NCAA Brackets 2019: The Chaos Bracket That Could Actually Happen
Predicting the men's NCAA tournament is all sorts of enjoyable. But because of the upsets, surprises and Cinderella runs, doing it well is extremely hard.
Good. We love chaos!
Last season, UMBC made history as the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 team in the round of 64. That legendary upset was a bracket-buster of the highest degree; according to ESPN.com, only 1.3 percent of bracket participants picked UMBC to beat Virginia. It was the lowest mark of any program during the first round.
Over the past 12 years, the only season that didn't include a No. 2, 3 or 4 seed bowing out immediately was 2007.
History says chaos will happen. Using trends, stats and the good old-fashioned eye test, we've done our best to predict the most reasonable, yet upset-filled, tournament possible in 2019.
Biggest first-round upset: No. 14 Yale over No. 3 LSU
LSU is most effective inside the arc, but the No. 3 Tigers atone for an ugly 32.3 three-point clip with D-I's seventh-best offensive rebounding rate. What happens if they're not grabbing the loose balls? Yale cedes the 24th-lowest percentage of offensive boards and also shoots 37 percent from deep. That could create a major mismatch, especially if Yale's turnovers are at a minimum.
Biggest second-round upset: No. 7 Louisville over No. 2 Michigan State
Hey, it already happened once! Seventh-seeded Louisville edged Michigan State in November despite losing the rebounding battle 45-28 and shooting a lower three-point percentage. The Cards would need to limit Cassius Winston again―a tall task, to be sure―but they wouldn't lack confidence.
Final Four team: No. 4 Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech's recent upset of Duke happened without Zion Williamson, but the Hokies didn't have star guard Justin Robinson, either. The Blue Devils are a horrible three-point shooting team (340th), while the Hokies are terrific (eighth). If Virginia Tech were to hit 40 percent of its trifectas―which it's done 18 times this season with a 16-2 record in those games―Duke would be in serious trouble.
Biggest first-round upset: No. 14 Old Dominion over No. 3 Purdue
No. 3 Purdue's hopes of advancing rest squarely on Carsen Edwards. Since February began, though, he's attempting 9.3 threes per game and hitting a meager 22.5 percent of them. If his cold streak continues and Ryan Cline can't pick up the slack, Purdue will be forced to make shots inside the arc. And 14th-seeded Old Dominion boasts the nation's seventh-best two-point clip allowed.
Biggest second-round upset: No. 7 Cincinnati over No. 2 Tennessee
Cincinnati ranks 19th in two-point defense but 254th on the perimeter. Good thing Tennessee isn't an efficient three-point shooting team! The No. 7 Bearcats' upside is limited because of poor all-around shooting, but stealing a Sweet 16 berth is possible if they prevent Grant Williams from attacking the rim.
Final Four team: No. 1 Virginia
Wouldn't it be wild if Virginia matched its billing? This is the program's fifth top-two seed in six seasons, yet Tony Bennett's teams have reached the Elite Eight once. March Madness is always good for a surprise, and this year it just may be UVA actually delivering on its No. 1 seed status.
Biggest first-round upset: No. 13 Northeastern over No. 4 Kansas
For various reasons, No. 4 Kansas lost three expected key contributors in 2018-19. The Jayhawks still have Dedric Lawson, but he's shouldering a heavy burden. No. 13 Northeastern has the perimeter prowess to take advantage. Four starters attempt at least four triples per game, and they all connect at a 39.3 percent clip or higher. Kansas doesn't have an answer for that strength.
Biggest second-round upset: No. 7 Wofford over No. 2 Kentucky
Similarly, the potential 2/7 tilt would pit Kentucky's biggest weakness against Wofford's elite asset. The Wildcats are 222nd nationally in three-point defense, but Fletcher Magee and Wofford have the second-best conversion rate. If the Terriers were to get hot, UK may be unable to stop them.
Final Four team: No. 5 Auburn
North Carolina loves to play fast, but Auburn's combination of average pace and the nation's best defensive turnover rate can frustrate the Tar Heels. As long as the Tigers complement tempo control with an average three-point shooting day, the SEC tournament champions could send the No. 1 seed packing in the Sweet 16 and become the favorites to reach the Final Four.
Biggest first-round upset: No. 15 Montana over No. 2 Michigan
Last year, Montana took a 10-0 lead against Michigan before losing 61-47. The Big Sky winners eventually had no answer for U-M's defense, which held the Grizzlies to a trio of three-pointers and a 32.1 percent clip overall. But that offense ranked 236th from distance; this No. 15 Montana team is 25th. If the Wolverines can't eliminate the dry spells plaguing the team lately, they're in danger.
Biggest second-round upset: No. 8 Syracuse over No. 1 Gonzaga
Syracuse made the Final Four as a No. 10 seed in 2016 and the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed last season. May as well project another deep run for the No. 8 Orange, right? After all, they bounced Gonzaga in the 2016 Sweet 16. The vaunted Syracuse zone creates turnovers at the 19th-highest rate, and limiting shots for No. 1 Gonzaga is the obvious way to slow a lethally efficient offense.
Final Four team: No. 3 Texas Tech
Third-seeded Texas Tech has the country's best defense, according to KenPom.com. And with the West Region's two best teams out of the picture, the Red Raiders could shine. Jarrett Culver averages 18.5 points and 3.6 assists, while Davide Moretti is an absolute marksman with a 47.8 percent three-point clip.
2011 was the last time a Final Four didn't include a No. 1 seed; Connecticut (3), Butler (8), Kentucky (4) and VCU (11) comprised the group. Our chaos bracket features pairings of:
- No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 3 Texas Tech
- No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 5 Auburn
The first national semifinal would be a fascinating clash of styles. Yes, both programs play at a slow tempo. However, Virginia Tech's 39.4 three-point percentage is eighth-best nationally, while Texas Tech's defense is 17th in the same category. Opponents shoot just 30.2 percent from long range against the Red Raiders.
And defense wins championships, right?
That's why the matchup would be―you likely guessed it―Virginia. After losing to 16th-seeded UMBC last season, the Wahoos have probably worn out their welcome on many brackets. But this is the best three-point shooting team of Tony Bennett's tenure, and the defense remains as excellent as ever.
What a title matchup this would be, too. The statistical profiles for Texas Tech and Virginia are markedly similar.
But we're here for chaos. Give us the Red Raiders and an offense that ranks 16th in field-goal percentage at the rim compared to UVA at 56th, per Hoop-Math.com. Texas Tech holds narrow edges in two-point efficiency on both ends of the floor, and perimeter success would be nearly impossible to find in this showdown.