2019 March Madness Expert Bracket Picks: Instinctive First Reaction Predictions
One of the things I like to do on the night the brackets are released every year is make my instinctive March Madness bracket picks. Things might change as I dive deeper into the bracket - and overthink every single aspect of it - but by going off of first impressions and what the gut says, we often wind up with a bracket that is interesting. And I'll do it all again after the first weekend, so I have a mulligan in my pocket if I need it - and I likely will, if the past is any indication. Last year, though, I had Villanova beating Michigan in the final when I did this exercise, so maybe lightning will strike two years in a row.
I hope N.C. Central wins the play-in game. They will get crushed lifeless by Duke, of course, but I love the idea of two schools located three miles apart playing each other. VCU should bounce back from a conference tournament upset to win their opener, but then they'll fall hard to Duke. I like Liberty to pull off the upset against Mississippi State, and perhaps they'll even beat Virginia Tech - a team that feels overrated. But then that team will against get crushed by Duke - notice a trend yet? On the bottom half, I like Belmont to win the play-in, upset Maryland, and then fall to LSU. Minnesota will beat Louisville - a touch of revenge for the Pitino family - before losing to a Michigan State team that has already humiliated them once this year. Michigan State will beat LSU to stick to form, but then will be like a bug under Zion Williamson's massively reinforced shoe - like everyone else. Duke wins the East.
Virginia is going to avoid the trap of losing to a No. 16 again in their opener against Gardner Webb and then will like the feeling so much that they will win again over Oklahoma and then keep rolling over a Kansas State team that beat Wisconsin to get there. Villanova has been disappointing at times this year, but they have found their stride and are in their element. They will beat Saint Mary's and then upset Purdue to make the second weekend. Cincinnati will beat Iowa and then upset Tennessee to set up a very interesting Sweet 16 matchup. Cincinnati will win again, but then will lose to Virginia. Yes, I am picking Tony Bennett to get a No. 1 Virginia squad to the Final Four for the first time in four tries. And I will likely regret that.
There are going to be a couple of upsets here, but it is going to be chalky in the end. Gonzaga will cruise in their opener, fueled by the anger of an embarrassing conference tourney loss. They'll beat up on Syracuse, too. We'll see a couple of upsets next, as Ja Morant leads Murray State past Marquette and then past a Vermont team that upset Florida State. The Racers come to a halt against the Bulldogs, though. On the bottom Texas Tech beats Buffalo but then loses to a Michigan team that got past Nevada in the second round in a tough win. Gonzaga then beats Michigan in the Elite Eight to move on to Minneapolis.
We've wound up with three No. 1 teams in the Final Four already. All four have advanced to the Final Four just once before. Will this be a second? I'm going to go with no. North Carolina will beat Utah State. Auburn will keep rolling - Bruce Pearl seems dialed in. They beat New Mexico State, beat a very vulnerable Kansas team, and then pull off a stunner and beat North Carolina. Houston will beat Iowa State and then lose to a Kentucky team that beat Wofford after a tough battle. Kentucky will beat Auburn like they already have twice this year.
Duke is going to beat up on Virginia in their Final Four matchup, and then Gonzaga will beat Kentucky. That will set up a rematch of an earlier game this year. Duke lost that one by two points. They will win this one by more. There is one big assumption I am making, of course - that Zion Williamson stays healthy and plays the whole tournament. Picking the favorite is so boring, but with him in the lineup I don't see another option. Duke isn't perfect - they lack depth, and if a team can get Williamson in foul trouble early, they could do some damage without him. And Gonzaga and Virginia are both deep and talented, and both have seen this Duke team up close already. But sometimes you have to just pick the best player and ride with him, and Williamson is so much better than everyone else here that it's a little crazy.
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