient?

    The Spartans had a brutal draw on Selection Sunday, landing in the East region. Their path to an NCAA title will run through Williamson and Duke. But this MSU team has dealt with plenty of adversity this year, weathering injuries to Joshua Langford and Nick Ward.

    This tough Tournament schedule will be just one more hurdle for Tom Izzo's group to overcome, but they've proved time and time again this season that they're up to the task.


    Which Louisville offense will show up?

    Louisville's calling card all season has been its defense, one of the most dangerous in the country. The offense has been another story, though, with its performance often depending on what it gets on a night-to-night basis out of leading scorer Jordan Nwora.

    The Cardinals' chances at making a deep run will come down to whether they can put together a consistent stretch of scoring, which could be a tall order.

Stars to Watch

4 of 9

    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, Duke

    Zion Williamson needs no introduction, but R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish can do a lot to help or hurt their NBA Draft stock in March Madness. Both entered the season as consensus projected top picks, but they have had bouts of inconsistency this year. Strong Tournament performances and a Duke title run will help both tremendously.


    Cassius Winston, Michigan State

    Cassius Winston emerged amid all of Michigan State's injuries and had a breakout campaign, shooting 41 percent from three-point range and leading the team in scoring. The Spartans are deep, but they wouldn't be where they are without him. They won't be able to challenge for a title without him, either.


    Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech

    Justin Robinson was sidelined for the final 12 games of the season with a foot injury, but Virginia Tech announced he has been cleared to play in the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies have missed his scoring and playmaking badly while he's been out, and if he can pick up where he left off, they have dark-horse potential.

Favorites Most Likely to Fall

5 of 9

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    No. 3 LSU Tigers

    The Tigers have been rocked by controversy this season, and head coach Will Wade will almost assuredly remain suspended for the tournament due to his alleged involvement in a recruiting scandal.

    Freshman guard Javonte Smart, who was also alleged to have been involved in that incident, was suspended as well but has been reinstated and will play in the tournament.

    LSU's roster is talented and deep, but changing coaches midseason is less than ideal in the high-pressure environment of the NCAA tournament.

    Against a Yale team that plays efficiently and pushes the pace, there is a chancealbeit a small onethat the Tigers will be caught off-guard in the first round.

    Even in the likely event that they prevail in their first game, a tough Maryland team will almost certainly await them in the round of 32.

Most Likely Cinderella

6 of 9

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    No. 12 Liberty University Flames

    The Flames don't have the top-level talent of some of the higher seeds, but this is a team that isn't going to be rattled by much.

    One thing they have in abundance is experience—their regular rotation includes four juniors and two seniors—and they're deep and balanced.

    If this Liberty team can be described in one word, it's solid. The Flames won't blow anyone away, but they make shots and defend consistently.

    They'll be able to hold their own in the first round against Mississippi State and maybe even defy expectations to make a deep run.

Who Will Make the Sweet 16

7 of 9

    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    No. 1 Duke

    This one isn't complicated. Duke has destroyed teams with Zion Williamson on the floor, and it's hard to see any of their early-round opponents having the firepower to keep up as long as he's healthy.


    No. 4 Virginia Tech

    With consistent contributions from Kerry Blackshear and Nickeil Alexander-Walker along with the return of Justin Robinson, this Virginia Tech team has enough talent to take care of their first two matchups. But it doesn't have quite enough to hang with the top-seeded Blue Devils.


    No. 2 Michigan State

    The combination of Cassius Winston's lethal outside shot and a capable and versatile cast of supporting players will make the Spartans heavy favorites in each of their early Tournament matchups, setting up a must-watch Elite Eight matchup with Duke.


    No. 6 Maryland

    Maryland was one of the most consistent teams in the Big Ten this season at both ends of the floor. But its resume is a mixed bag, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them make the Elite Eight or lose in the first round.

    Either way, the Terrapins turn the ball over too much to be favored against Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

The Elite Eight Matchup Will Be...

8 of 9

    Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press

    No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State

    Picking the chalk matchup is boring, but these are the two teams with the fewest question marks.

    A matchup of two powerhouse programs with legendary coaches, featuring the best player in the country, will be one of the most hotly anticipated games of the entire NCAA Tournament.

    Michigan State fans have to be lamenting the draw they got here, as their tournament run will come to an end in the Elite Eight if they run up against the juggernaut that is a healthy Zion Williamson and the rest of the Blue Devils.

And the Final Four Team Is...

9 of 9

    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    The only doubts about Duke came when Zion Williamson sat out the end of the regular season and its performance took a hit. The Blue Devils looked unbeatable in the ACC Tournament with him back in the fold, just in time for March Madness.

    Now, he has a few games under his belt since the injury, and there will be no slowing down the team going into Final Four weekend.