2019 March Madness upsets, sleepers, Final Four predictions

If you’re sitting around agonizing over your brackets, we’re here to help.

Before the games tip off, WTOP sports anchor Dave Preston and digital sports editor Noah Frank break down the local teams in the field, potential early-round upsets, sleepers that can make a run and Final Four picks.

Maybe you’ll nod along. Maybe you’ll scoff aloud. Maybe you’ll find something you hadn’t thought about that helps push you one way or another in your decision-making. Just remember — if we help you get your picks right, you’re welcome. If we mess up your otherwise pristine bracket, we were never here and you didn’t read this.

See our upsets, sleepers and Final Four picks in the gallery, then keep reading below for a breakdown of our local teams in the field.

Yale's Jordan Bruner dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Ivy League championship against Harvard at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., Sunday, March 17, 2019, in New Haven, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Upsets East Region Dave Preston: Yale. LSU was in the top ten before coach Will Wade was served a subpoena by the federal government and a suspension by his school regarding the recent FBI investigation. The Tigers then wilted in the SEC Tournament. While they have the clear edge talent-wise over Yale, the circumstances surrounding the program aren’t the recipe for a deep tournament run. Noah Frank: I like Belmont to prove worthy of its at-large selection and not only make its way out of Dayton, but win two more games before ducking out to Michigan State in the Sweet 16. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) (AP/Jessica Hill)
Oregon's Payton Pritchard (3) celebrates after scoring against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Upsets South Region DP: Saint Mary’s. Villanova has been boom or bust recently, either advancing to the Final Four or saying adios the first weekend. The Wildcats gritted their way to the Big East Tournament championship for a record third straight year, but wrapped up the regular season with five straight road losses. Even though Hartford isn’t exactly San Jose, I’m feeling Jay Wright’s team has a short stay this March. NF: There are plenty of potential upsets here, but give me a 12-13 second round matchup of Oregon and UC Irvine for a place in the Sweet 16. (AP Photo/John Locher) (AP/John Locher)
New Mexico State's Ivan Aurrecoechea, right, knocks the ball away from Kansas' Dedric Lawson (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Upsets Midwest Region DP: There’s always that one team that wins its league tournament that somehow feels like it spent a ton of energy doing so … and then can’t recreate the magic the following weekend. Auburn took the SEC in an emotional day for Bruce Pearl, who lost an assistant coach not to another job but to prison (Chuck Person convicted in the FBI probe). New Mexico State ranks 26th in the nation in scoring defense and won’t be a walkover. NF: If New Mexico State (hey, remember them?) can catch a bad shooting day from Auburn, the Aggies will earn a rematch with a Kansas team it should have beaten earlier this year at a much friendlier neutral site. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (AP/Charlie Riedel)
Murray State's Ja Morant in action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against SIU - Edwardsville in Murray, Ky., Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Upsets West Region DP: Murray State. Marquette was once 23-4 and in conversations to not only win the Big East but secure a #2 seed. But four losses to end the regular season plus a four-hour Big East Semifinal defeat to Seton Hall have exposed the Golden Eagles as another ordinary team. Markus Howard is a dynamic point guard, but he won’t be enough to get this team out of its late-season skid. NF: They’re such a popular pick that it’s easy to doubt them, but yeah, I’ll take Murray State and Ja Morant to get at least one win. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley) (AP/Timothy D. Easley)
Minnesota's Daniel Oturu (25) grabs a rebound against Michigan's Eli Brooks during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Sleepers East Region DP: Minnesota boasts the Big Ten’s leading rebounder in Jordan Murphy, and the Golden Gophers play Louisville, which just happened to fire Rick Pitino two years ago. Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino, who happens to be Rick’s son. They already have plenty of tape and a scouting report on the likely second round foe Michigan State. NF: See Belmont above. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) (AP/Nam Y. Huh)
Malik Fitts
Sleepers South Region DP: Cincinnati is fresh off beating Houston to win the AAC Tournament … and the Bearcats are also bound for Columbus, which happens to be the capital of the state that the city of Cincinnati resides. Don’t be surprised to see the underseeded Bearcats make noise. NF: The advanced metrics have loved Saint Mary’s all season long, and this isn’t the same Villanova team we’ve seen recently. If they play with the discipline they did in the WCC title game win over Gonzaga, the Gaels have a shot at the Sweet 16 or beyond. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) (AP/Isaac Brekken)
Seton Hall guard Myles Powell (13) drives against Georgetown guard Jamorko Pickett during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East men's tournament, Thursday, March 14, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Sleepers Midwest Region DP: Seton Hall is fresh off losing the Big East Tournament championship and possesses the type of player (Myles Powell) who can make noise in the big dance. They’ve also beaten Kentucky this season. NF: Wofford’s only losses came early, on the road, to teams all seeded in the top half of this year’s bracket. After a year spent beating up the SoCon, look for them to take advantage of inconsistent Seton Hall and Kentucky teams en route to a Sweet 16, an Elite Eight, and (gasp!) perhaps even the Final Four. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) (AP/Julio Cortez)
Duke's Zion Williamson, right, battles Syracuse's Oshae Brissett, left, for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Sleepers West Region DP: Syracuse plays that famed 2-3 zone and gets their best player back from injury in Tyus Battle. The Orange lost late regular season games to North Carolina, Duke and Virginia after leading all three games at the half. They won’t be star-struck by Gonzaga, which has lost the last four years in the NCAAs to an ACC school. NF: Can you call a 3 seed a sleeper? Michigan’s only really struggled this year against elite defenses, and Texas Tech’s is the most elite of them all. I like them in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond) (AP/Nell Redmond)
Duke's Zion Williamson (1) celebrates after Duke defeated Florida State in the NCAA college basketball championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Final Four DP: Duke, Virginia, UNC, Michigan Duke has the best player in Zion Williamson and the best coach in Mike Krzyzewski. Virginia will be tested by a Tennessee that doesn’t have to travel far (Columbus & Louisville), but this year the Cavaliers have additional hitch to their giddy-up in an offense that might not be able to match their best-in-the-nation defense. North Carolina won’t win every game by 50, and there’s going to be at least one win where UNC looks like they have no idea how to play basketball for 5-10 minutes but survive anyway. Michigan began the year 18-0 and head coach John Beilein always gets the best out of his teams in March — this year won’t be an exception. NF: Duke, Virginia, Wofford, Texas Tech With a healthy Zion, it’s hard to imagine anyone keeping the Blue Devils out of Minneapolis. Virginia’s the best all-around team in the country and has the best offense of Tony Bennett’s tenure, which we’ve learned is crucial in March. Wofford might seem crazy until you realize they’re a Top 20 team in KenPom (and 13th in NET, FWIW) and that the Final Four has included a 7 seed or lower in each of the past six seasons. And Texas Tech is very well-coached, plays stifling defense and has the athleticism to wear teams down like they did last year on their Elite Eight run. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond) (AP/Nell Redmond)
De'Andre Hunter
National Champion DP: Duke Duke will find their way to Washington, D.C., for a coronation next weekend after disposing of their alphabet soup (NCC, NDSU, VCU, UCF) in nearby Columbia, SC. A likely avenging of a February loss (Virginia Tech) looms. The question is, how did three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Maryland, Minnesota) wind up in the bottom half of that regional? I thought the Selection Committee’s long lunches were put in place to prevent that. NF: Virginia Plenty of people will bet against the Cavaliers this year. That’s fair — they’ve given them every reason to do so. But they’ve also spent a year becoming the best version of themselves that we’ve seen. They can shoot the three, but they’re not limited to it. They’re balanced. They’re experienced. And they’ve lost to Duke twice. It’s really, really hard to beat a talented team three times in the same season. Just ask Gonzaga. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) (AP/Chuck Burton)
(1/10)
Yale's Jordan Bruner dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Ivy League championship against Harvard at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., Sunday, March 17, 2019, in New Haven, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Oregon's Payton Pritchard (3) celebrates after scoring against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
New Mexico State's Ivan Aurrecoechea, right, knocks the ball away from Kansas' Dedric Lawson (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Murray State's Ja Morant in action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against SIU - Edwardsville in Murray, Ky., Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Minnesota's Daniel Oturu (25) grabs a rebound against Michigan's Eli Brooks during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Malik Fitts
Seton Hall guard Myles Powell (13) drives against Georgetown guard Jamorko Pickett during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East men's tournament, Thursday, March 14, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Duke's Zion Williamson, right, battles Syracuse's Oshae Brissett, left, for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Duke's Zion Williamson (1) celebrates after Duke defeated Florida State in the NCAA college basketball championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
De'Andre Hunter

Virginia (1 seed, South)

Virginia’s been waiting a year for this. They got the benefit of a pretty soft half of their region, and could well avoid a real test until Tennessee in the Elite Eight. Not that they’re looking past anyone. But Virginia’s path to the first Final Four (and, maybe, title?) of the Tony Bennett era isn’t hard to map.

Virginia Tech (4 seed, East)

Star point guard Justin Robinson’s return from a foot injury makes the Hokies one of the more intriguing teams in the field. He’s clearly not back to 100 percent, but how much can he give? Will Virginia Tech be able to integrate him back into the offense seamlessly? How long will they have to try to figure it all out? Then, if they can make the second weekend, do they have what it takes to bring down Duke?

Maryland (6 seed, East)

Maryland’s got perhaps the best looking path for potential success, facing a play-in team, then a potentially in-turmoil LSU squad with no tournament experience. But the Terps have been mercurial all year, struggling to win games that seem like gimmes. Their limp to the finish line (5-5 in their last 10, 6-7 in their final 13) was capped off by a lifeless loss to an undermanned Nebraska club. That has to change.

VCU (8 seed, East)

The Rams got two good pieces of news — they avoided a play-in game, and get all the way until Friday night for star point guard Marcus Evans to shake off the bone bruise that knocked him (and VCU) out of the A-10 Tournament. They should beat a green UCF team that barely made the field, though it would be the shock of the tournament if they could knock off Duke. That’s just a tough draw for a team built to be a giant-killer.

Old Dominion (14 seed, South)

Don’t sleep on the Monarchs, who slipped VCU at home and Syracuse up at the Carrier Dome in the non-conference schedule. They’ve got surprising size for a mid-major with two seven-footers, so they won’t be overwhelmed by Purdue’s size. And they’ve got a pair of senior guards in BJ Stith and Ahmad Caver, which is always a recipe for success in March.

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