NCAA Tournament: Favorites to Make it Out of This Weekend’s Game

Quinn Daley

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The first two rounds of the 2019 NCAA tournament are officially over. Only one perfect bracket is left across all major bracket games, Zion Williamson took on 7’6” center Tacko Fall & came out on top, the Badgers were rightfully spanked in the first round, and the Gophers forgot to show up to their second-round match up with the Michigan State Spartans. Last weekend was certainly entertaining and even emotional for college basketball fans. Hopefully, they’re ready for another thrilling weekend of college basketball this weekend for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. Only four teams will survive this upcoming weekend; here are the teams that are most likely to come out of their regions victorious.

East: (1) Duke Blue Devils

You would have to be stupid not to pick Duke to come out of the East at the beginning of the tournament, but the Blue Devils haven’t come out of the first two rounds unscathed. They are the most talented team by far in the tournament with three projected lottery picks on the floor, including talented inside scorers Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Unfortunately, the Blue Devils’ perimeter shooting was put to the test against Tacko Fall and the UCF Golden Knights in the Round of 32. Luckily, there aren’t any more 7’6” centers to dominate the paint and get in Zion Williamson’s path on his way to the bucket. 

Michigan State should beat LSU in the Sweet Sixteen and advance to the Elite Eight if Cassius Winston can play at a high level, and they could give Duke a run for their money, but without Joshua Langford the Spartans may have trouble matching up with the talent on the Duke Squad. The Spartans are gritty and disciplined, but Duke’s enormous amount of talent will be downright scary for them to match up with.

West: (3) Texas Tech Red Raiders

The West might be the toughest region in the entire tournament, and whoever comes out of it will have to take a beating to do so. Gonzaga is the presumed favorite to come out on top. Their offense is terrifying, Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are studs, and the Bulldogs’ front court may be the most overlooked in the tournament. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs would have to go through two fantastic defensive teams, Florida State and whoever wins the matchup between Michigan and Texas Tech, to move on.

Don’t get me wrong: I really like Gonzaga, but Texas Tech is on a tear in the tournament so far. The Red Raiders have outscored their opponents by a combined 35 points, winning by double digits in both games. Buffalo had one of the nation’s top offenses this past season, the Texas Tech limited them to only 58 points in the second round. Jarrett Culver is becoming a superstar and if Texas Tech can make it through Michigan, then I think they are the best-equipped team to shut down Gonzaga’s high-powered offense.

South: (12) Oregon Ducks

Everybody loves a March Madness Cinderella story. While Oregon isn’t a smaller school like the Cinderellas of past tournaments, they are the highest seeded team to reach the Sweet 16, and they are in the weakest region of this year’s tournament. The Ducks are easy to overlook, but they have momentum, winning their last 10 games and winning their first two games of the tournament handily against talented Wisconsin and University of California – Irvine squads. 

Virginia doesn’t have the best track record playing in the tournament over the recent years, and while they didn’t lose in the first round again this season, Oregon has all the tools to upset the Cavaliers. After Virginia, Oregon would then be slated to play Purdue or Tennessee. Purdue has trouble with consistency and putting points on the board, and Tennessee can’t seem to avoid defensive lapses as of late. Considering the glaring weaknesses of the team’s left in the South, the Ducks may have an opportunity to squeak through to the Final Four. 

North: (1) North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina may not have the star power that other teams left in the tournament have, but they do have a team that plays better together than any other team in the country. They give new meaning to the phrase, “teamwork makes the dream work”. Roy Williams is giving a historically impressive performance as a coach this season, turning around the Tar Heel defense and creating one of the most disciplined teams in the country. The Tar Heels should have no issue moving past Auburn in the Sweet 16, and I don’t see the winner of the matchup with Houston and Kentucky being an issue for them to deal with, especially considering that Kentucky is playing without PJ Washington. The Tar Heels should not only be a team to watch coming out of their region, but they really have the potential to win it all.