Best seed outlook: According to this FiveThirtyEight version, top seed Duke has the best chance of advancing to the Final Four at the entire area (53 percent likelihood ) in addition to the best likelihood of winning the national title (19 percent).
The Blue Devils are led by four soon-to-be first-round draft selections, such as Zion Williamson, one of the most significant abilities in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel on the offensive end and much stingier on defense than many might realize. This is among Mike Krzyzewski’s most-balanced teams and projects to become his first since 2010 to rank within the top six at Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. That group won the national title.1
This group lacks, however, is signature across the perimeter. Duke shoots a grisly 30.2 percent from beyond the arc, the worst mark one of tournament-qualifying teams. Within an offensive era increasingly dominated by space and perimeter scoring, the Blue Devils could match the trend punishing the rim.
On the opposite side of the area is the winner of the Big Ten conference championship, Michigan State. As their benefit, the No. 2 Spartans have the honour of a potential matchup from the top overall seed in the Elite Eight. Head coach Tom Izzo was none too pleased. The Spartans are pummeled by accidents but remain among the most balanced teams in the nation, ranking inside the top eight in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and protection metrics.
Sneaky Final Four select: No. 4 Virginia Tech. Directed by the star 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 offense and defense. Although they’ve lost eight occasions, only two of those were double-digits. Virginia Tech also includes a not-altogether-unfriendly draw, with extremely winnable opening matches against Saint Louis (87 percent) and the Mississippi State-Liberty winner (63 percent) before most likely running to Duke’s juggernaut. We provide the Hokies a respectable 25 percent chance against the Blue Devils — and a 54 percent chance against whoever emerges from the bottom of the region if they do manage to knock off Duke.
Don’t 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 may be ripe for an upset in this particular tournament. They ranked only 18th in Pomeroy’s ratings — about the caliber of a No. 5 seed — thanks in large part to a defense that didn’t even crack the nation’s top 60 in adjusted efficacy. (This showed up at the 51 second-half things that they allowed to Florida while losing their first game of the SEC tournament.) Their NCAA course is not very simple, either: Yale is no pushover for a No. 14 seed, nor will be possible second-round opponent Maryland, and we give the Tigers a mere 26 percent likelihood of beating Michigan State if the teams meet in the Sweet Sixteen. This is easily the lowest-rated top-three seed within the area.
Cinderella see: No. 11 Belmont. The East is top-heavy, together with Duke and Michigan State soaking up most of the Last Four chances. However, the Bruins are still an intriguing lower-seeded team because of an impressive offense led by do-everything swingman Dylan Windler. According to Pomeroy, Belmont ranks 20th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency (and second nationwide in raw points per game behind Gonzaga), whereas Windler was among just three players nationally to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Although the Bruins do have to win a play-in game against Temple just to produce the field of 64 — we provide them a 59 percent chance — they would have an extremely aggressive 39 percent probability of bothering Maryland in the first round and a much better opportunity against the LSU/Yale winner.
Player to watch: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Three years ago, zzo said he believed his 6-foot-1 freshman would be Michigan State’s best passer since Magic Johnson. The Spartans’ do-everything point guard — one of the best facilitators in the country — is supporting his coach’s comment. Just Murray State’s Ja Morant, a surefire lottery pick in this year’s draft, has a higher assist rate than Winston (46.0 percent). And behind Winston, the Spartans assist on the maximum rate of field goals in the nation.
The junior also happens to be Izzo’s leading scorer and one of the country’s top perimeter threats, shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc. As injuries have sapped the Spartans of their on-court production, Winston has raised his game to compensate. As he put it to The Athletic,”that I must do a lot for my own 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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