NCAA Bracket 2019: Updated Schedule and Predictions After Wednesday First Four

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2019

Luguentz Dort led Arizona State to a First Four win over St. John's.
Luguentz Dort led Arizona State to a First Four win over St. John's.John Minchillo/Associated Press

After victories by North Dakota State and Arizona State in the First Four games Wednesday night, it's all about the first-round games in the NCAA tournament.

Action in the round of 64 gets underway early Thursday, 

North Dakota State received a 23-point effort from Tyson Ward, and Vinnie Shahid hit a pair of free throws with eight seconds left to seal the 78-74 victory. The Bison will play top-seeded Duke Friday in Columbia, South Carolina.

North Dakota State showed its poise down the stretch. 

"I thought that was key to make free throws, something that we've pretty much done all year," coach David Richman said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "Again, when it's this time of year, it's going to come down to possession here, possession there and those free throws. Every one of them is crucial."

Arizona State jumped out to a big lead over St. John's, and while the Red Storm played much better in the second half, the game belonged to the Sun Devils. They picked up a 74-65 victory in Dayton, Ohio, and will play sixth-seeded Buffalo in its first-round game.

Freshman Luguentz Dort led the way for the Sun Devils, as he scored 21 points in the game. Zylan Cheatham played a supporting role with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Dort explained his team's game plan in a post-match interview with sideline reporter Rosalyn Gold-Onwude: "We wanted to keep moving the ball and then get it inside to our bigs. We have to keep doing the same thing if we are going to be successful."


First-Round Games (All Times Eastern)

Thursday, March 21

No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Minnesota, 12:15 p.m. (CBS), Louisville -5, Minnesota 73, Louisville70

No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Yale, 12:40 p.m. (truTV), LSU -7.5, Yale 66, LSU 60

No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 12 New Mexico State, 1:30 p.m. (TNT), Auburn -5.5, Auburn 69, New Mexico St. 61

No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Vermont, 2 p.m. (TBS), Florida State -9, Vermont 64, Florida State 61

No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Bradley, 2:45 p.m. (CBS), Michigan State -18.5, MSU 87, Bradley 60

No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Belmont, 3:10 p.m. (truTV), Maryland -3, Belmont 70, Maryland 65

No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Northeastern, 4 p.m. (TNT), Kansas -6.5, Northeastern 77, Kansas 74

No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray State, 4:30 p.m. (TBS), Marquette -3.5, Murray State 80, Marquette 74

No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Florida, 6:50 p.m. (TNT), Nevada -2.5, Nevada 62, Florida 58

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Abilene Christian, 7:10 p.m. (CBS), Kentucky -22, Kentucky 88, Abilene Christian 56

No. 6 Villanova vs. No. 11 Saint Mary's, 7:20 p.m. (TBS), Villanova -4.5, Saint Mary's 74, Villanova 73

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. Fairleigh Dickinson, 7:27 p.m. (truTV), Gonzaga -27.5, Gonzaga 87, FDU 60

No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Montana, 9:20 p.m. (TNT), Michigan -15, Michigan 77, Montana 59

No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall, 9:40 p.m. (CBS), Wofford -2, Seton Hall 69, Wofford 60

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 Old Dominion, 9:50 p.m. (TBS), Purdue -12.5, Purdue 81, Old Dominion 72

No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 9 Baylor, 9:57 p.m. (truTV)

All point-spread information courtesy of VegasInsider.


Michigan State vs. Bradley

The Spartans were not happy with their seeding Sunday night, as they had beaten Michigan for the third time this season and won the Big Ten tournament.

The thought around East Lansing is they deserved better than a No. 2 seed. The fact they are in the same bracket with overall No. 1 Duke is not comforting, either.

While head coach Tom Izzo didn't like it, he knew he had to make sure his team put any negative thoughts behind them and prepared for its first opponent.

"Hey, we probably should've gotten a better seed ... but we've got to let it go," Izzo told his players, according to assistant coach Mike Garland, per Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press

The Spartans bring a 28-6 record into the tournament, and they tied for the Big Ten regular-season crown with Purdue before winning the conference tournament.

This is a powerful and tough team that knows what winning is all about, and they should be able to take care of business against a rather ordinary Bradley team that got hot in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Cassius Winston is a dominating performer for the Spartans, and he leads the team with an average of 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He is a dangerous three-point shooter, connecting on 40.4 percent of his shots from distance.

Nick Ward and Matt McQuaid are both capable of taking over whenever Winston needs help, and they combine for nearly 24 points per game.

Bradley brings a 20-14 record into the tournament and was 9-9 in the conference before picking up tight victories over Missouri State, Loyola-Chicago and Northern Iowa in the conference tournament.

Darrell Brown leads the way for the Braves with an average of 14.7 points per game, but his 39.7 shooting percentage is troubling. Elijah Childs contributes 12.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Michigan State ranks third in adjusted offense and eighth in adjusted defense in the KenPom ratings, while Bradley is 244th and 118th in those same two categories, respectively. 

The Spartans may not be thrilled with their seed, but they should roll to an easy win in the first round.


Villanova vs. Saint Mary's

The national champion Villanova Wildcats showed off their toughness and determination in winning the Big East Conference tournament for the third year in a row.

The Saint Mary's Gaels proved they are a talented force to be reckoned with when they defeated West Region No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Championship game.

There is no question head coach Jay Wright has once again drilled his team hard and imbued the Wildcats with an indomitable spirit, but this isn't the same team that has won two of the last three national championships. It simply does not have the same talent level.

It might seem likely that a team with this kind of pedigree and history might win at least a couple of games in the tournament, but Villanova will have its hands filled with the Gaels.

The Wildcats put together a 25-9 regular-season record, and they come into the tournament having won five of six games. However, just before that closing burst, they lost three matches in a row.

The Wildcats are led by guard Phil Booth, who is scoring 18.6 points per night, and he is getting help from forward Eric Paschall, who scores 16.5 points and takes down 6.5 rebounds per game.

Villanova ranks 16th in the KenPom adjusted offense ratings but just 74th in adjusted defense. That could be a problem, because St. Mary's has the ability to score on the inside.

The Gaels bring a 22-11 record into the tournament, and guard Jordan Ford leads the way with a mark of 21.3 points per game, and he is connecting on 49.4 percent of his shots. Forward Malik Fitts is contributing 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Saint Mary's ranks 21st in the KenPom adjusted offense category and 53rd in the adjusted defense, so there's no reason they shouldn't be able to stay with the Wildcats for 40 minutes.

Look for Saint Mary's to get the hard-fought win over the national champions.