Which teams will make the final of March Madness 2019?
March Madness 2019 is nearly upon us, with Selection Sunday taking place on March 17 and the First Four games kicking off two days later. Predictions for the winning teams are already coming thick and fast as we get closer to the date, and a few favorites are definitely starting to emerge. But we can't discount the dark horses, and one of those colleges with an outside chance may still be the one that stays the course and emerges triumphant from the Final Four in April.
The latest AP Poll and the official NCAA Bracket Preview rankings are looking pretty similar, with just a few minor differences of opinion in the ordering. Most significant is the jostling between Tennessee and Duke for the top spot. Duke University is the safest bet: in Coach Mike Krzyzewski, they've got a bona fide hall of famer who has already won five championships, and the Blue Devils have an impressive five previous wins to their name.
Duke were seeded number two in 2017 and 2018, and last won the championship in 2015. They've made it to the Final Four on 16 previous occasions. This year, they're well balanced for offense and defense, ranking third and fourth in the nation respectively, and they've certainly got individual talent: Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish are all looking likely stars for the next NBA draft. The Devils' one weakness, arguably, is their free-throw shooting, and a great showing in the regular season doesn't always translate to success in the one-on-one showdowns of the tournament.
That's why many are backing Tennessee for the championship. The Volunteers may have never made the Final Four before, but this year could be their one. They've got a superlative team, headed up by stunning forwards Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, and coach Rick Barnes, who made the final weekend once back in 2003, is hungry for success. The Vols need to improve their defense, but they've been the people's favorites since they defeated Gonzaga 76-73 back in December, and watching them play, it's not hard to see why.
Of course, the exact odds are shifting all the time, and those so inclined should take a look at the latest March Madness betting for clarification. Speaking of Gonzaga, they're still very much in with a chance, despite losing top player Killian Tillie to a torn ligament in his foot earlier in the season. The facts are though that even without Tillie, the current Zags are a great team. Look out for Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke especially. Like Tennessee, they need to work on their defense, but the likelihood is that we'll be seeing them up in the Final Four come April.
A growing number of pundits are also saying that this could finally be Virginia's year. Traditionally, the Cavaliers do well in the regular season but then fall apart in the playoffs. Last year, they lost out in the first round to UMBC. For all that, however, they've got a solid team with all-round skills: they can keep the ball, they can shoot well, and they've got the drive and the motivation to go all the way. Crucial to that ambition, of course, is star player De'Andre Hunter, aided and abetted by a significant change in tactics that could easily turn Virginia's fortunes around.
Kentucky and the rest
Kentucky are also looking good, but this year's Wildcats are mostly young and inexperienced. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes their form harder to predict. The exceptions are starters Reid Travis and PJ Washington, who have evolved into an unbeatable defensive team, and Keldon Johnson, who is absolutely one to watch.
Other potential contenders would have to include North Carolina, Michigan State and the Michigan Wolverines. We could maybe put Kansas and Nevada in there too. Of course, Selection Sunday will really clarify matters, and that's when the betting will start in earnest. But for now, a cautious man would certainly be backing either Duke or Tennessee, with the Blue Devils currently seeming to have the edge, realistically, over the Volunteers. Virginia certainly need to be taken seriously, however, and Gonzaga and Kentucky partisans can certainly make a case for their respective colleges.
Calling Duke for the win might be a conservative move, and there's still everything to play for. We'd love to see Tennessee or even Virginia step up to the mark, and there's every chance that it could happen. The choice is yours. Let the Madness begin!