March Madness 2019: Breaking down the bracket + my picks to win

Here’s the main problem with March Madness office pools: they’re seemingly always won by Judy in Accounting who has watched exactly ZERO college basketball games this year and knows nothing about the sport. It’s insulting when those of us who follow the sport fairly closely get embarrassed by people who pick winners based on mascots.

These following words may be the kiss of death this season but at first glance it’s true: this bracket doesn’t look that difficult.

I’d be very surprised if we saw more than one team below a 2 seed in the Final Four. Heck, it wouldn’t shock me at all if all four #1s made it to Minneapolis.

So without spoiling much more of my bracket, here are a few thoughts and early round upset picks.

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EAST REGION

First Glance Thoughts: There’s Duke…there’s Michigan State…and what else? I’d be VERY surprised if those two teams didn’t meet in the Elite Eight. On paper there isn’t a team who can consistently compete with those two. It’s very well the most clear cut region of the bunch.

Upset Specials: Picking LSU after their scandal essentially costing coach Will Wade his job (for now) is a difficult thing to do. I’ll have Yale in my main bracket to pull the rare 14 over 3 upset. Belmont seems like a trendy underdog choice in the 6-11 matchup vs. Maryland and even if LSU wins in the first round, I think I still like Belmont to advance to the Sweet 16 either way.

The Pick: (1) Duke over (2) Michigan State. The Blue Devils had one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory and Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and RJ Barrett haven’t disappointed. In what would be an epic Elite Eight matchup, I just don’t see MSU having the firepower to outscore the Blue Devils.


SOUTH REGION

First Glance Thoughts: Virginia is on a redemption tour after being the only #1 seed to ever lose to a #16 (vs. UMBC in 2018). Tennessee is among the three most impressive teams I’ve watched this season…but I don’t trust coach Rick Barnes all that much. Both of the top seeds don’t have nearly the cake walk as the favorites in the East region. I could make an argument that both have very challenging matchups in the two games before the Elite Eight.

Upset Specials: Oregon is playing as well as anyone in the country right now and I think the committee underseeded them by at least a few lines. The Ducks beating Wisconsin has to be the most trendy and likely 12-5 upset pick. I’m not picking UC Irvine over Kansas State but the Anteaters are a really impressive 30-5 this season and I don’t see the Wildcats making another Final Four-like run. For pools that reward double-digit seeds winning first round games, these aren’t bad options.

The Pick: (2) Tennessee over (1) Virginia. This Vols team is experienced and excels on offense and defense. Tony Bennett is an excellent regular season coach but his tournament record leaves plenty to be desired. Trusting Barnes’ teams is difficult but I’ll roll with this year’s Tennessee squad to make a deep run.


MIDWEST REGION

First Glance Thoughts: Everything sets up for a North Carolina-Kentucky matchup in the Elite Eight. There are a lot of teams I don’t trust in this region including Auburn, Iowa State, Kansas, and Houston. The first two won their conference tournaments but did they peak two early? Kansas has been an utter disappointment since being ranked #1 in December. Houston has had a heck of a season…but their ceiling looks to be the Sweet Sixteen.

Upset Specials: New Mexico State (12), Northeastern (13), and Ohio State (11) all have a puncher’s chance but I’m not picking any of them. Give me Seton Hall to defeat a stingy Wofford squad in a mild 10-7 upset instead.

The Pick: (1) North Carolina over (2) Kentucky. The Wildcats beat the Tarheels 80-72 in a neutral site game in December. The same result won’t happen again. UNC is peaking at the right time and if not for a missed tip-in last weekend, they would’ve been 3-0 vs. Duke this season and the #1 overall seed in the tournament. Kentucky has been better than I expected since the 34 point drubbing to Duke in the first game of the season but their run ends here.


WEST REGION

First Glance Thoughts: Not a particularly strong region from top-to-bottom. I didn’t think Gonzaga should’ve been a #1 seed after their loss to St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference Tournament. Michigan hasn’t been great since January and appears to be a weak #2 seed. I’ve been high on Texas Tech but they don’t seem to be peaking at the right time. And I’m not buying into Florida State or Marquette. This is the region where carnage is most likely.

Upset Specials: I’m riding with star PG Ja Morant to carry Murray State to a 12-5 upset over Marquette. He’s the second best player in college basketball (at least according to NBA scouts) and will lead the Racers to a stunning upset once again. I’m picking a second round surprise: Nevada, a team who made a deep run last season, over Michigan who lost in the 2018 National Championship Game to Villanova. Buffalo beating Texas Tech and making it as far as the Elite Eight also wouldn’t shock me.

The Pick: (1) Gonzaga over (3) Texas Tech. Not confident in this pick at all. But these are the two best teams in the bracket in my opinion so I’ll tentatively take both to advance this far. After getting revenge on Florida State who knocked them out last year, the Zags defeat Texas Tech and make it to their second Final Four in three years under coach Mark Few.


FINAL FOUR

Semifinals: (1) Duke over (1) Gonzaga; (1) North Carolina over (2) Tennessee
Final: (1) Duke over (1) North Carolina

My Logic: These are the four best teams in college basketball and probably have been all season. Duke is 1-3 vs. these fellow teams, UNC 2-2, Gonzaga 1-2, and Tennessee 1-0. But Duke and UNC are the most talented, play in the best conference in basketball, and let’s be honest, the state of North Carolina couldn’t handle if these two teams played for a fourth time in the National Championship Game! So let’s see it happen. Duke 88, UNC 82 in one of the highest scoring title games of all-time.

Enjoy the madness and please, don’t take these picks to Vegas!

To read previous entries of my blog, click here. Also make sure to follow me on my new Twitter handle, @cohencurse1580.

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