NCAA Tournament: Picks for the Final Four, upsets, Cinderella and more

 newsok.com  03/18/2019 00:27:47 

Ja Morant and 12th-seeded Murray State could make big waves in the NCAA Tournament. [Sam Owens/Evansville Courier & Press via AP]
Ja Morant and 12th-seeded Murray State could make big waves in the NCAA Tournament. [Sam Owens/Evansville Courier & Press via AP]

Ryan Aber, OU beat writer

Favorite: Duke. Zion Williamson showed once again last week that he’s the most dynamic player in college basketball. Williamson’s return makes the Blue Devils the most dangerous team in the field.

Final Four: Duke, Texas Tech, Tennessee, North Carolina. The championship games has a Tobacco Road feel but the Volunteers and Red Raiders keep it from being an all-ACC affair.

Cinderella: Vermont. The Catamounts have been here before, beating Syracuse as a No. 13 seed in 2005. This time, it’ll be Florida State getting bitten early and a potential second-round win over Marquette could get Vermont to the second weekend.

First big upset: Belmont over Maryland. Since the First Four started in 2011, at least one of its participants has won a game after advancing past Dayton. Belmont could be that team this season with a high-flying offense that averages more than 87 points per game.

Next household name: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee. Grant Williams is the Volunteers’ best player, but Scholfield, the 6-foot-6 forward with one of the best names around, has an inside-outside game that can be powerful in the NCAA Tournament.

Jenni Carlson, columnist

Favorite: Duke. Non-Dookies are sick of Zion Williamson talk, but the most dominant player in college basketball makes the Blue Devils the favorite. Duke need only watch out for Michigan State pre-Final Four.

Final Four: Duke, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas Tech. The Midwest champ is toughest to pick, but the Tar Heels will survive Kansas City. Texas Tech-Duke in the national semis will be juicy.

Cinderella: Murray State. The top half of the West Regional is prime for a glass slipper. Could be Vermont, too. But Murray State has the talent to not only win a couple games but also upend Gonzaga.

First big upset: Saint Mary’s over Villanova. Even though Villanova is only a No. 6 seed, the Wildcats have won two of the last three national titles. This year, they don’t make the first weekend.

Next household name: Ja Morant, Murray State. He is only a sophomore, but his athleticism, skill set and mentality is drawing comparisons to big-time NBA players. With a deep run, we’ll all be talking about Morant. Ja, man.

Erik Horne, Thunder beat writer

Favorite: Duke. A healthy Zion Williamson showed his importance in his return from injury to lead Duke to the ACC Tournament title. The projected No. 1 pick makes the Blue Devils feared.

Final Four: Duke, Gonzaga, UNC, Tennessee. Chalk except for Rick Barnes’ senior-heavy Volunteers, who will stop UNC to meet Duke in the National Championship.

Cinderella: Nevada. The seventh-seeded Wolfpack (29-4) won the Mountain West and made the Sweet 16 last year. Former NBA coach Eric Musselman plays an up-tempo style with senior twins Caleb and Cody Martin.

First big upset: Murray State over Marquette. Sophomore guard Ja Morant is drawing Russell Westbrook comparisons and has NBA scouts drooling. Twelve seeds have had upset success over fives in past tourneys.

Next household name: Tremont Waters, LSU. Waters is small (5-foot-11, 167 pounds) but the sophomore packs a punch (15.1 ppg, 3.0 steals per game). He led the Tigers to the regular-season Southeastern Conference championship.

Joe Mussatto, OU beat writer

Favorite: Duke. Zion Williamson’s much-anticipated run through the NCAA Tournament will begin in Columbia, South Carolina — 93 miles from his hometown of Spartanburg. Duke has the most top-end talent in the country, and it’s not especially close.

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Final Four: Duke, Gonzaga, Virginia, Iowa State. The Cyclones are the obvious outlier, but they’re back to playing well thanks to an elite offense. But winning the Midwest likely means beating Kentucky, North Carolina or both. It’s the most rugged of regions.

Cinderella: Belmont. The Bruins sneaked into the tournament, but the winning won’t stop against Temple in the First Four. Look for Belmont to upset Maryland and then LSU.

First big upset: Vermont over Florida State. The Catamounts slow things down behind America East Player of the Year Anthony Lamb. They’ve won 12 of their last 13 games.

Next household name: C.J. Massinburg, Buffalo. The Bulls are legitimate contenders in the West Region behind the senior guard from Dallas. Massinburg averages 18.3 points per game on 40 percent 3-point shooting.

Jeff Patterson, deputy sports editor

Favorite: Duke. The last time the overall No. 1 seed won the whole tournament was Louisville in 2013 (although it later vacated the title) and Kentucky the year before that. This Duke team is primed to end the drought.

Final Four: Duke, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky. The East and Midwest Regions are gauntlets. IF, if, if Virginia can hold off 16th-seeded Gardner-Webb, expect them to set up a tough regional final against the Vols.

Cinderella: Murray State. When in doubt, always pick a No. 12 seed to make a run and Ja Morant has the star power to lift the Ohio Valley Conference champion Racers into the second weekend.

First big upset: Old Dominion over Purdue. Jeff Jones can coach. The former Virginia and American head whistle brings his third team to the dance and Purdue is ripe for an upset.

Next household name: Tyler Herro, Kentucky. The radio stations in Lexington will play "My Hero" by the Foo Fighters round-the-clock if the freshman guard shoots UK into the Final Four.

Berry Tramel, columnist

Favorite: Duke. The Blue Devils have lost just once with Zion Williamson, and that in Hawaii to Gonzaga the night before Thanksgiving.

Final Four: Duke, Florida State, Auburn, Virginia. Red-hot Tigers of Bruce Pearl infiltrates an ACC party.

Cinderella: Cal-Irvine. Wouldn't be shocking to see the Anteaters in the Sweet 16, beating both Kansas State and the Wisconsin-Oregon winner.

First big upset: Murray State over Marquette. This is a 5-12 seed matchup in name only. The Racers' Ja Morant is a star to match Marquette's Markus Howard.

Next household name: Corey Davis Jr., Houston. He could lead the Cougars to a deep NCAA Tournament run, perhaps to an upset of Kentucky.

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