NCAA

March Madness 2019: Five teams with the easiest path the Final Four

March Madness 2019: Five teams with the easiest path the Final Four

March Madness lives off of a simple principle that at the start of the month every team in the country could win the National Championship if they win out the rest of their games.

We know that is easier said than done. But, for teams like Oregon, Bradley and Saint Louis it holds true and they still have a chance to win it all. 

Now that the 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed, we know that not all paths are created equal.

In particular, not all paths to the Final Four are created equal. Of course, we all know that the No. 1 seeds ideally have the best path to make it all the way. Then the No. 2s, 3s, etc. follow.

But again, that is easier said than done. 

These teams, outside of the obvious No. 1 seeds, have the easiest path to make a run to the Final Four.

EAST: No. 2 Michigan State

Potential Path: No. 15 Bradley, No. 7 Louisville, No. 3 LSU, No. 1 Duke

No one in Duke’s quadrant of the bracket will believe that they have a favorable path to the Final Four. However, Duke is a No. 1 seed and not eligible to be considered in this post. 

The Spartans are a hot team. They’ve won five straight (three of which were to top 20 opponents) and 10 of their last 11. Their toughest path, by seed, should be a cakewalk.

Bradley only is in because they upset Loyola-Chicago in the Missouri Valley Conference semifinals. Louisville has only won two games in the past month, both to Notre Dame. LSU is without their head coach.

Outside of their collision with Duke, their side of the East Region should be fine. 

SOUTH: No. 3 Purdue 

Potential Path: No. 14 Old Dominion, No. 6 Villanova, No. 2 Tennessee, No. 1 Virginia

The South is a tricky region with two question mark teams carrying the banner. Virginia has a poor history in the NCAA Tournament under Tony Bennett. Tennessee has benefited from an incredible home court but is a surprising 11-5 outside of their home state.

Not many analysts will be picking those two teams to going far into the tournament. 

Purdue is the next team to fall in line with a beast in Carsen Edwards. 

MIDWEST: No. 4 Kansas

Potential Path: No. 13 Northeastern, No. 5 Auburn, No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Kentucky

The Midwest will be a gantlet, which will benefit the Jayhawks. 

SEC Champion Auburn has to face New Mexico State before their potential Second Round clash with Kansas.  Kentucky will have to go through Wofford/ Seton Hall first, and then likely have Houston/ Iowa State next.

Sure, a matchup with North Carolina is never easy if you look ahead to the Sweet 16, but the Midwest Region is in Kansas City.

If Kansas makes it to the Sweet 16, Bill Self’s Jayhawks should be the favorite to make it to the Final Four no matter the opponent.  

WEST: No. 4 Florida State

Potential Path: No. 13 Vermont, No. 5 Marquette, No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 2 Michigan

Florida State is peaking at the right moment and the committee rewarded them with a straightforward path to Minneapolis. 

After dispatching Vermont in the First Round, they’ll have a matchup against either Marquette (with an injured Marcus Howard) or Murray State, who rides through one guy, Ja Morant. 

If you had to take a No. 1 seed to face, you want Gonzaga. Same situation for Michigan when looking at the No. 2 seeds. And that is IF Michigan gets past a bracket with Buffalo, Texas Tech and Nevada.

AND ONE: Kansas State

Potential Path: No. 13 UC Irvine, No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Tennessee

Again, the South holds several question marks. Not many will pick No. 1 Virginia or No. 2 Tennessee to win the region. 

While there is a concern with Dean Wade’s availability for the Wildcats, look at who’s on deck for them. 

Wisconsin lives and dies by Ethan Happ at this point in the year, assuming they get past Pac-12 Champion Oregon. Then we have the same worry about Virginia/ Tennessee as mentioned above.

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Kihei Clark's late three carries Virginia past Virginia Tech for 5th straight win

Kihei Clark's late three carries Virginia past Virginia Tech for 5th straight win

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Kihei Clark knew exactly what he was going to do when he took an inbounds pass in a tie game on the road and 11 seconds racing quickly off the clock.

"Yeah. I was shooting it," the sophomore point guard said after his 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left lifted Virginia to a 56-53 victory at Virginia Tech on Wednesday night, saving them after they blew a big halftime lead.

"I probably just used the ball screen and I kind of figured they thought I was going to be driving so I crossed back and I created some space," he said.

And gave the reigning national champions another nail-biter win. It extended their winning streak to five, four of them decided by three points or fewer.

"We're giving a lot of people a heart attack," forward Braxton Key said. "We're learning. We're a young team. We're starting to grow up though. We're learning how to win."

Clark's lone 3-pointer rescued Virginia (20-7, 12-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), which led 26-11 at halftime before the Hokies started making shots they'd been missing. They twice took the lead in the final five minutes, and Tyrece Radford's slicing drive for a layup with 11 seconds left tied things at 53.

"We were doing the exact same things in the second half that we were doing in the the first half," first-year coach Mike Young said. "The only difference was that they were being a little bit more aggressive and shots were falling."

The Cavaliers (20-7, 12-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) solidified their hold on fourth place in the conference standings and won their fourth straight in the series. The Hokies (15-13, 6-11) lost for the eighth time in nine games, and Young said he's not as concerned with his team's psyche as winning games.

"We don't get into feelings around here," he said.

Mamadi Diakite led Virginia with 19 points, Key had 10 with 11 rebounds and Clark had seven points, six rebounds and six assists.

Landers Nolley led the Hokies with 13 points.

Virginia Tech came back after setting a program record since joining the ACC in 2004 with just 11 first-half points to trail 26-11. Their comeback began immediately after halftime as they hit 6 of 7 shots, including all three 3-pointers, then used an 11-2 run to get within 40-37 on P.J. Horne's 3-pointer.

They pulled even at 44 on two free throws by Nolley, went ahead on Hunter Cattoor's 3-pointer with 4:49 left and it was back and forth to the finish. After two free throws by Nolley gave the Hokies a 51-48 lead with 3:31 left, Clark scored inside and Casey Morsell hit a 3-pointer for Virginia to lead 53-51.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers lead the nation is scoring defense (52.7) and have done much of their best work against the Hokies. They held Virginia Tech to just 17 first-half points in their first meeting, a 65-39 victory, tying a Hokies' first-half futility record since they joined the ACC in 2004. Virginia Tech has managed just 17 three times, twice against Virginia (2014, 2020) and once against Temple (2009). The earlier game this year also marked Virginia Tech's lowest scoring total since a 43-33 loss to East Carolina in 1967.

Virginia Tech: Hokies scoring leader Landers Nolley (16.7 ppg) was not in the starting lineup for just the second time this season. He came into the game 8 for 44 from the field (18%) over his last three games and 2 for 17 (11%) from 3-point territory. He finished 3 for 10 overall and 1 for 5 on 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

The Cavaliers return home to face No. 7 Duke on Saturday night.

The Hokies head out on the road to play at No. 11 Louisville on Sunday. 

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WATCH: Maryland's Darryl Morsell sinks game-winner on Minnesota

WATCH: Maryland's Darryl Morsell sinks game-winner on Minnesota

Darryl Morsell called game. 

Somehow, someway, the Terps were down by as many as 17 to Minnesota. And somehow, someway, they fought back and avoided the colossal upset thanks to an icy dagger from Morsell in the closing seconds. 

With the win, ninth-ranked Maryland improved to 23-5 and maintained their two-game lead over Penn State and Michigan State for the Big Ten regular-season title. 

But even though his team escaped with a win on a huge play, head coach Mark Turgeon still had a bone to pick with the game's late start time. 

“I hope to be in my driveway at 4:30 in the morning, playing a 9 ET game on a Wednesday, ridiculous,” Turgeon said. 

Maryland will host Michigan State on Saturday in a game that should all but decide conference's regular-season champion. 

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