NCAA Bracket 2019: Schedule, Title Picks and Predictions After Selection Sunday

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2019

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - MARCH 02: De'Andre Hunter #12 of the Virginia Cavaliers drives past Jared Wilson-Frame #4 of the Pittsburgh Panthers in the second half during a game at John Paul Jones Arena on March 2, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)
Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Whatever methodology you use to dominate your pool, the release of the 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket means it's time to be a college basketball expert once again. 

This year's tourney is heavy on contenders from the ACC. Duke, North Carolina and Virginia sit atop of their respective regions, but there are plenty of contenders outside of the Atlantic that could make a run at the title. 

With Selection Sunday now in the rear-view, here's a look at the schedule so you can manage any "sick days" you may want to take to watch your bracket come to fruition. 


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)


Final Four Predictions

East: Duke

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 15: Cam Reddish #2 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles down court against the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game in the semifinals of the 2019 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 15, 2019 in C
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The only thing that's been able to hold back Duke this season is injuries. RJ Barrett and Javin DeLaurier are the only two players who have featured in every game for the Blue Devils this season. 

In addition to being a physical force, coach Mike Krzyzewski's team is also set up with a relatively nice path to the Final Four.

The other top seeds in their bracket include Virginia Tech, Michigan State and LSU. 

Virginia Tech beat Duke earlier in the year, but that was without Zion Williamson in the lineup, and it finished fifth in the ACC with losses to North Carolina, Virginia and Florida State (aka, any elite team in the conference it played other than Duke). 

Not only is Williamson back in the lineup, but he's putting up historic numbers right now:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Zion Williamson averaged 27 PPG and 10 RPG during the ACC Tournament. Zion and Kevin Durant are the only freshman to average at least 25-10 in a conference tourney over the last 20 seasons (min. 3 games) https://t.co/pGnwZaJBkQ

LSU enters the tournament with a questionable situation, with head coach Will Wade still suspended. The Tigers were bounced in their first SEC tournament game against Florida. 

That leaves Michigan State as a real threat. Cassius Winston's play at point guard will give the Spartans a chance at pulling an upset. But picking this game comes down to whose ceiling is the highest, and that is the Blue Devils if they are still healthy at this point in the tournament. 


West: Texas Tech

AMES, IA - MARCH 9: Jarrett Culver #23 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders takes a shot as Nick Weiler-Babb #1 of the Iowa State Cyclones blocks in the first half of play at Hilton Coliseum on March 9, 2019 in Ames, Iowa. The Texas Tech Red Raiders won 80-73 ov
David K Purdy/Getty Images

The popular pick here is Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are the No. 1 team this season and a legitimate National Championship contender. 

The problem with picking them is they are only 4-3 against Quadrant 1 teams. Both Michigan (9-5) and Texas Tech (8-5) have more experience and more wins against elite competition. 

The matchup between the Red Raiders and the Wolverines will be one worth watching. They are Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com. Michigan is coming off an appearance in the National Championship Game last season, while Texas Tech got to the Elite Eight. 

The winner of the matchup will be the favorite to see Gonzaga in the Elite Eight and will have more experience in big games. 

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they've come up short in the biggest games recently. Their recent struggles and three straight losses to the Spartans are a bad harbinger for a deep tournament run:

Joe Osborne @JTFOz

Bracket Tip: Be on the lookout for No. 2 seeds who’ve won six or fewer of their last 10 games. There have been 13 instances of this since 1997, and a whopping NINE of them have lost in the second round! Both Michigan and Tennessee are 6-4 in its last 10 games.

The Red Raiders' ravenous defense should be the catalyst for another magical run, taking them one step further than last season. 


South: Virginia

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 15: Kyle Guy #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers reacts after a play against the Florida State Seminoles during their game in the semifinals of the 2019 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 15, 2019 in Cha
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

If you're unwilling to back the Cavaliers as a Final Four team, it's easy to understand. Virginia has chronically underachieved in the tournament under Tony Bennett. 

Aside from a first-ever loss to a 16th seed in last year's NCAA Tournament, 74-54 against UMBC, his teams have only made it to the Elite Eight once despite all of his regular season success. 

This year should be different, though. His teams have been dominant defensively, but this year the Cavaliers have a bit more offensive firepower. They're fourth in the country in three-point percentage, shooting 40.9 percent as a team, and are second in offensive efficiency on KenPom. 

In the past, the 'Hoos have struggled when the offense stalls, but NBA Lottery prospect De'Andre Hunter should help in that area as he is adept at scoring in isolation. 

Many will shy away from picking Virginia after getting burned last year. This isn't last year. A lot of people are going to be irritated with this region when the Cavaliers get some redemption with Bennett's first appearance in the Final Four. 


Midwest: Kentucky

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - MARCH 16:   Jordan Bowden #23 of the Tennessee Volunteers and Keldon Johnson #3 the Kentucky Wildcats battle for a loose ball during the semifinals of the SEC Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 16, 2019 in Nashville
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The ACC may put up three No. 1 seeds, but one of them is a cut below the rest. The Tar Hells simply don't have the same kind of resume as the rest of the top-seeded teams. 

Aaron Torres @Aaron_Torres

Doing some digging, and I'll be honest: I dont see a single argument for giving North Carolina a No. 1 seed. Never beat Duke at full-strength, lost to Virginia head-to-head, lost to Kentucky head-to-head, lost to Michigan head-to-head. What am I missing? Where are the great wins?

The midwest is a region where chaos could reign supreme, but it's hard to pick against a Kentucky team whose struggles were primarily early in the season. The Wildcats were blown out by Duke and lost heartbreakers to Seton Hall and Alabama before closing out the year with a 17-3 run. 

Kentucky holds a slight edge in Quadrant 1 games (10-5) over North Carolina (10-6), with a quality win over North Carolina back in December to boot. 

Of all the regions that could get flipped upside down, this feels like it might be it. However, if it doesn't, a true battle of blue bloods could determine who gets to add to their long list of Final Four appearances. Despite the seeds, it feels like the Wildcats have the advantage. 


Champion: Duke

This might seem like the boring pick. The Blue Devils come to the tournament as the No. 1 seed, and Zion Williamson has been the top story in college basketball all season. 

But if it looks like a national champion, plays like a national champion and gets a chance to be a national champion, then it's likely a national champion. 

It won't be easy with a few talented and experienced teams on the table, but Duke's talent and depth should carry through the tournament and give the program its sixth tournament championship.


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