NCAA Tournament 2019: B/R Expert Predictions, Updated Results for Sweet 16

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NCAA Tournament 2019: B/R Expert Predictions, Updated Results for Sweet 16

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    Chalk has reigned supreme during the 2019 men’s NCAA tournament. While less entertaining to some, the favorites’ holding court has created a handful of outstanding Sweet 16 games.

    Gonzaga’s rematch with Florida State ended differently than the 2018 version, with Gonzaga advancing to the Elite Eight. Purdue needed overtime to get past Tennessee, but the Boilers provided a (very) minor upset by knocking off the No. 2 Vols. Texas Tech routed Michigan, holding the Wolverines to a tournament record-tying low for a No. 2-seed of 44 points.

    Friday, Duke’s showdown with ACC foe Virginia Tech highlights a four-game slate that also features Michigan State taking on LSU.

    Bleacher Report’s college basketball crewDavid Gardner, David Kenyon, Kerry Miller and Elliott Pohnlsubmitted picks for the Sweet 16. The predictions are ordered based on tipoff time.

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    Matchup: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 2 Michigan State (East Regional)

    Details: Friday at 7:09 p.m. ET (CBS) in Washington, D.C.

              

    LSU Wins If…

    Tremont Waters gets the better of Cassius Winston. LSU’s star averages 15.0 points, 5.9 assists and 2.9 steals, but he also commits 3.5 turnovers per game. Sustaining that impact while limiting turnovers against Winston is a laborious task.

    Each most threatening three-point shooter on Yale and Maryland had an awful day against LSU. Miye Oni and Eric Ayala ended a combined 2-of-17, and LSU won both games by a total of seven points. The Tigers better hope Winston and Matt McQuaid are off the mark.

              

    Michigan State Wins If….

    It protects the ball. The Spartans rank 197th in turnover rate, and LSU’s efficiency difference in transition and in the half court is staggering. LSU is 61st and 192nd, per Hoop-Math.com, in the respective categories.

    Michigan State is a tremendous rebounding team but is 1-4 when securing less than 52 percent of all misses. LSU has the 10th-highest rate of offensive rebounds. Slow the Tigers down and control their presence on the glass, and good things happen.

            

    Most Important Players Are…

    Waters for LSU and Winston for Michigan State. Both point guards control the offense and are active defenders. Whichever player wins the individual matchup will provide much-needed leverage.

            

    Predictions

    David Gardner: Michigan State

    David Kenyon: Michigan State

    Kerry Miller: Michigan State

    Elliott Pohnl: LSU

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    Matchup: No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 1 North Carolina (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Friday at 7:29 p.m. ET (TBS) in Kansas City, Missouri

              

    Auburn Wins If…

    Its shooters have a sensational night. North Carolina ranks 99th in perimeter defense, and Auburn owns the eighth-highest three-point attempt rate while connecting at an impressive 37.8 clip.

    And for the sanity of Bruce Pearl, sprint back on defense! North Carolina can create a transition chance out of practically nothing, so the only way for Auburn to slow the pace is an intense work rate to make UNC play half-court offense.

              

    North Carolina Wins If….

    The Tar Heels run up, down and all around Auburn. Although the Tigers force the highest rate of turnovers, they’re average (123rd, per Hoop-Math.com) in transition defense. UNC, meanwhile, attempts 40.3 percent of its initial shots in transition.

    Nassir Little’s sudden rise has buoyed the Heels’ depth too. The touted freshman had a roller coaster of a regular season but provided 39 points during the opening weekend.

            

    Most Important Players Are…

    Jared Harper for Auburn and Coby White for North Carolina. The battle of the point guards, on paper, favors White. Given his status as an NBA prospect, that’s no surprise. But if Harper earns the advantage Friday, he can shift the result.

            

    Predictions

    David Gardner: North Carolina

    David Kenyon: North Carolina

    Kerry Miller: Auburn

    Elliott Pohnl: North Carolina

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Duke (East Regional)

    Details: Friday at 9:39 p.m. ET (CBS) in Washington, D.C.

              

    Virginia Tech Wins If…

    The defense forces Duke to win from the perimeter and limits second chances. The Blue Devils rank 331st nationally in three-point percentage but atone for their mediocre range with Zion Williamson, Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier on the offensive glass.

    However, if the Hokies keep Duke to one shot, their slow tempo (332nd, per KenPom) can frustrate Duke’s preferred style (18th). Then Virginia Tech’s eighth-ranked three-point attack can take over.

              

    Duke Wins If….

    Virginia Tech struggles from the outside. The Hokies own a 43.8 three-point attempt rate and convert at 39.5 percent, so a massive portion of their offense would be missing. Duke has surrendered a meager 29.8 clip, the 12th-best in the country.

    Plus, the Blue Devils can ensure their perimeter struggles don’t matter if Williamson and Co. are efficient inside the paint.

            

    Most Important Players Are…

    Ty Outlaw for Virginia Tech and Zion Williamson for Duke. Although the Hokies have four double-digit scorers, Outlaw has 15-point potential because of his 45.6 long-range clip. His contributions would help counteract Williamson and his seemingly inevitable 25-plus points.

            

    Predictions

    David Gardner: Duke

    David Kenyon: Virginia Tech

    Kerry Miller: Duke

    Elliott Pohnl: Duke

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Matchup: No. 3 Houston vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Midwest Regional)

    Details: Friday at 9:59 p.m. ET (TBS) in Kansas City, Missouri

              

    Houston Wins If…

    Kentucky is ineffective from the outside and the Cougars are respectable. The ‘Cats are 10-5 when shooting below 33.3 percent beyond the arc, as they held the opponent under the mark in eight of those wins.

    Houston would grab a considerable edge if it wins the rebounding battle too. Both teams have posted a top-10 rate nationally, so it’s a clash of strength on strength.

              

    Kentucky Wins If….

    The offense thrives inside the arc and doesn’t allow Corey Davis Jr. to have an explosive night outside it. Kentucky would be more likely to accomplish that if PJ Washington is healthy, but the star sophomore’s status remains uncertain because of a foot injury.

    Davis shoots 38.1 percent from the perimeter and has seven appearances with five-plus triples this season. If the Cougars can’t rely on him, they’ll be limited offensively.

            

    Most Important Players Are…

    Davis for Houston and Reid Travis for Kentucky. Davis is the leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, and the Cougars must take advantage of each possession in a slow-tempo tilt. Travis will be a pivotal piece near the rim, no matter Washington’s health.

            

    Predictions

    David Gardner: Kentucky

    David Kenyon: Kentucky

    Kerry Miller: Kentucky

    Elliott Pohnl: Kentucky

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    No. 1 Gonzaga survived a flurry of second-half runs from No. 4 Florida State and become the first team to advance to the Elite Eight. 

    The Bulldogs led by 11 points at halftime, but the Seminoles, who beat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 a year ago, stormed back to cut the deficit to four points with just over four minutes to go. 

    In those final minutes, Mark Few’s team went on a 12-2 run to erase any possibility of a Florida State comeback.

    The victory moved the Zags into their third Elite Eight in the last five years—the last appearance coming in 2017 when they advanced to the Final Four and eventually lost to North Carolina in the national final. 

                  

    Top Performers

    Rui Hachimura led the Bulldogs with 17 points, while Brandon Clarke chipped in 15 points of his own. Florida State’s Trent Forrest led all scorers with 20 points. 

             

    X-Factor 

    Josh Perkins did a little bit of everything for Gonzaga, as he produced 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals. 

               

    Next Round

    Gonzaga faces either No. 2 Michigan or No. 3 Texas Tech in the West Region final on Saturday. 

              

    –Updated by Joe Tansey.

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers, co-champions of the Big Ten during the regular season, led the game by a large margin through the first half and into the second, but the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers battled back to push the contest to overtime.

    In the extra period, Purdue again mustered a lead and forced Tennessee to play catch-up.

    With 2:18 remaining in overtime, Purdue led by three when Carsen Edwards drove to the hoop for a bucket. From there on out, the Boilermakers didn’t look back. Tennessee fell into desperation mode, unable to even convert free throws that might have helped it stay in the game.

                  

    Top Performers

    Purdue’s Carsen Edwards led all scorers with 29, and Ryan Cline added 27 more. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield led Tennessee with 21 apiece.

             

    X-Factor 

    Despite watching its lead dwindle—and eventually disappear during a game in which they missed 16 free throws—the Boilermakers never hung their heads. They never let the situation overwhelm them. Somehow, they were able to find yet another gear in the extra frame.

    Once in the lead, Purdue applied nothing but continued pressure to knock out Tennessee once and for all.

               

    Next Round

    Purdue will face off against the winner of the Oregon-Virginia game in the South Region final on Saturday. It is Purdue’s first trip to the Elite Eight since 2000.

              

    –Updated by David Luther

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    If you’re a fan of high-scoring, quick, up-and-down-the-court basketball, this game probably lost your interest early. Both teams came out cold as can be, combining to make just eight of their first 37 shots from the field. It almost seemed as if the first team to find some shooting success would pull away quickly—possibly for good.

    That team was Texas Tech.

    The No. 3 Red Raiders held the No. 2 Wolverines to just 16 points in the first half, and the second half didn’t start much better. During the first four minutes of the second half, Michigan turned the ball over three times, attempted three shots and scored a grand total of two points from the foul stripe.

    But what really killed the Wolverines? Starting 0-of-18 from behind the arc. They finished 1-of-19 after a meaningless bucket with 0:24 left in the blowout. Between that and shooting 32.7 percent from the floor, they were in trouble against stiff defensive competition. 

    Halfway through the second half, Texas Tech built a 21-point lead. It was over after that.

    Per the CBS broadcast, Michigan’s previous low in an NCAA tournament game was 45 points. That occurred in 1945—before the shot clock and three-point existed. The Wolverines also tied the all-time tournament record for low score by a No. 2 seed with 44.

                  

    Top Performers

    Jarrett Culver led all scorers by pouring in 22 for Texas Tech, while Ignas Brazdeikis had a double-double (somewhat shockingly) for Michigan with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

             

    X-Factor 

    Only one thing qualifies as an X-factor in this game: Michigan’s complete and utter inability to make a basket whenever it mattered—and often when it didn’t matter. Sure, Texas Tech is one of the top defenses in the nation, but Michigan didn’t do itself any favors for most of the 40 minutes on the floor.

               

    Next Round

    Texas Tech will face West No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday in the regional final for a trip to the Final Four.

              

    –Updated by David Luther

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    Let’s be honest: Most people didn’t give No. 12 Oregon much of a chance against No. 1 Virginia in this game. The Cavaliers built an eight-point lead at halftime, and it looked like the Ducks’ valiant efforts would finally come to an end—admittedly later than expected.

    But with four minutes remaining in the second half, a quick check of the scoreboard showed the game tied at 45.

    It’s hard to call any team from a power conference a true Cinderella in March—especially a team that was a Final Four participant just two seasons ago—but a No. 12 seed battling a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16 certainly made for compelling television.

    Virginia, holding the ball and a three-point lead with a minute to go, slowly developed a play, taking as much time off the clock as possible. A missed three resulted in an offensive rebound for the Cavaliers. Because of Oregon’s clean game to that point, the Ducks had several fouls to give, and that gave Virginia plenty of opportunity to run more clock.

                  

    Top Performers

    Louis King led the Ducks with 16 points, while Ty Jerome paced the Cavs with 13. Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite led all rebounders with 11.

             

    X-Factor 

    A great game down the stretch with solid back-and-forth action ended as it started: with the starters on the floor for both teams and each side battling for every single point. Virginia’s small lead forced Oregon to chase late, which usually doesn’t turn out well for the underdog.

    Also worth noting: Virginia shot just five free throws all night.

               

    Next Round

    Virginia will meet No. 3 Purdue in the South Region final.

              

    –Updated by David Luther

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