Top seed outlook: According to this FiveThirtyEight version, high seed Duke has got the best chance of advancing to the Final Four in the whole field (53 percent likelihood ) as well as the best odds of winning the national title (19 percent).
The Blue Devils are led by four soon-to-be first-round draft picks, including Zion Williamson, one of the most significant abilities in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel to the offensive end and much stingier on protection than many may realize. This is one of Mike Krzyzewski’s most-balanced teams and jobs to become his first since 2010 to position within the top six at Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. That team won the national title.1
This team lacks, however, is touch across the perimeter. Duke shoots a ghastly 30.2 percent from beyond the arc, the worst mark one of tournament-qualifying teams. In 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 honour of a possible matchup from the top overall seed in the Elite Eight. Head coach Tom Izzo was none too happy. The Spartans have been pummeled by accidents but remain among the most balanced teams in the nation, standing inside the top eight in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics.
Sneaky Final Four select: No. 4 Virginia Tech. Led by the celebrity pairing of Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Hokies are a balanced squad which ranks one of Pomeroy’s Top 25 teams on both offense and defense. Although they’ve lost eight times, only two of these were double-digits. Virginia Tech also has a not-altogether-unfriendly attraction, with extremely winnable opening games against Saint Louis (87 percent) and the Mississippi State-Liberty winner (63 percent) before most likely running to Duke’s juggernaut. We give the Hokies a respectable 25 percent chance from the Blue Devils — and a 54 percent chance against individuals emerges from the base of the region if they do manage to knock off Duke.
Don’t wager : No. 3 LSU. With coach Will Wade embroiled in a pay-for-play scandal and his team probably overvalued as a 3-seed, the Bayou Bengals could be ripe for an upset in this particular tournament. They ranked only 18th in Pomeroy’s evaluations — roughly the caliber of a No. 5 seed — thanks in large part to a defense that didn’t even decode the nation’s top 60 in corrected efficacy. (This showed up at the 51 second-half points they allowed to Florida while shedding their first match of the SEC tournament.) Their NCAA course is not very simple, either: Yale is no pushover as a No. 14 seed, nor is possible second-round competitor Maryland, and we give the Tigers a mere 26 percent likelihood of beating Michigan State if the groups meet at the Sweet Sixteen. That is easily the lowest-rated top-three seed within the field.
Cinderella see: 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 because of 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 nationwide in raw points per game behind Gonzaga), while Windler was one of 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 make the area of 64 — we provide them a 59 percent chance — they would have an extremely competitive 39 percent probability of bothering Maryland in the first round and a much greater chance against the LSU/Yale winner.
Player to watch: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Three years ago, zzo said he believed his 6-foot-1 freshman could be Michigan State’s greatest passer since Magic Johnson. The Spartans’ do-everything point guard — one of the best facilitators in the country — is validating his trainer’s comment. Only 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 help on the highest rate of field goals in the country.
The junior also appears to be Izzo’s top scorer and among the nation’s greatest perimeter threats, shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. As injuries have relentlessly sapped the Spartans of their on-court creation, Winston has elevated his game to compensate. As he put it to The Athletic,”that I have to 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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