NCAA Brackets 2019: Upset Picks for Each Region

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2019

OXFORD, OHIO - MARCH 01: CJ Massinburg #5 and Jeremy Harris #2 of the Buffalo Bulls reacts after a play in the game against the Miami (Oh) Redhawks at Millett Hall on March 01, 2019 in Oxford, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
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There's no fun in a Duke or North Carolina prediction for Regional winners. We're on the lookout for the next Loyola-Chicago.

The Ramblers, seeded 11th last year, turned the men's NCAA tournament upside down with four victories, coming out of the South Region as the underdog en route to San Antonio, Texas. They fell short of a title, but the program restored hope in bracket-busting double-digit seeds capable of a run to the Final Four.

We expect to see good matchups between the powerhouse schools, but the upsets always breathe fresh air into the tournament. Unheralded playmakers rise to the forefront to claim the spotlight on the big stage. 

Will we see a seed lower than 11th reach the national semifinal this year? There's one team fresh off a conference championship that may accomplish the feat. Keep an eye on a six-seeded small school and a program that's prepared to dance for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign.


South Region: No. 12 Oregon 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 14:  Payton Pritchard #3 of the Oregon Ducks sets up a play against the Utah Utes during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 14, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Ducks defeated the Ute
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

While it's fair to acknowledge the Pac-12 as a weak conference in terms of competition, give credit to Oregon for its tournament title victory. Only two programs from the league made it to the field of 64. Arizona State has a First Four contest with St. John's. The Ducks beat Washington in the Pac-12 championship to secure a slot in the big dance.

The Ducks go into the NCAA tournament with an eight-game win streak and hold a spot within a region that isn't loaded with dominant teams. As a No. 1 seed, Virginia lost to No. 16-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County last year. Until head coach Tony Bennett's group shakes off that historic loss, it's difficult to trust the Cavaliers. 

Oregon may have hit its stride at the right time. Junior guard Payton Pritchard averaged 19.3 points over the last three games. Paired with freshman forward Louis King, the two can keep the Ducks' Cinderella hopes alive.

Kenny Wooten took some bumps on the court over the last week, but he's healthy. The sophomore forward brings a significant boost on the defensive end of the court as a shot-blocker, averaging two swats per game. Without Bol Bol, who's out with a foot injury, the Ducks need Wooten on the interior to compete against physical grind-it-out opponents.


West Region: No. 6 Buffalo

OXFORD, OHIO - MARCH 01: CJ Massinburg #5 of the Buffalo Bulls celebrates after a victory over the Maimi (Oh) Redhawks at Millett Hall on March 01, 2019 in Oxford, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Buffalo won the Mid-American Conference title with a 31-3 record. Under head coach Nate Oats, the program has gone to the Big Dance in three of four terms. Last year, as a No. 13 seed, the Bulls upset Arizona in the first round. Now, this team opens as a favorite against Arizona or St. John's. 

Regardless of who advances to the round of 64, the Bulls have enough firepower to beat either program. Buffalo ranks 16th across the nation in three-pointers and fifth in points per game. The seniors lead this squad; CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris all averaged at least 14 points per contest this year.

Massinburg and Harris won't hesitate to swing the ball around to the open man. Generally, this group moves the ball around adequately. The Bulls rank ninth in assists among Division I schools. Perkins provides a spark off the bench, starting just one game during the regular season.

As an experienced group that displays fluid ball movement, Buffalo profiles as a small school primed to command some eyeballs with a deep tournament run.


East Region: No. 5 Mississippi State 

COLLEGE STATION, TX - FEBRUARY 24:  Quinndary Weatherspoon #11 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs drives with the basketball during their game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Reed Arena on February 24, 2016 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halle
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Michigan State will pose major obstacles for any potential upset teams in the East Region. For those who want to go out on a limb, Mississippi State gives risk-takers hope for a bracket-buster. The Bulldogs have a talented backcourt that can take over a game.

Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters shoot 40 and 38 percent from three-point territory, respectively. Both provide maximum effort on defense and look to create fast-break opportunities from turnovers. On the flip side, they're also frequently careless with their own possession, averaging a combined 5.9 turnovers per contest. 

Head coach Ben Howland should set aside extra time to focus on ball-security issues. If he does and his team responds, the Bulldogs won't bow out of this tournament quietly. Beyond the two lead playmakers, Tyson Carter also brings a nice touch from distance at 37 percent. He stepped into a starting role over Nick Weatherspoon, who's suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.

The Bulldogs have embraced their high-octane offense with three shooters in the starting lineup. If two of the three primary scorers have a hot hand, with 6'10" forwards Aric Holman and Reggie Perry crashing the boards, this team would operate like a well-oiled machine. After a nine-year tournament hiatus, we could see Mississippi State in Minneapolis.


Midwest Region: No. 6 Iowa State

AMES, IA - FEBRUARY 25: Tyrese Haliburton #22 of the Iowa State Cyclones and Talen Horton-Tucker #11 of the Iowa State Cyclones run down in the second half of play at Hilton Coliseum on February 25, 2019 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 78-61 ov
David K Purdy/Getty Images

Iowa State earned some respect during their journey toward a Big 12 title. The Cyclones dominated a high-stakes matchup with Kansas in a 78-66 victory Saturday. 

The Cyclones have four players, who averaged at least 11.5 points per contest this year, one of them, sophomore Lindell Wigginton comes off the bench. He played a huge role in the team's conference championship triumph. The sophomore guard attacked the basket and knocked down 8-of-10 free throws in that contest. He's the second-leading scorer (13.4 ppg) on the roster, hitting 38 percent from three-point land. 

Iowa State doesn't have to depend on its best playmaker Marial Shayok to carry the load in every contest. He's averaging 18.6 points per game as a prolific inside-outside scorer, but freshman guard Talen Horton-Tucker and Wigginton can knock down shots in flurries. 

Opponents will have a difficult time locking down the Cyclones offense. If Shayok's shot falls early, head coach Steve Prohm's group could start off with a sizeable lead that's difficult to erase later in games. 

The Cyclones aren't exceptional in a singular area, but they're efficient across the board. Assuming Iowa State keeps games close, Shayok, Wigginton and Horton-Tucker will have an opportunity to lead their squad to the national semifinal.


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