Best seed outlook: As stated by this FiveThirtyEight model, top seed Duke has got the best chance of advancing to the Final Four in the whole field (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 picks, including Zion Williamson, among the greatest abilities in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel to the offensive end and far 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 inside the top six in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. That group won the national title.1
This group lacks, however, is signature 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 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 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 accidents but remain one of the most balanced teams in the country, standing 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 that ranks among Pomeroy’s Top 25 teams on both the offense and defense. Although they’ve dropped eight times, only two of those were double-digits. Virginia Tech also includes a not-altogether-unfriendly attraction, with extremely winnable opening games against Saint Louis (87% ) 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 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 bet on: No. 3 LSU. With trainer Will Wade embroiled in a pay-for-play scandal and his group 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 — about the quality of a No. 5 seed — thanks in large part to a defense which didn’t even decode the nation’s top 60 in corrected efficiency. (This showed up at the 51 second-half things they allowed to Florida while shedding their first match of the SEC tournament.) Their NCAA path isn’t very easy, either: Yale is no pushover as a No. 14 seed, nor will be possible second-round opponent Maryland, and we give the Tigers a mere 26 percent chance of beating Michigan State when the groups meet at the Sweet Sixteen. That is easily the lowest-rated top-three seed within the field.
Cinderella watch: No. 11 Belmont. The East is top-heavy, together 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 crime 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 3 players nationally to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Although the Bruins do need to win a play-in match against Temple just to produce the area of 64 — we give them a 59 percent opportunity — they would have a very aggressive 39 percent probability of upsetting Maryland in the first round and a much greater opportunity from the LSU/Yale winner.
Player to watch: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Three years back, zzo stated he believed his 6-foot-1 freshman could be Michigan State’s best passer because Magic Johnson. The Spartans’ do-everything point guard — one of the best facilitators from 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 higher assist rate than Winston (46.0 percent). And behind Winston, the Spartans assist on the highest speed of field goals in the nation.
The junior also appears to be Izzo’s top scorer and among the nation’s top perimeter threats, shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc. As injuries have relentlessly sapped the Spartans of their on-court production, Winston has elevated his game to compensate. As he set 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)