WGR's NCAA Tournament predictions

Check out our Elite Eight, Final Four and National Championship predictions for the 2019 NCAA Tournament!

Jon Simon
March 21, 2019 - 2:36 am

Photo: Jeremy Brevard - USA TODAY Sports

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There may not be a bigger March Madness tradition in America than filling out a bracket. Every year, millions of people make their predictions, and in most cases, they compete against friends, family, co-workers, etc. 

A handful of WGR staff members decided to partake in the annual festivities. Below are predictions for the Elite Eight, Final Four and National Championship game from Sal Capaccio, Brian Kozial, Pat Malacaro, Kyle Powell and myself; along with full brackets.

 

Sal Capaccio:

ELITE EIGHT:

East Region: (1) Duke over (2) Michigan State

Zion Williamson is not only the best player in college basketball, but the best we’ve seen in many years. Duke has so much more than him, too, including two other potential top-10 NBA Draft picks in R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. Michigan State’s Cassius Winston is also one of the top players in the nation, shooting over 40-percent from three-point range and averaging the third most assists in the country with 7.6 per-game. However, Duke’s Tre Jones is one of the top defenders in America, and that will make it a little tougher on Winston, giving Duke the edge. If anyone is going to upset either of these teams, it could be Virginia Tech. The Hokies can shoot the ball really well and have a solid inside presence in Kerry Blackshear, Jr. They beat Duke (without Williamson) by five points less than a month ago.

West Region: (3) Texas Tech over (4) Florida State

My ACC bias was torn on this one. I really, really like Florida State’s team. They are long, athletic, and deep. The Seminoles have 11 players who’ve averaged over 10 minutes a game! They’ve also been tested and have already beaten several other teams this season, including Virginia Tech twice, Syracuse, Louisville, Florida, LSU, Purdue, and Virginia (in the ACC Tournament). Texas Tech may be the best defensive team in the country and have a potential top-10 NBA Draft pick in guard Jarrett Culver. Buffalo has the ability to break through here if they can shoot the ball well enough from the perimeter. The Bulls are experienced and athletic, but if outside shots aren’t falling, they’ll have a tough time beating teams like Texas ech or Florida State. Michigan will be a pick by a lot of people, but I think they’ll have a tough time scoring enough points against tough defensive matchups throughout this region, including Florida (if they get by a good Nevada team), who has terrific defenders on the perimeter. 

South Region: (2) Tennessee over (1) Virginia

It’s March, and that means Virginia’s going to have to find a way to play with more athletic teams that will push the pace on them. They usually don’t handle that very well, just like they didn’t against Florida State in the ACC Tournament. The good news for the Cavaliers is they are a better offense this year than they have been in the past, and have one of the best shooters in the country in Kyle Guy to go along with De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome in a loaded backcourt. Tennessee is solid on both ends of the court. Grant Williams can do everything and Admiral Schofield is a terrific shooter. They’re balanced and will make things tough on Virginia with their athleticism all over the floor. Don’t sleep on Villanova, of course, the defending national champions, who just now seem to be finding their stride. They aren’t as talented as last year, but Jay Wright knows how to coach in March. Cincinnati is a sneaky play in the region, too. They can scrap with anyone.

Midwest Region: (1) North Carolina over (3) Houston

Zion gets all the publicity, but Carolina guard Coby White might be my favorite player to watch in all of college basketball. Maybe it’s his awesome hair, I’m not sure, but he’s captivating with the ball in his hands and as a shooter. The Heels also have one of the top three-point shooters in the nation in Cam Johnson. We all know head coach Roy Williams has been here before, and it feels like senior Luke Maye has, as well. Houston has been one of the best teams in the nation all season, but has gone under-the-radar, probably because they play in the American Athletic Conference. They play excellent defense and aren’t afraid to launch a bunch of three pointers. However, UNC in this spot would just be a little too much for Kelvin Sampson’s team to handle. If this matchup happens, it might be the most fun of any of the other Elite Eight games. I’m not a huge John Calipari fan, but he deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done with this young Kentucky team this season and how they’re playing now. They could win this region, if they get by Wofford (seriously), who might be the best three-point shooting team in the nation.  


FINAL FOUR:

(1) Duke over (3) Texas Tech

When you get to this point, star players can take over and carry teams to titles (see: Danny Manning, Christian Laettner, Carmelo Anthony, Kemba Walker). Zion Williamson has a great chance to add his name to that list. As good as Tech is on defense, they’ll face a Duke team that can score in too many different ways.

(2) Tennessee over (1) North Carolina

I’ve felt Tennessee has been the best team in the country most of this season, despite a few blips the last month or so. This would be a flip-a-coin type of game, but I just really like the Volunteers’ balance and athleticism, and also don’t want to pick yet another Duke/UNC matchup, which would be the fourth this year. That’s too comfortable and chalky for me.


NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:

(1) Duke over (2) Tennessee

One word: Zion.

 

Sal's full bracket:

 

Brian Koziol:

ELITE EIGHT:

East Region: (1) Duke over (2) Michigan State 

Just two teams with much better rosters, more NBA caliber players and better coaches than anyone else in this bracket. LSU (3) is a mess with their off the court issues, and Virginia Tech (4) and Mississippi State (5) are not much threats to the top-two. I see this as the easiest region for the top-two seeds to get to the Elite Eight. Yale could have a chance to upset LSU in Round 1.

West Region: (4) Florida State over (2) Michigan 

I feel like I could argue for four to five teams in this region to make it to the Elite Eight. Florida State impressed me with how close they played with Duke in the ACC Tournament. Michigan seems to rise to the occasion come tournament time with John Beilein in charge. Buffalo is capable of beating any of these teams, but to ask them to beat Texas Tech, then likely Michigan and then likely Gonzaga or Florida State, that is a tall task for anyone. Obviously, all of Western New York will be pulling for them.

South Region: (2) Tennessee over (1) Virginia 

Chalk here for me in this region. Kansas State (4) is banged up and might not make it out of the first round. Defending champion Villanova (6) is capable of coming out of this region, but they have been too inconsistent to trust this season. Tennessee, again, proved it's for real with their comeback win over Kentucky in the SEC Tourney. 

Midwest Region: (1) North Carolina over (3) Houston 

This region is so deep with teams that are playing well. North Carolina is as athletic as anyone and is as good as anyone. I love the way Houston shoots the ball and they are big and strong and can run too. Iowa State is playing their best ball of the year and seem to have their act together for a run. Kentucky has the toughest path to the Final Four of any two-seed with Houston, Iowa State and UNC all in their way. Even the Seton Hall/Wofford winner will be a tough game for Kentucky. 


FINAL FOUR:

(1) Duke over (4) Florida State

(2) Tennessee over (1) North Carolina



NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:

 (1) Duke over (2) Tennessee

Zion is just too good. He's on his way to a great NBA career too, but for this year, he's the National Player of the Year and a National Champion.

 

Brian's full bracket:

 

 

Pat Malacaro:

ELITE EIGHT:

East Region: (1) Duke over (2) Michigan State

Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. Duke's freshmen have been great all year, I expect their top-two to step up in a big way throughout the tournament.

West Region: (2) Michigan over (1) Gonzaga

I am weary of picking the 'Zags, even though I enjoy seeing them do well in the tournament. Mark Few has turned around that small Jesuit school in Spokane, WA, but it seems like every time the tourney rolls around, John Beilein has the Wolverines prepared to play. Michigan will be too much for Gonzaga.

South Region: (2) Tennessee over (5) Wisconsin

The few times I saw the Volunteers play this season I was impressed. Rick Barnes has been in this spot before (sense a theme in my predictions yet?) and in the top half of the region, I smell an upset with Virginia getting bounced in the Sweet 16 by the Badgers.

Midwest Region: (1) North Carolina over (2) Kentucky

Does it get any more traditional than the Tar Heels and Wildcats? Two historic college programs that land the best recruits year after year. Instead of the SEC owning one side of the bracket, I expect the ACC represented twice in the Final Four.


FINAL FOUR:

(1) Duke over (2) Michigan

(2) Tennessee over (1) North Carolina


NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:

 (1) Duke over (2) Tennessee

I expect the Blue Devils to be in tough against Michigan, but again, the young stars will shine in Minnesota and lead the team to the National Championship game. On the other side, Tennessee wins another close game, maybe even coming down to the last possession. From there, Duke rolls to the title and another ring for head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

 

Pat's full bracket:

 

 

Kyle Powell:

ELITE EIGHT:

East Region: (1) Duke over (2) Michigan State

This feels like the Blue Devils’ tournament to lose. They’ve got all the tools necessary on their side, including a healthy Zion Williamson. It also helps that they’ll hardly have to break a sweat on their way to the final game out of the East Region. Michigan State, on the other hand, I predict will have to topple a couple of hungry six and seven-seeds in Louisville and Maryland after taking care of Bradley in Game 1. For that reason, I see Duke cruising through Michigan State and heading on their way to the Final Four.

West Region: (2) Michigan over (1) Gonzaga

Much like Duke, I see top-seeded Gonzaga being able to kick their feet back en route to the West Regional Final. Victories over Fairleigh Dickinson, Syracuse and Florida State will have them poised to meet two-seed Michigan in the Elite Eight. On a side note, I have Michigan sending the University at Buffalo home in my bracket, after the Bulls crack their way into the Sweet 16 with an upset over Texas Tech. I expect UB to give Michigan hell, but Michigan to ultimately out-last head coach Nate Oats and company ahead of the West Final. Then, I have Michigan riding that momentum and taking down Gonzaga to rob the high-scoring Bulldogs of their second-ever Final Four appearance.

South Region: (2) Tennessee over (1) Virginia

I know, I know. What’s with all the one and two-seeds? They’re good, okay? I’ve got some upsets in the early rounds, but they got these positions for a reason. Virginia’s road, though, I don’t see being quite as easy as Duke’s and Gonzaga’s. I expect Virginia to be in a Sweet 16 battle with one of my dark horses, No. 13 UC Irvine. I see them ending the Anteater’s magical run, but in a close contest, nonetheless. As for Tennessee, I’ve got them getting to the South Region Final with victories over other difficult opponents in Cincinnati and Purdue. They will then meet Virginia in the Elite Eight and take the No. 1 seed down in a dogfight, to become the second two-seed in my bracket to reach the Final Four.

Midwest Region: (2) Kentucky over (1) North Carolina

North Carolina is going to be hungry after being bounced early last year in the Round of 32. The Tar Heels are the No. 1 seed in their region for the 17th time in team history, the most all-time. This was a deep, depth-filled region, definitely tough to decide winners, especially early. At the end of the day, though, I found myself gravitating towards those Tar Heels and Kentucky as well. They’ll both be up against fierce competition all the way through, including the likes of Wofford, Auburn and Utah State, but the pair of No. 1 and No. 2 powerhouses will prevail and have a date in the Elite Eight. From there, I see another two-seed reaching the Final Four as Kentucky takes down UNC. The 17th time just wasn’t the charm, Heels.


FINAL FOUR: 

(1) Duke over (2) Michigan

Duke emerges victorious in a game that is closely contested throughout, but which the Blue Devils begin to pull away late on their way to the National Championship. Michigan has been called a team that can’t be counted out based on previous performances in March, and they’ll live up to those expectations but come up just short of the championship game to a team in Duke that, when healthy, has been virtually unstoppable.

(2) Tennessee over (2) Kentucky

Both of these teams will be riding the high of knocking off the No. 1 seeds of their respective regions. I think this could play out as a raucous-type game, with scoring up and down the court as these pair of bridesmaids duke it out for a chance at Duke. My winner will be the Volunteers, who earn themselves the right to take on the best team in the nation with the best college player on the planet.


NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:

(1) Duke over (2) Tennessee

I think this entire month is going to be the Zion Williamson show, and the National Championship will be no different. I think I’d be a fool, with my limited knowledge of the college basketball landscape, to bet against the best. The Blue Devils complete the inevitable, and take care of Tennessee by a final score of 84-72 to claim the 2019 title. Williamson also has my vote for Final Four MVP, as I anticipate that he will dominate the competition like he has before and be the oft-relied upon catalyst for Duke and company.

 

Kyle's full bracket:

 

 

Jon Simon:

ELITE EIGHT:

East Region: (1) Duke over (2) Michigan State

For the No. 1 overall seed Duke Blue Devils, the road to the regional semifinals should be a pretty smooth one. As for Michigan State, the Spartans could see a tough Louisville (7) team in the Round of 32, possibly followed by six-seed Maryland, a Big Ten foe, or three-seed LSU in the Sweet 16. Regardless, I think Tom Izzo has his team primed and ready to make another deep run into March. However, as it pains me to say this with being a Michigan State alum, that run will end when they face off with Duke in Washington, D.C. Coach K has bested Izzo in every recent matchup and I believe the trend will continue. Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman could be one of the few players in this tournament with the right combination of size, speed and strength to hang with Zion, but the freshman phenom lead the Blue Devils back to the Final Four.

West Region: (2) Michigan over (4) Florida State

I didn’t feel like I went out on too much of a limb picking the hometown UB Bulls in the Round of 32 over three-seed Texas Tech, but I think Michigan will be too much for Nate Oats and company in the Sweet 16. Michigan has been one of the best teams in the country all season and beat a lot of good teams. The Wolverines led the nation in combined quadrant-1 and quadrant-2 wins with 19 (9 Q-1 and 10 Q-2). Despite Florida State’s athleticism and strong showing in the ACC tournament, I think the Wolverines advance and go back to the Final Four for the second consecutive season.

South Region: (2) Tennessee over (5) Wisconsin

A lot of teams that have success in the NCAA tournament did so because of leadership from upperclassmen. Wisconsin senior forward Ethan Happ is as good of a veteran leader as they come in college basketball. Happ and the Badgers missed last year’s tournament all together after making back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. Wisconsin may be slightly overlooked, but I think the South is wide open, and Virginia is always good for a loss in March. As for Tennessee, senior Admiral Schofield and junior Grant Williams, who was named a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year on Wednesday, have led the Volunteers all season. Despite being a three-seed in last year’s tournament, the Volunteers were knocked-out in the Round of 32 by 11-seed Loyola-Chicago, who, of course, eventually made the Final Four. I think last year’s early exit will provide extra motivation to this Tennessee team, and I believe they’ll defeated the Badgers to punch their ticket to Minnesota.

Midwest Region: (1) UNC over (2) Kentucky 

Without any question, there will be a number of great games throughout this year’s tournament, but none may be better than this potential clash between blue bloods. Carolina edged out the Wildcats in the Elite Eight in 2017 en route to the program’s sixth national title. While this year’s Kentucky squad isn’t loaded with NBA-ready talent like in recent seasons, the Wildcats are still as good as any team in the country. However, Roy Williams’ group is a typical Carolina team. The Heels are led by upperclassmen who have played in almost any big college basketball game there is, they run the floor and control the pace of the game, and had the third-highest scoring offense in the nation, averaging 86.1 points per-game. Since getting blown out at home by Louisville in January, the Tar Heels are 15-2 with their losses being at home to Virginia and in the ACC tournament semifinals to Duke. Carolina, to me, is the most complete team in the tournament. Carolina beats Kentucky and advance to their third Final Four in four years.


FINAL FOUR:

(1) Duke over (2) Michigan

As a Michigan State fan, this matchup is simply a nightmare to look at. The only thing that could be worse is if this was the championship game. As much as I don’t like Michigan, I would really like to see John Beilein win a national title. Unfortunately, this Duke team is seemingly unbeatable. Michigan State beat the Wolverines three times this season, and it just wouldn’t sit right with me picking them to beat Duke just after the Blue Devils knocked out the Spartans. Duke wins and heads to the title game.

(1) North Carolina over (2) Tennessee

I’ve already mentioned upperclassmen while talking about both of these teams, and ultimately I think it will be the upperclassmen who’ll be one of the two x-factors. Both of these teams boast a lot of talent, and both were two of the best teams in the nation all throughout the season. However, the Tar Heels have been there before. Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, Cam Johnson and company have played in big games already. Tennessee hasn’t gotten the tournament experience over the last few years like UNC has. Before last year, Tennessee hadn’t made the tournament since 2014. I think Carolina’s players will be able to handle playing on the big stage better, and that’ll help them get a victory. The second x-factor is the coaching. As good as Rick Barnes is, he is not in any way, shape, or form, a coach that is on Roy Williams level. Few are as good as Williams. He’s already brought three championships to Chapel Hill and this year seems to be as good as any to bring a fourth. Whenever he decides to step away, Williams could go down as one of the five best coaches in men’s college basketball history. There are a lot of different things about this Tar Heel group than past teams that have made deep runs and won. But the one thing that’s remained constant is Roy Williams being on that sideline, and I think he leads Carolina back to the title game.


NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:

(1) North Carolina over (1) Duke

I’m not sure if the college basketball world is ready for a UNC versus Duke national title game yet. For as great as a tournament as this one could be, this isn’t the final matchup we need. It’s also the one we deserve. The biggest rivalry in North American sports played on the biggest stage? Count me in every single time. Now I know that my prediction may come as a surprise to some. While everyone else in this thing zigged and went with Duke, I zagged and picked the Tar Heels to cut down the nets. While there’s no question Zion is the best player in the nation, it should be brought up that the team with the best player doesn’t usually win it all. I said before I thought Carolina was the most complete team, and for that reason, I think they’ll get the job done and beat this juggernaut of a team in Duke. Sure, Zion basically didn’t play in either of Duke’s losses to North Carolina, but even in the game he did play against the Heels in the ACC tournament, North Carolina still played Duke to the last possession and lost by only one. Should this be the actual championship matchup, it’ll be a game for the ages and a great end to what is expected to be an entertaining tournament. 

 

Jon's full bracket:

 

 

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