Best seed prognosis: According to this FiveThirtyEight version, high seed Duke has got the best chance of advancing to the Final Four at the entire area (53 percent probability) as well as the best likelihood of winning the national title (19 percent).
The Blue Devils are led by four soon-to-be first-round draft selections, including Zion Williamson, among the greatest abilities in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel to the offensive end and far stingier on defense than many might realize. This is among Mike Krzyzewski’s most-balanced teams and jobs to become his first since 2010 to rank within the top six at Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. That team won the national title.1
This group lacks, however, is touch along the perimeter. Duke shoots a ghastly 30.2 percent from beyond the arc, the worst marker among tournament-qualifying teams. Within an offensive age increasingly dominated by space and perimeter scoring, then the Blue Devils could buck the trend punishing the rim.
On the opposite side of the region is the winner of the Big Ten conference championship, Michigan State. As their reward, the No. 2 Spartans have the honor of a potential matchup from the top overall seed in the Elite Eight. Head coach Tom Izzo was none too happy. The Spartans are pummeled by injuries but remain one of the most balanced teams in the country, standing inside the top eight in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 4 Virginia Tech. Directed by the celebrity pairing of Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Hokies are a balanced squad that ranks among Pomeroy’s Top 25 teams on both the offense and defense. Although they have dropped eight times, only two of these were by double-digits. Virginia Tech also has a not-altogether-unfriendly attraction, with extremely winnable opening matches against Saint Louis (87 percent) and the Mississippi State-Liberty winner (63 percent) before most probably running into Duke’s juggernaut. We give the Hokies a decent 25 percent chance against the Blue Devils — along with a 54 percent chance against individuals emerges from the bottom of the region if they do manage to knock off Duke.
Do not bet : No. 3 LSU. With coach Will Wade embroiled in a pay-for-play scandal and his team likely overvalued as a 3-seed, the Bayou Bengals could be ripe for an upset in this tournament. They ranked only 18th in Pomeroy’s ratings — roughly the quality of a No. 5 seed — thanks in large part to a defense that didn’t even decode the country’s top 60 in corrected efficiency. (This showed up in the 51 second-half things they permitted to Florida while losing their first game of the SEC tournament.) Their NCAA path is not very easy, either: Yale is no pushover as a No. 14 seed, nor will be possible second-round competitor Maryland, also we give the Tigers a mere 26 percent likelihood of beating Michigan State when the teams meet in the Sweet Sixteen. This is easily the lowest-rated top-three seed within the field.
Cinderella watch: No. 11 Belmont. The East is top-heavy, with Duke and Michigan State soaking up most of the Final Four chances. But the Bruins are still an intriguing lower-seeded team due to an impressive offense led by do-everything swingman Dylan Windler. According to Pomeroy, Belmont ranks 20th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (and second nationally in raw points per game behind Gonzaga), whereas Windler was among only 3 players nationwide to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Although the Bruins do have to win a play-in match against Temple only to make the area of 64 — we give them a 59 percent chance — they would have a very aggressive 39 percent probability of upsetting Maryland in the first round and an even better chance from the LSU/Yale winner.
Player to watch: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Three decades back, zzo said he thought his 6-foot-1 freshman would be Michigan State’s best passer because Magic Johnson. The Spartans’ do-everything point guard — one of the best facilitators from the country — is validating his coach’s comment. Just Murray State’s Ja Morant, a surefire lottery pick in this year’s draft, has a higher assist speed than Winston (46.0 percent). And behind Winston, the Spartans assist on the highest rate of field goals in the nation.
The junior also appears to be Izzo’s leading scorer and among the nation’s greatest perimeter threats, shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. As harms have relentlessly sapped the Spartans of their on-court production, Winston has raised his game to compensate. As he put it to The Athletic,”I have to do a lot for my team to win”
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Central Florida over No. 8 VCU (47 percent); No. 11 Belmont* over No. 6 Maryland (39 percent); No. 10 Minnesota over No. 7 Louisville (34 percent)
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