College Sports

NCAA Tournament picks: It will be an all-SEC, all-ACC Final Four

Predicting the 2019 NCAA Tournament:

Final Four

Duke. The youthful Blue Devils have vulnerabilities but, as long as Zion Williamson is healthy and on the court, Duke has the highest talent ceiling in the field.

Tennessee. As the No. 2 seed in a South Region where No. 1 seed Virginia has a history of NCAA tourney flame outs, Tennessee has an open road to its first-ever men’s Final Four.

Kentucky. The Midwest Region will come down to a rematch of UK’s victory over North Carolina in December — and the Cats will again prevail.

Florida State. Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles are long and athletic and, if they make some shots, can beat anyone in the field of 68.

National champion

Duke over Kentucky. The season ends the way it began, with a showdown between college basketball blue bloods. This time, Duke won’t win by 34, but they will still prevail.

Coach K2
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is seeking his sixth NCAA Tournament championship with a Blue Devils team seeded No. 1 overall in the tourney. Gerry Broome Associated Press

Kentucky teams

Kentucky. See above.

Louisville. The Cardinals will give Chris Mack his first NCAA tourney victory as Louisville head man with a victory in a round-of-64 matchup with Minnesota and Richard Pitino laden with pathos. In the East Region round of 32, No. 2 seed Michigan State will get revenge on the No. 7 Cards for U of L’s upset of the Spartans in November.

Murray State. Ja Morant and the No. 12 seed Racers will upset No. 5 Marquette in the West Region round of 64, and push No. 4 Florida State to the limit before falling in the round of 32.

Northern Kentucky. Drew McDonald and the No. 14 Norse will put up a credible fight but fall to West Region No. 3 seed Texas Tech in the round of 64.

Upset specials

No. 11 seed Belmont will beat Temple in the First Four, then upset No. 6 Maryland in the East Region.

No. 6 seed Buffalo will beat either First Four survivor, Arizona State or St. John’s, then upset No. 3 Texas Tech in the West Region round of 32.

No. 13 UC Irvine will upset No. 4 Kansas State in the South Region round of 64.

Buffalo NCAA Tournament
Buffalo upset Arizona in last season’s NCAA Tournament round of 64 and played competitively before falling to Kentucky in the round of 32. Alex Slitz

Bracket breakdown

1. If you average the Pomeroy Rating for the top four seeds in each region, the West (top four seeds have an average rating of 7.8) is the toughest, followed by the East (8.75), the South (10.5) and the Midwest (11.5).

2. The never-ceasing debate over the merits for at-large berths between mid-major teams with excellent records but few chances for marquee victories vs. power-conference teams with mediocre overall results but more quality wins was dulled when “bid thieves” St. Mary’s, Saint Louis and Oregon unexpectedly won league tournaments.

3. Belmont, the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season co-champ who was beaten by Murray State in the league tourney finals, got an at-large bid (albeit through the First Four). With Murray also in the field of 68, this is the first time the OVC has been a multi-bid league since 1987 (Middle Tennessee State, Austin Peay).

NET rankings

NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings for all 68 teams in the 2019 NCAA Tournament:

1. Virginia

2. Gonzaga

3. Duke

4. Houston

5. Tennessee

6. Kentucky

7. North Carolina

8. Michigan State

9. Michigan

10. Texas Tech

11. Virginia Tech

12. Purdue

13. Wofford

14. LSU

15. Buffalo

16. Florida State

17. Wisconsin

18. Auburn

19. Mississippi State

20. Kansas

21. Iowa State

22. Louisville

23. Nevada

24. Kansas State

25. Cincinnati

26. Villanova

27. Maryland

28. Marquette

29. Utah State

30. UCF

31. Florida

32. Saint Mary’s (Calif.)

34. VCU

36. Ole Miss

37. Oklahoma

39. Baylor

40. New Mexico State

42. Syracuse

43. Iowa

44. Murray State

45. Washington

47. Belmont

51. Oregon

55. Ohio State

56. Temple

57. Seton Hall

58. Liberty

61. Minnesota

63. Arizona State

68. UC Irvine

71. Vermont

73. St. John’s

78. Northeastern

86. Yale

100. Old Dominion

103. Saint Louis

115. Northern Kentucky

121. Georgia State

124. Montana

132. Colgate

154. Abilene Christian

173. Gardner-Webb

176. Bradley

202. Iona

203. Fairleigh Dickinson

205. Prairie View

222. North Dakota State

302. N.C. Central


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.