X

March Madness 2019: Updated Bracket and Bold Predictions for Final Four

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 5, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Xavier Tillman #23 of the Michigan State Spartans is defended by Javin DeLaurier #12 of the Duke Blue Devils during the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Each Final Four participant has expectedly played to its strengths throughout the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament, but during Saturday's contests at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, some of those strengths will be neutralized.

While defensive adjustments may stymie offenses, unexpected players will emerge. Given the quality of talent on all four rosters, we could see a breakout star make his mark, similar to Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo in 2018.

                          

2019 NCAA Men's Tournament Bracket

                   

Bold Predictions

Auburn Struggles from Three

Auburn made waves in the Sweet 16 by shooting 45.9 percent from three in a 97-point explosion to knock out No. 1 seed North Carolina. The Tigers weren't as successful against Kentucky, as they only made seven of their 23 attempts.

Jeff Swinger/Associated Press

Against a stingy Virginia defense, they won't come close to hitting their season average of 37.6 percent. In the NCAA tournament, Virginia has held three of its four opponents to under 60 points, with the Carsen Edwards-led onslaught from Purdue in the Elite Eight the lone exception.

Before the win over the Boilermakers, the Cavaliers hadn't conceded 70 points since a Feb. 9 loss to Duke. If you dig even deeper, Tony Bennett's team has given up over 70 points in just two of its victories, with the other coming in nonconference action against Maryland.

By smothering Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Auburn's guards at the three-point line, the Cavaliers will find a way to slow down Bruce Pearl's team. Auburn faces a disadvantage on the glass without the injured Chuma Okeke, which will lead to a lack of second-chance opportunities and an inability to take multiple three-point shots on possessions.

Look to Virginia's defensive shutdown of Oregon in the Sweet 16. In the 53-49 win, the Cavaliers held Dana Altman's team to six offensive rebounds, and Oregon shot 36 percent from downtown.

                            

Tillman Steals Spotlight from Culver and Winston

Going into the second game in Minneapolis, Michigan State's Cassius Winston and Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver will be the main attractions. By the time the game ends, we will be talking about Xavier Tillman's breakout performance for Michigan State.

In the Elite Eight against Duke, he showed little fear going up against Zion Williamson and Co. (19 points and nine rebounds), and he will display the same mentality versus Texas Tech's Tariq Owens.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

With Winston attracting attention, Tillman should see a number of one-on-one chances to score or draw fouls. Looking back, although Duke's Javin DeLaurier had a double-double in the Elite Eight, he ended with four fouls because of Tillman's physicality.

Texas Tech's big men have committed plenty of fouls, with Owens registering seven in the last two games and Norense Odiase called for at least two in his four NCAA tournament contests.

Look for Tillman to assert himself down low and force Owens and Odiase into foul trouble, but in order to become Michigan State's Final Four star, he has to stay out of foul trouble himself. In three of the last four games, he has picked up four fouls.

                     

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.