As we head into the home stretch of another epic college hoops season, it's time to get those pens, papers and highlighters ready as we prepare for Selection Sunday on March 17th. Here, we're providing you—the bracket-playing, finger-crossing hoops fanatic—with a handy rundown of likely upsets, potential Cinderella stories and championship contenders for the Big Dance. Fasten your seat belts and clutch those brackets!
2019 NCAA Tournament Guide: Premature Theories Edition
Here's your inside scoop on likely upsets, potential Cinderella stories and championship contenders to help your bracket
The four teams projected to be No. 1 seeds are Duke, Gonzaga, Virginia and Tennessee. Of course, as we head into conference tournament play, these projections are always subject to change— you never know when a team might suddenly lose the momentum they have built up throughout the season. If you have to choose a winner, you can base your decision on two factors: the team's stats and the route they have to take to get to the championship.
If you are the fan who values team stats as an indicator of prospective success, then you have no choice but to throw Virginia into the mix. They might have been on the receiving end of a landmark upset in the 2018 NCAA tournament, becoming the first No. 1 seed to suffer a defeat at the hands of a No. 16 seed. But for the second year in the row, the Cavaliers are the best defensive team in the league, allowing an average of only 54.6 points per game.
It has become more and more likely that the team with the easiest route is the Blue Devils. With Zion Williamson absolutely dominating the court this season, the young Blue Devils have been running teams out of the gym. The only thing that may stop them from cutting down the net is their lack of experience as March Madness tends to favor veteran rosters.
Our pick: Duke. There's too much talent for Coach K not to bring one back to Cameron Indoor Stadium. Coach K better milk these moments while he can because Zion, RJ and Cam will more than likely be some of the top picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.
This Year's 2011 UCONN Team
No run to a national championship game has ever been as impressive as UConn's in 2011. Between the Big East Conference and the NCAA tournament, Kemba Walker led the Huskies to 11 straight wins while securing the school's third national championship.
Fast forward to 2019, and there are some schools who have the ability to spark that kind of epic run, putting them among the game's all-time greatest dark horse champs. LSU Tigers, a highly talented team with one of the nation's top offenses, are looking like the underdog contenders to run the table in the SEC and NCAA tourney. Led by sophomore sensation Tremont Waters and freshman phenom Naz Reid, the purple-and-gold crew in the Bayou has a plethora of weapons to change the outcome of games as the "Tri-State" tandem is on a quest to bring a ship to the Big Easy.
Then there is St. John's Red Storm. Having won 12 out of their 13 games, Coach Chris Mullin's squad has been on an early-season tear. Ranked as high as No. 25, they stumbled and struggled to survive throughout the first five games of conference play. But with outstanding playmaking abilities and admirable leadership qualities from junior guard Shamorie Ponds, the Red Storm team has the talent and the length to ruin everyone's bracket and bring home a national championship to Queens for the first time in the school's history. Ponds—a Brooklyn native— is ready to step into the spotlight and remind the basketball world that if you have an NYC-bred guard on your team, then you are bound to create some shining moments. Just ask Kemba, both Kennys (Anderson and Smith), Jimmer and Russdiculous.
Every year, the NCAA tournament has been a party for plenty of teams America has never seen or heard of. Whether it was Dunk City's own Florida Gulf Coast, who upset powerhouses Georgetown University and San Diego State University in 2015, or UMBC (University of Maryland-Baltimore County) becoming the first No. 16 team ever to defeat a No. 1 team in a Division I tournament game—in convincing fashion, too. Is there a chance we will get to witness history like this again? Not likely, but there are some intriguing teams that, if they're seeded at No. 15, will be in the position to send a No. 2 back to their campus earlier than expected.
One of the schools to watch out for is Norfolk State University. If the school name rings a bell for you, then you probably remember them defeating No. 2 Missouri in 2013. Well, the Spartans may be back to do it again as they are in the position to win the MEAC conference. Coach Rob Jones has his troops in tip-top shape to have another formal coming out party as hoops' Cinderella squad of 2019. They can't do it without their sharpshooter Derrik Jamerson Jr., who is in the top five in the nation for 3-point percentage.
Murray State is floating under the radar as a potential lottery pick that's lighting up the scoreboard in an entertaining fashion. The Racers can be a team to make a lot of noise in the tournament thanks to Ja Morant. The high-flying play-making point guard has been averaging 26.4 points and 10.2 assists a game—both of which land him in the top five in the nation for scoring and assists. A brewing regular on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays, this kid dynamite can quietly knock out one of Duke's freshmen standouts as a top three pick in the upcoming NBA draft depending on how well his Murray State team performs in the NCAA tournament.
Then there is SUNY-Buffalo, led by crafty scorer CJ Massinburg, who have been terrorizing teams left and right. Granted they have been ranked pretty generously for most of the season, but this small school in upstate New York has been the unsuspecting, hottest ticket in the basketball world. After all, it is always a team like this from a mid-major conference like the MAC that can upset perennial powerhouse squads at any moment. Last year, as a No. 13 ranked squad in the first round of the NCAA tournament, they lit up the No. 4 ranked Arizona Wildcats. But that winning high abruptly came to an end when Kentucky cruised past them in the second round.
The major key of being a dangerous sleeper team is possessing the ability to knock down the three ball. Wofford University is one of the best at draining it from the deep ends of the court. In 18 games, the Terriers averaged 13.4 3-pointers a game, sinking roughly 50 percent of these attempts. With sharpshooter Fletcher Magee surpassing former Blue Devil long ball assassin J.J. Redick, the Terriers will be a formidable team come March.
A Hot Take for the Road
Whoever Drake is rooting for...may the hoop gods be with you. You will need it.
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