Best seed prognosis: According to this FiveThirtyEight model, high seed Duke gets the best chance of advancing to the Final Four at the whole area (53 percent probability) as well as the best likelihood of winning the national title (19 percent).
The Blue Devils are led by four soon-to-be first-round draft selections, including Zion Williamson, among the greatest talents in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel on the offensive end and much stingier on defense than many may realize. This is one of 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 protection metrics. That group won the national title.1
What this team lacks, however, is touch along the perimeter. Duke shoots a ghastly 30.2 percent from outside the arc, the worst marker one of tournament-qualifying teams. Within an offensive age increasingly dominated by space and perimeter scoring, the Blue Devils could buck the trend punishing the rim.
On the other side of the area is that 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 have been pummeled by injuries but remain one of the most balanced teams in the nation, ranking inside the top eight in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and protection metrics.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 4 Virginia Tech. Led by the star 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 defense and offense. Although they have lost eight occasions, just two of those were by double-digits. Virginia Tech also includes a not-altogether-unfriendly draw, with exceptionally winnable opening matches against Saint Louis (87% ) 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 whoever emerges from the base of the area if they do manage to knock off Duke.
Do not 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 quality of a No. 5 seed — thanks in large part to a defense which didn’t even decode the country’s top 60 in adjusted efficiency. (This showed up at the 51 second-half points that they permitted to Florida while shedding their first match of the SEC tournament.) Their NCAA course isn’t very simple, either: Yale is no pushover as a No. 14 seed, nor is potential second-round opponent Maryland, and we give the Tigers a mere 26 percent chance of beating Michigan State if the groups meet at the Sweet Sixteen. This is easily the lowest-rated top-three seed within the area.
Cinderella watch: No. 11 Belmont. The East is top-heavy, with Duke and Michigan State soaking up most of the Final Four odds. But the Bruins are still an intriguing lower-seeded team because of an impressive crime led by do-everything swingman Dylan Windler. According to Pomeroy, Belmont ranks 20th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (and second nationally in raw points per game behind Gonzaga), while Windler was one of only three players nationwide to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Even though the Bruins do have to win a play-in game against Temple only to produce the field of 64 — we provide them a 59 percent chance — they’d have a very competitive 39 percent probability of bothering Maryland in the first round and an even greater chance from the LSU/Yale winner.
Player to watch: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Three years back, zzo said he believed his 6-foot-1 freshman could be Michigan State’s greatest passer because Magic Johnson. The Spartans’ do-everything point guard — one of the greatest facilitators in the country — is validating his coach’s comment. Just Murray State’s Ja Morant, a surefire lottery pick in this year’s draft, has a greater assist speed 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 one of the nation’s top perimeter threats, shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc. As harms have sapped the Spartans of their on-court creation, Winston has raised his game to compensate. As he put it to The Athletic,”that I must do a whole 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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