#14 Old Dominion Upsets #3 Purdue
Yale over LSU is the trendy No. 14-seed pick, as LSU appears to be a potential upset target due to the investigation surrounding the recruiting scandal restricting Head Coach Will Wade from his coaching duties. However, LSU is still an uber-talented team, and I believe that the biggest first round upset will come from a different No. 14-seed — Old Dominion. The Monarchs boast a 26-8 record and come out of Conference USA, a league that has enjoyed recent tournament success. The last four tournaments has seen a Conference USA team pull off an upset (UAB in 2015, Middle Tennessee in 2016 and 2017 and Marshall in 2018), so multiple teams in the league have displayed their ability to compete with schools from power leagues. The Monarchs are a stout defensive team, ranked 43rd in defensive efficiency in the KenPom metric. Old Dominion is led by an impressive and experienced backcourt, a key ingredient for upsets, that features seniors BJ Stith (a UVA transfer) and Ahmad Caver, who both average over 16 points per game. Also, the Monarchs have proved themselves against quality competition, beating two tournament teams this season, No. 8-seeds Syracuse and VCU. Purdue, however, will be their toughest test to date. Purdue is definitely an elite team well deserving of a No. 3-seed, sharing the regular season title in the Big Ten with Michigan State. The Boilermakers are a popular pick to make a deep run, led by star point guard Carsen Edwards, who averages 23 points a game. However, Edwards has been in a recent shooting slump, which is likely correlated to the lingering back injury that he is playing through. Purdue also lost in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament to a mediocre Minnesota team, so they aren’t entering the tournament with much momentum. Don’t be surprised if the Monarchs pull off the upset.
All Seven ACC Participants Reach the Sweet 16
The ACC is the best conference in college basketball and could potentially secure seven spots in the Sweet 16, which would break their own record of six from 2016. It isn’t bold to assert that top four seeds Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State and Virginia Tech can make the second weekend, so instead I will focus on the other two teams — No. 7-seed Louisville and No. 8-seed Syracuse. Louisville is seeded on the seven line, but is ranked 17th in KenPom, which means they deserved a No. 5 or No.6-seed. They initially take on a mediocre Minnesota team that they should not have much of an issue with. The upset I am predicting is a win over the No. 2-seed Big Ten Champion Michigan State Spartans. The Cardinals have a win over North Carolina on their resume, and although they blew a 23-point lead to Duke, proved that they can play with any team in the nation. Two of Michigan State’s top eight rotation players entering the season will not be available for the tournament, so the Spartans are not at full strength, creating a realistic upset chance for Louisville. The team who knocked off Michigan State in last season’s tournament, Syracuse, also has a feasible path to the Sweet 16. They initially match up with No. 9-seed Baylor, a completely average team by all metrics, which should not be much of an issue for the Orange. Their next game would be against the top seed Gonzaga Bulldogs, the only team to beat Duke at full strength this year. There are two main reasons why I think Syracuse can upset Gonzaga. One is Head Coach Jim Boeheim’s historical success in the tournament. Boeheim won a national championship in 2003, but in recent years has led teams with underwhelming regular seasons to impressive tournament success. Syracuse was a No. 10-seed in 2016 when they made the final four, and last year, as a No.11-seed, made the Sweet 16. The core of that team is still intact, and that experience is very valuable in March. Also, the notorious two-three zone of the Orange causes problems for teams who have minimal time to prepare for the game, having to create a different offensive game plan. Not to mention, in December, Gonzaga struggled against Washington’s two-three zone, as the game went down to the wire, but the Bulldogs still won by two. Syracuse is a better version of Washington, and will definitely be a difficult obstacle for the Zags to overcome.
Duke Does Not Win The Title
The Blue Devils are the clear title favorite, led by freshman phenom Zion Williamson. Williamson is the most talked about athlete in America right now and will be the most hyped-up player to enter the NBA since LeBron James. And Duke isn’t just Zion, likely lottery picks and fellow talented freshman RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones are an excellent supporting cast. However, Duke is totally beatable and there are three main reasons why. The first is the team’s poor three-point shooting, as they are ranked 339th in Division I in three-point field goal percentage. Three-point shooting is historically a crucial aspect for teams to succeed in the tournament, and outside shooting woes will allow teams to double Zion and make Duke win by scoring over the top. Another reason is experience. Many title contenders boast upperclassmen players who have played together for longer and have the poise and experience to handle the volatile one and done nature of the tournament. Also, Duke has very little depth. Center Marques Bolden is questionable to play in the tournament with a knee injury, which leaves Coach K with few players he trusts. In the ACC Championship game, the four stud freshmen all played 37 or more minutes. This reliance on huge minutes from these four players will be tough to sustain over the course of the tournament, and problems will arise when the inevitable foul trouble strikes the Blue Devils at some point, forcing one of their stars to sit and unproven reserves to step up. Additionally, Duke was widely regarded as the most talented team in college basketball in each of the last two seasons, yet failed to even reach the final four both times. This year definitely could be different, as Zion truly is a generational talent and is supplemented by other future pros, but the best team doesn’t always win, and there are definitely weaknesses to this team that can be exposed.