Top seed prognosis: According to this FiveThirtyEight version, high seed Duke gets got the best chance of advancing to the Final Four in the entire field (53 percent probability) in addition to the best odds 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 abilities in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel to the offensive end and far stingier on protection than many may realize. This is among Mike Krzyzewski’s most-balanced teams and projects to become his first since 2010 to position inside the top six in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. That team won the national title.1
This team lacks, however, is signature across the perimeter. Duke shoots a grisly 30.2 percent from beyond the arc, the worst mark among tournament-qualifying teams. In an offensive era increasingly dominated by distance 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 tournament, Michigan State. As their benefit, the No. 2 Spartans have the honor of a potential matchup against 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, standing within the top eight in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and protection metrics.
Sneaky Final Four select: 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 one of Pomeroy’s Top 25 teams on both the defense and offense. Although they have dropped eight occasions, only two of those were double-digits. Virginia Tech also has a not-altogether-unfriendly attraction, with exceptionally winnable opening games against Saint Louis (87 percent) and the Mississippi State-Liberty winner (63 percent) before most probably running to Duke’s juggernaut. We provide the Hokies a decent 25 percent chance from the Blue Devils — and a 54 percent chance against individuals emerges from the bottom of the region if they do manage to knock off Duke.
Don’t wager on: 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 could be ripe for an upset in this tournament. They ranked only 18th in Pomeroy’s evaluations — about the caliber of a No. 5 seed — thanks in large part to a defense that didn’t even crack the country’s top 60 in adjusted efficiency. (This showed up in the 51 second-half points that they allowed to Florida while losing their first match of the SEC tournament.) Their NCAA path is not very simple, either: Yale is no pushover as a No. 14 seed, nor will be potential second-round opponent Maryland, and we give the Tigers a mere 26 percent chance of beating Michigan State when the teams meet at the Sweet Sixteen. This is easily the lowest-rated top-three seed in the field.
Cinderella watch: No. 11 Belmont. The East is top-heavy, together with Duke and Michigan State soaking up most of the Last Four chances. However, the Bruins are an intriguing lower-seeded team due to 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), while Windler was among 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 only to produce the field of 64 — we provide them a 59 percent chance — they would have a very competitive 39 percent likelihood of bothering Maryland in the first round and an even greater opportunity from the LSU/Yale winner.
Player to watch: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Three years ago, zzo said he thought his 6-foot-1 freshman could be Michigan State’s best passer because Magic Johnson. The Spartans’ do-everything point guard — one of the greatest facilitators from the country — is supporting his trainer’s comment. Just Murray State’s Ja Morant, a surefire lottery pick in this year’s draft, has a higher assist speed than Winston (46.0 percent). And behind Winston, the Spartans help on the highest speed of field goals in the nation.
The junior also appears to be Izzo’s top scorer and one of the country’s greatest perimeter threats, shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc. As injuries have sapped the Spartans of the on-court production, Winston has elevated his game to compensate. As he put it to The Athletic,»that I have to 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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