After a 1st Round that featured (8) double-digit seeded teams winning (including three out of four 12 seeds defeating their 5th-seeded opponent), the 2nd Round was much more pedestrian. The East and West brackets all went “chalk” with the top-4 teams reaching Washington D.C. and Anaheim, and only Oregon (South) and Auburn (Midwest) were crashers to the Regional parties on the other side of the bracket, which still has its top 3 seeds intact.
Although the 2nd Round was not without close calls, most of the teams qualified for the Regionals with ease. LSU held off a pesky Maryland team with a buzzer beater, Tennessee gave up a huge lead and needed overtime to get through a tough-minded Iowa squad, Wofford stayed with Big Blue for most of the game before UK pulled away, and of course UCF gave Duke all they could handle in one of the best NCAA Tournament games played in recent memory. However, these “down-to-the-wire” finishes were a rare occurrence during the weekend games, as the average margin of victory from the rest of the 2nd Round reached almost 18 points.
The lack of upsets coming into the Regionals allows for some incredible matchups, with the best of the best this year ready to take each other on beginning Thursday evening. Let’s take a look at the remaining teams and see who has the best chance to punch their ticket to Minneapolis:
While most of the country has Coach K & Company advancing to the last 4, don’t think this region will be as easy as once thought. Duke has not played their best basketball the last 2 games, and there is an incredibly confident Virginia Tech team waiting for them. The Hokies already have a win against Duke, defeating them in their only match-up this year in Blacksburg. Many point to the fact that Duke was without Zion Williamson in that game, but you also must factor in that VT was without one of their main floor leaders in guard Justin Robinson sitting as well. Both teams are now in full strength and ready to battle. Be careful, Duke fans…if there is a team remaining in the region that seems like they were built to take down Duke, it’s Virginia Tech.
LSU struggled to put Yale away in the 1st round, and then were able to overcome a spirited Maryland team with Tremont Waters banking in the winning layup with just under 2 seconds remaining in the game. An incredibly generous 3-seed has helped LSU play mediocre teams, but they will certainly be no match for Michigan State. Tom Izzo has his team firing on all cylinders right now with easy wins over Bradley and fellow Big Ten resident Minnesota. Look for MSU to continue the trend of double-digit wins before falling to whomever wins the Duke/VA Tech game.
Talk about déjà vu! The West Region from the 2018 tournament? Gonzaga, Florida State, Michigan and Big 12 school whose name begins with Texas (A&M). The West Region in 2019? Gonzaga, Florida State, Michigan and a Big 12 school whose name begins with Texas (Tech). A tip of the cap to some of the NCAA Selection Committee having a sense of irony. Or humor!
Gonzaga has seemingly cleaned themselves up after the horrible St. Mary’s loss 2 weeks ago, as they were dominant in early games against FDU and Baylor. Brandon Clarke put on a show against the latter, as the junior forward poured in 36 points on the way to a dominant performance. This is the 5th year in a row that the ‘Zags have reached the Sweet 16, more than any current team. And a tidy little rematch of a Sweet 16 game from last year awaits them against…
Florida State. An upstart Middle Tennessee State team with a national POY candidate were no match for the veteran ACC squad, as The Seminoles overwhelmed them in every aspect of the game en route to a 28-point drubbing in Hartford, CT. Playing their best basketball of the year right now, Leonard Hamilton has his team hoping for a repeat performance from last year’s tournament against this year’s Zags. FSU was the underdog then, having defeated 1-seeded Xavier to earn their way to a matchup with Gonzaga. The Seminoles’ balanced attack lead to a 15-point win and a berth in the Regional Final against…
Michigan. The national runners-up from 2018 also easily advance to the West region semifinals, after defeating Montana (incredibly, also a team they defeated last year) and pulling away from Florida in the 2nd half on Saturday. Defense has been the Wolverine’s calling card all season, stifling their opponent’s offense while capitalizing on turnovers created. Michigan has the 2nd most efficient defense in the NCAA coming into the regional semis. The #1 ranked defense?
Texas Tech. The swagger of the TTU players and confidence exuded is second only to its coach, as Chris Beard has his team on the 3-seed line for the 2nd year in a row and playing up to the hype. And although Jarrett Culver brings much to the offensive side of the ball for the Red Raiders, it won’t be enough as Michigan’s balanced attack should be the decider in this defensive matchup of the year.
Florida State upends Gonzaga and has another rematch 2 days later, once again against the Wolverines with a chance to make it to the national semifinals. This year, the “Tomahawk Chop” gets it done.
The #1 seed in the region once again struggled early against their 16-seed opponent this year, although unlike last year when UMBC made history as the only 16 seed to ever win a 1st Round game, the Cavaliers woke up with just enough time to pull away in the 2nd half. That “wokeness” continued with a dominant performance over Oklahoma and should prove difficult to overcome for the Ducks in the regional semifinals.
Kudos to the Ducks for finally playing up to their potential, as they ran the Badgers right out of the gym before outlasting the equally upset-minded Anteaters from UC-Irvine. Oregon is the sole double-digit seed to make it out of the first weekend but will need a much more balanced offensive attack of Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Ehab Amin and the rest of the team. While overcoming a 14-0 run against the Anteaters was encouraging, giving up a similar run to a far more formidable Virginia team will certainly earn them a quick flight back to Eugene on Thursday night.
The Volunteers barely escaped what would have tied the single-largest comeback in NCAA Tournament, which should teach a very valuable lesson for Rick Barnes to use with his team. Iowa outplayed, out-hustled and out-focused UT for the entire 2nd half, embarrassing the much more talented squad. Look for the Vols to learn from this get by an equally-gritty Purdue team.
Tennessee’s defense has been suspect the last few weeks, and that “Jekyll & Hyde” output will simply not allow them to stay with a much more seasoned and balanced Virginia team. Both teams have impressive resumes in the regular and conference seasons; however, UVA is playing much better with much more consistency on the defensive end of the floor and should make quick work of what can sometimes be a very exciting Vols team.
The Midwest regional is the most wide-open at this point, in our opinion. All 4 of these teams could very easily be cutting down the nets on Sunday afternoon in Kansas City. And while the locals in KC were certainly hoping for a de facto home game for the Jayhawks, they should still be satisfied with the fact that they have 3 incredible tournament games in store for them.
Like Virginia, the Tar Heels had to overcome a very slow start in their first-round game before defeating Iona. Washington was not as fortunate to receive another slow UNC start however, as Luke May, Nassir Little and company rolled to an early lead and a dominant overall performance to qualify for yet another Sweet 16 for coach Roy Williams.
After what could have been a disastrous 1st round exit against New Mexico State, Auburn is back to playing as a national championship contender with a full out dismantling of the “blue chip” Kansas Jayhawks. The defensive pressure that Auburn presents, combined with a transition offense that is the best in the country, is going to give North Carolina all they can handle.
Kentucky took care of business against an underrated Wofford team and are now primed for a test against what many believe is the best top-to-bottom team in the tournament this year in the Houston Cougars. They are almost impossible to score against in the paint, have a high tendency to create turnovers, and have one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country.
Houston should take care of the young Wildcats before the final against either UNC or Auburn. We give the edge to Houston against either team, although the Midwest region is anybody’s to win at this point.
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