I was browsing the web while researching for this article when I stumbled upon Andy Katz’s predictions. Apparently this man has released 4 NCAA tourney field predictions already this season. Well … I’m on my first. I had not looked at any of Katz’s predictions prior to writing this, nor did I want to. I did not want anything to influence my judgement.
So much can change between now and March 19, but this is fun for me to write. Hopefully you will enjoy pursuing my picks to see if your favorite school will get that #1 seed, make the dance at all, or be watching from home. Let’s get into it!
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – Automatic Bids
There are 32 D-1 conferences whose winners receive automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. Several of these conference winners would make the dance regardless, but winning the conference tourney is the only way to get in for most teams.
Here are my way way too early predictions for the winners of each respective conference. Note that these are in alphabetical order, not in order of rank.
America East – Stony Brook (SBU)
This conference race is between Vermont and Stony Brook. The teams are relatively even on paper, but I give Stony Brook the edge for 2 reasons. First, their top-3 scorers are all guards, which is huge in pressure-filled postseason games. Second, they rely less-heavily on the 3-pointer, making them a more consistent team than Vermont. Consistency is key when playing in a conference tournament.
American – Houston (HOU)
A-10 – St Louis
This pick will likely surprise many. VCU are the favorites to win the A-10, with Davidson and Dayton also in the mix. I like the Billikens because of their senior leaders at guard: Javon Bess and Tramaine Isabell Jr. Look for St. Louis to get hot at the right time and make a big push up the rankings, culminating in an A-10 title.
ACC – Duke
I know it is a chalk pick, but c’mon. How can I bet against Zion Williamson and Duke?
Atlantic Sun – Lipscomb
Big 12 – Kansas
There are so many teams capable of going on a run and winning the Big 12. These include Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa St, Kansas St, Texas, and Oklahoma. Of these teams, Kansas is the most talented, but a conference tournament championship is far from certain.
Big East – Villanova (NOVA)
Big Sky – Weber St
The Big Sky race is between Montana and Weber St this year. I like Weber St because they have the best player in the conference, Jerrick Harding, on their side. Averaging 21.3 ppg, Harding definitely has the talent to carry the Wildcats past a senior-laden Grizzlies team in the conference tourney.
Big South – Radford
Big Ten – Michigan (MICH)
I see the Big Ten as a 2-team race: Michigan and Michigan St. I like the boys in Maize n Blue because they have displayed recent dominance over MSU, winning their last 3 matchups. I am also factoring in that Michigan has won back-to-back conference tournaments and that Coach Beilein is blessed with his most talented team yet at U of M.
Big West – University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)
Colonial Athletic – Hofstra
I debated back and forth for a long time whether I liked Hofstra or Northeastern to come out of the Colonial. Both are even on paper and have similar play styles. Each team’s offense is guard-oriented and their 3-pointers attempted per game are nearly identical.
Hofstra gets the edge for 2 reasons. First, the presence of Justin Wright-Foreman. Third in the NCAA in scoring, JWF can take over a game and be an unstoppable force in a small conference like the CAA. The second reason I like the Hofstra Pride is the fact they have won 6 of their last 7 against the Huskies of NE.
C-USA – Marshall
The Marshall Thundering Herd are led by the dynamic senior guard Jon Elmore. Elmore’s 20.2 points and 5.3 assists per game give Marshall the edge against any C-USA opponent. North Texas can become offensively challenged, especially against better opponents. Marshall’s play style is better suited for tournament consistency.
Horizon League – Northern Kentucky (NKU)
Ivy League – Yale
Metro Atlantic – Rider
MAC – Buffalo
Mid-Eastern – North Carolina A&T (NCAT)
Missouri Valley – Loyola CHI (Loyola)
Mountain West – Nevada
Northeast – St Francis of Brooklyn (SFC)
The NEC is a mess this year. I give Robert Morris, Wagner, LIU-Brooklyn, and St Francis of Brooklyn shots to win. I like SFC because they are ranked the highest of the four in both RPI and the new NET rankings.
Ohio Valley – Murray St
I made this one clear a while ago. No one in this conference can keep pace with the Racers when Ja Morant is clicking.
Pac-12 – Arizona
The Wildcats will not stay atop the Pac-12 forever, but their time is not done yet. I see Arizona St struggling to match wins with Arizona, leaving Washington as the ‘Cats only worthy opponent. Arizona has won 8 of their previous 9 meetings with the Huskies.
Patriot League – Bucknell
SEC – Kentucky
Everyone is making a huge deal about Tennessee right now, and for good reason. They deserve it. The Vols have yet to play Kentucky, however. There are several other teams with legitmate shots to win the tourney including Auburn and LSU, but I see Coach Cal cutting down the nets in Nashville when this is all said and done.
Southern – Wofford
Southland – Abilene Christian (ACU)
Southwest – Texas Southern (TXSO)
Summit League – South Dakota St (SDST)
Sun Belt – Georgia St (GSU)
West Coast – Gonzaga
Western Athletic – New Mexico St (NMSU)
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – At-Large Bids
With 32 teams grabbing spots as conference champs, the committee then chooses 36 remaining at-large teams to round out the field. Here is how I see those panning out. Unlike my automatic bids section, these are in order of descending rank.
- Tennessee (TENN)
- Virginia (UVA)
- North Carolina (UNC)
- Michigan St (MSU)
- Marquette (MARQ)
- Virginia Tech (VT)
- Maryland (MARY)
- Ole Miss
- Louisiana State (LSU)
- Texas Tech (TTU)
The list of impressive 2018-19 Sooner wins includes TCU, Oklahoma St, Florida, Dayton, Creighton, Notre Dame, and Northwestern. Each of these 7 teams resides in the NET top-100. Oklahoma has suffered no embarrassing losses against sub-par opponents.
- Florida St (FSU)
FSU’s only bad loss this season was on the road at Boston College. Wins against LSU, Purdue, Florida, St Louis, and UCONN more than make up for that loss.
- Wisconsin (WISC)
- Cincinnati (CINCY)
- Iowa St (ISU)
The Cyclones have beaten Oklahoma St twice while also besting Kansas, Texas Tech, and Missouri – extremely impressive. This is all while suffering no embarrassing defeats.
- North Carolina St (NCST)
- Mississippi St (MSST)
- Louisville (LOU)
- Syracuse (CUSE)
The good: Syracuse has wins against Duke, Pitt, Ohio State, Clemson, and Notre Dame. The bad: Syracuse has home losses against both Old Dominion and Georgia Tech.
- Kansas St (KSU)
KSU has beaten Iowa St, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia, and Missouri this season. Their best win is not quite as impressive as Syracuse’s (Duke) while the Wildcats have also lost to a bad opponent – Tulsa.
Temple proved they can beat quality opponents with wins against Houston, Missouri, and Davidson. With no embarrassing losses on the schedule, Houston can really boost their seeding with good showings against their upcoming opponents: Memphis, Cincy, and Houston.
Indiana was looking like a top-15 team before 4 consecutive losses bounced them out of both the AP and Coaches Polls. Wins against Marquette, Louisville, Butler, and Northwestern will get them in as long as they rebound by beating either Michigan or Michigan St.
- Seton Hall (SHU)
Seton Hall has impressive victories against Kentucky and Maryland while also beating St John’s, Xavier, and Butler. The only knock on the Pirates is the fact they were swept by a lackluster DePaul team.
- Arizona St (ASU)
Arizona St is here because they have some great wins. Beating Kansas and Mississippi St will go a long way in the committee’s eyes. Wins against Utah St, Oregon, and Oregon St are also nice. The Devils have laid some real stinkers too, losing to Princeton, Utah, and Stanford. One more bad loss will likely keep them out of the field.
- Washington (WASH)
- Alabama (BAMA)
Alabama has been frustratingly inconsistent this season. Wins against Kentucky, Arizona, and Missouri suggest the Tide can roll with anyone. Losses against Northeastern, Georgia St, and Texas A&M suggest ‘Bama may be headed for the NIT without one more signature win.
Butler can thank 4 big wins for securing them the final spot ahead of the First Four teams. The Bulldogs have beaten Ole Miss, St John’s, and Creighton and have split with Florida. Their worst was at home to a struggling Georgetown team. Butler still has 2 games each against Villanova and Marquette, which will decide their postseason fate.
- St John’s (SJU)
Barely making the field, Florida will need to add a signature win to their resume in order to dance in March. Kentucky, Tennessee, and Auburn are still on the schedule. If they do not win one of these, the Gators will likely get passed by in the rankings.
- Minnesota (MINN)
The Golden Gophers should consider themselves lucky to sneak into the First Four. Wins against Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Oklahoma St are decent, but Coach Pitino needs a big signature win to help him sleep better at night. Minnesota has suffered losses to Boston College and Illinois. They will get passed by in the rankings without beating Michigan, Michigan St, or Maryland – all of whom are on the Gophers’ remaining schedule.
- Texas Christian (TCU)
The last team in, TCU’s best wins are against Baylor and West Virginia while a home loss to Lipscomb tarnishes their record. Expect the Horned Frogs to be on the outside looking in without one or two big wins down the stretch.
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – Biggest Snubs
In no particular order, here are the teams who just missed the cut for an at-large bid.
- Notre Dame
The Irish are 11-7 on the season but 1-4 in ACC play. Notre Dame’s resume is rather blank with their only statement win against Purdue. Losses against Radford and UCLA look very bad to the committee. With Virginia, Duke, VT, and Louisville still on the schedule, Notre Dame can play their way into the field with a couple of upsets.
- Ohio St
Wins against Cincy, Minnesota, and Creighton propelled the Buckeyes into the top-25, but 4 straight losses, including an ugly one to Rutgers, have made their hot start a distant memory. With Michigan, Michigan St, and Maryland on the remaining schedule, it is not too late for Ohio St to turn it around.
- Central Florida (UCF)
UCF’s biggest wins this season are against BAMA, Temple, and UCONN. Bad losses to Florida Atlantic and a middling Wichita St team are holding the Knights back. UCF has Houston on the remaining schedule twice. A couple of good showings and a run in the conference tourney might swing the committee’s vote.
Teams below this point are even further from making the tourney, once again in no particular order.
The Rams have downed Temple and Dayton, but that is not enough. Bad losses to Old Dominion and College of Charleston are inexcusable in the committee’s eyes. It is conference tourney champs or NIT for VCU.
The Paladins opened the season with a bang but have since lost 4 of their last 7. Wins against Loyola and Villanova are nice, but with no strong teams on the remaining schedule Furman will be unable to prove themselves in the committee’s eyes. It is conference tourney champs or NIT for Furman.
- San Francisco
- North Texas
- Texas State
- North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)
- Utah St
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – Seeding and Splitting into Regions
With the field of 68 set, the last thing for me to do is seed these teams and divide them into the 4 geographical regions (East, Midwest, South, West).
It is unavoidable that teams will be playing in a region that forces them to travel long distances. For example, my #3 seeds are Villanova (in Philly), Buffalo (in NY), Michigan St, and North Carolina. None of these teams are in the western part of the US but one of them has to be the West region #3 seed (I chose MSU).
It is also important to balance the good teams out. No region should have the best teams at each seed. For example, the Midwest received the best #3 seed in the field – UNC. I then put Iowa in the Midwest because they were the worst #4 seed in the field.
To make things more complicated, teams are also not allowed to play conference opponents in the first round. I was forced to switch the regions of Arizona and Houston to avoid this, which I explain below.
Since 2011, the First Four “play-in games” have shrunk the field from 68 to 64 before the first Thursday of the tournament. The bottom-4 automatic qualifiers fight for a 16-seed while the bottom-4 at-large bids fight for what is normally an 11 or 12-seed.
Based on my rankings, here are the First Four games.
For #16 seed in East region – NCAT vs SFC
For #16 seed in Midwest region – TXSO vs SDST
For #12 seed in West region – SJU vs MINN
For #12 seed in South region – Florida vs TCU
The 2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket
The brackets are set up with East/Midwest on one side and South/West on the other. I have arranged the games in columns to resemble the bracket we are used to looking at.
|East Region Matchups||South Region Matchups|
|#1 vs #16 – Duke vs NCAT/SFC||#1 vs #16 – Kansas vs ACU|
|#8 vs #9 – NCST vs Temple||#8 vs #9 – LOU vs St Louis|
|#5 vs #12 – Ole Miss vs Wofford||#5 vs #12 – MARY vs Florida/TCU|
|#4 vs #13 – VT vs Yale||#4 vs #13 – Auburn vs GSU|
|#6 vs #11 – Nebraska vs Butler||#6 vs #11 – Arizona vs BAMA**|
|#3 vs #14 – Buffalo vs Lipscomb||#3 vs #14 – NOVA vs Radford|
|#7 vs #10 – ISU vs SHU||#7 vs #10 – FSU vs Texas|
|#2 vs #15 – UVA vs Rider||#2 vs #15 – TENN vs Bucknell|
|Midwest Region Matchups||West Region Matchups|
|#1 vs #16 – Kentucky vs TXSO/SDST||#1 vs #16 – Gonzaga vs UCSB|
|#8 vs #9 – CUSE vs Purdue||#8 vs #9 – MSST vs KSU|
|#5 vs #12 – LSU vs Hofstra||#5 vs #12 – TTU vs SJU/MINN|
|#4 vs #13 – Iowa vs Marshall||#4 vs #13 – MARQ vs NMST|
|#6 vs #11 – Oklahoma vs Murray St||#6 vs #11 – HOU vs WASH***|
|#3 vs #14 – UNC vs SBU||#3 vs #14 – MSU vs NKU|
|#7 vs #10 – CINCY vs Indiana||#7 vs #10 – WISC vs ASU|
|#2 vs #15 – MICH vs Loyola*||#2 vs #15 – Nevada vs Weber St|
* rematch from last season’s Final Four
** Originally Houston vs BAMA but had to switch Houston and Arizona regions to avoid a conference matchup in first round in the West
*** HOU switched regions with Arizona, see above
2019 NCAA Tournament Predictions – Takeaways From This Way Way Too Early Bracket
- The Midwest and South are the 2 Toughest Regions
Kentucky will have a tough road to the Final Four through the Midwest region. The 8-9 game of Syracuse and Purdue features two teams that could beat anyone when they play their best. Waiting in the wings at #4 and #5 respectively are Iowa and LSU. Each are capable of knocking off a #1 seed.
The other side of the Midwest is absolutely loaded with one-loss Michigan, Roy Williams-led UNC, explosive Oklahoma, battle-tested Indiana and Cincy, Ja Morant’s Murray State, and last year’s cinderella Loyola.
If the Midwest is the toughest region then the South is a very close second. #1 seed Kansas could have their hands full with either #8 Louisville or #9 St Louis. Maryland and Auburn are no slouches either.
Once again, the #2 side of the South is stacked. Tennessee is the second-best #2 seed in my rankings. They are joined by last season’s NCAA champ Villanova. Thrown in the mix are a feisty Arizona team, a talented Alabama team, and a dangerous 7-10 matchup of Florida St and Texas.
- Duke has the Easiest Path to the Final Four
As a reward for earning the #1 overall seed, Duke has the clearest path to the Final Four over in the East region. The Devils have already beaten the East’s #2 seed Virginia (albeit it was very close). Other familiar foes for Duke include North Carolina St and Virginia Tech.
The #3 seed in the East, Buffalo, is the weakest #3 seed in the field. East seeds 5-7 are Ole Miss, Nebraska, and Iowa St. I am sure Duke would rather have these 3 in the region than any other 5-6-7 combo.
Popular sleeper picks would likely include #10 Seton Hall or #11 Butler, given that they play in a relatively weak part of the bracket. I could also see #14 Lipscomb drawing a lot of bets from those expecting a sour Buffalo performance. This East region would draw the most upset bets of the 4 regions. I’ll call it the “Upset Region”.
- Conference Representation
Here are the number of teams in the 68-team field by conference. I like the distribution.
|Conference||# of Teams in Field|
I hope you enjoyed my way way too early predictions. Please let me know in the comments what you agree or disagree with!
Kreighton loves sports, math, writing, and winning — he combines all of them as a writer for WagerBop. His favorite sports to review and bet are MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAAF, and NCAABB.