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March Madness 2019 Predictions: Final Four expert picks to make

March Madness 2019 Predictions: Final Four expert picks to make

The NCAA Tournament bracket is finally here and it's time for March Madness to begin.

The madness begins on Tuesday and Wednesday night with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, with the first round beginning on Thursday. Slowly but surely, the bracket will be whittled down to 32 teams, and then 16, then eight, and finally, the Final Four.

The 2019 NCAA Tournament field is as wide open as ever before. There is only one legitimately great team -- No. 1 overall seed Duke -- in the tournament. There are a handful of really good teams, like Gonzaga, Michigan State, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, but each comes with a litany of questions marks.

So which teams will, in fact, make the 2019 Final Four?

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2019 NCAA Tournament Final Four Picks:

Drew Gooden, Wizards analyst, NBC Sports Washington: #2 Michigan State (East), #1 Gonzaga (West), #1 Virginia (South), #2 Kentucky (Midwest)

Jimmy Patsos, Wizards analyst, NBC Sports Washington: #1 Duke (East), #3 Texas Tech (West), #2 Tennessee (South), #2 Kentucky (Midwest)

Troy Machir, Sr. Editor. NBC Sports Washington: #1 Duke (East), #4 Florida State (West), #1 Virginia (South), #5 Auburn (Midwest)

Tyler Byrum, Editor, NBC Sports Washington: #1 Duke (East), #1 Gonzaga (West), #2 Tennessee (South), #2 Kentucky (Midwest)

Rob Dauster, Sr. Writer, NBC Sports College Basketball Talk: #1 Duke (East), #3 Texas Tech (West), #1 Virginia (South), #1 North Carolina (Midwest)

2019 Final Four Analysis: 

East Region:

No. 1 seed Duke is the overwhelming favorite to not only make the Final Four out of the East Region but win the National Championship. The Blue Devils have the country's best player (ZIon Williamson), best coach (Mike Krzyzewski), best defender (Tre Jones) and two lottery picks (Cam Reddish, RJ Barrett). The only thing that could stop Duke is an injury.

If you really don't want to pick Duke, No. 2 seed Michigan State is the next best thing. This is a Spartans team that has the makeup of a team that can make a deep run, and Tom Izzo's team always seems to play Duke close.

West Region:

The West Region is the region of chaos. No. 1 seed Gonzaga is the most talented team in the region and it isn't very close. The Zags failed to advance based the first weekend four straight years from 2010 to 2014. Since then, however, Gonzaga has met expectations, advancing to two Sweet 16's, an Elite Eight, and a National Championship Game. But Gonzaga has a brutal second-round matchup with either Syracuse or Baylor.

There is no guarantee Gonzaga makes it to the second weekend, and the West Region has six teams that can make the Final Four. No. 3 seed Texas Tech, led by future lottery pick Jarrett Culver, is a great pick, as is No. 4 seed Florida State. There's also mid-major darlings No. 6 seed Buffalo and No. 7 seed Nevada, both of which began the season with Final Four aspirations. We didn't even mention No. 2 seed Michigan. The Wolverines could make it to Minneapolis. The west is chaos.

Which team advances to the Final Four from the West Region is anybody's guess.

South Region:

Despite being on the wrong end of the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, No. 1 seed Virginia is a good Final Four pick to make in the South Region. Why? They have more scoring options than last year and the competition isn't as good.

No. 2 seed Tennessee, a season-long favorite to make the Final Four, is treading water, and Volunteers head coach Rick Barnes has a checkered tournament resume. Expect upsets to litter the South Region, opening up a clear path for the steadiest team in the country to finally get the monkey off its back.

Midwest Region:

There's a reason why the three ACC teams were placed on the top seed line in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Final Four chalk is a rare thing, but the West region should take care of that. No. 1 seed North Carolina is the best bet to emerge from the Midwest Region. Why? They have an excellent lead guard in Coby White, a clutch veteran leader in Luke Maye, future NBA players in Nassir Little and Cam Johnson, and a multi-time national championship winning coach in Roy Williams. That's typically the recipe for success in March Madness.

No. 2 seed Kentucky is probably the next best bet, thanks to their bevy of future draft picks. But it's not just raw talent. Sure, P.J. Washington and Keldon Johnson are the starring attractions. But Ashton Hagans is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country and Tyler Herro is the type of play-making deep threat that will put a team ahead and bail a team out.

But if you think the 2019 NCAA Tournament is headed toward an oddball Final Four, look at No. 5 seed Auburn. The Tigers have future pros in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown leading the cause,  have solid rim protectors in Austin Wiley and Chuma Okeke.

Auburn likes to force turnovers and get to the basket, thus increasing extra possessions, something you need to succeed in March.

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2019 March Madness Bubble Watch: Lipscomb Bisons

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USA Today

2019 March Madness Bubble Watch: Lipscomb Bisons

Lipscomb has all the tools to bust your NCAA Tournament brackets. The Bisons boast an experienced roster led by star senior Garrison Mathews and after going dancing for the first time in school history in 2018, they are hungry for more after a first-round loss at the hands of North Carolina.

The Bisons will be gunning for the ASUN Tournament title to secure an automatic NCAA Tournament bid, but they do have an outside shot at an at-large bid.

If they find their way into the Big Dance, they are a team with which higher seeds should be afraid to tango. 

Lipscomb Bisons (24-6; 14-2, T-1st in Atlantic Sun Conference)

Tim's Take: Lipscomb may be the best offense you haven't heard about this season, and its leader Garrison Mathews might be the best offensive player you haven't heard about over the last four years. In his career, he has over 2,300 points, shoots the three well, gets to the bucket, and knocks down his free throws. 

He is surrounded by talented, experienced players who make up the 9th best scoring offense in the nation (84.1 ppg). Ball movement and tempo are the offense's two calling cards. The Bisons rank 9th in the nation in assists per game (17.5) and 14th in the nation in adjusted tempo efficiency. 

They like to get up and down the floor and run a lot. That doesn't always necessarily mean they are going to win, but it gives you an indication of their identity. This is a veteran team whose three best players are senior, senior, and junior [respectively].

They went to the NCAA Tournament last year, back at it again this year. They have a great coach in Casey Alexander who was named ASUN Coach of the Year.

Lipscomb players to watch:

G Garrison Mathews (senior) - 20.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 84.7 FT%, 41.0 3PT%
F Rob Marberry (senior) - 14.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 61.6 FG% (leads ASUN), 67.7 FT%
G Kenny Cooper (junior) - 10.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.1 apg, 59.3 FT%, 46.0 FG%, recently recorded program's first triple-double in eight years

Lipscomb Tournament Profile:

Rankings: #50 KenPom; #45 NET; unranked all season in AP and USA Today polls

Notable Results: Won at #18 TCU 73-64; lost at Louisville 72-68; lost at Clemson 84-67; lost to Belmont twice (87-83, 76-74) in Battle of the Boulevard rivalry 

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Current, former NBA players to Zion Williamson after knee injury: Sit out until the NBA draft

Current, former NBA players to Zion Williamson after knee injury: Sit out until the NBA draft

Duke's freshman forward Zion Williamson is the biggest name in college basketball. So big, that if you just say 'Zion' people automatically know who you are talking about.

When the 18-year-old phenom slipped and tore through his Nike sneaker Wednesday night against North Carolina resulting in him suffering what coach Mike Krzyzewski called a "mild right knee sprain," questions about protecting his future arose.

Expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, seeing Williamson go down and unable to return now has current and former NBA players calling for him to sit out the remainder of the season to protect his stock.

Duke felt the loss of Williamson as the Tar Heels went on to win 88-72. How much time Williamson will miss will become clearer Thursday, but is sitting out the season something he should, and will, consider?

Earlier this month, Williamson told Sports Hub Triad‘s Josh Graham that he didn't commit to Duke just to sit on the sideline.

“I just can’t stop playing," Williamson said. "I’d be letting my teammates down. I’d be letting Coach K down. I’d be letting a lot of people down. If I wanted to sit out, I wouldn’t have went to college. I came to Duke to play.”

Heading into Wednesday's rivalry, the freshman was averaging 21.6 points-per-game, 8.8 total rebounds and a 68.3 field goal percentage. Ranked No. 1 in college basketball, a national championship appearance with him at the forefront is likely. 

Williamson does have a $8 million loss of value insurance policy that Duke paid for should he be selected 16th or later in the NBA draft, according to The Action Network's Darren Rovell. Injury or not, it's unlikely he would even drop that far. 

Former NBA star Scottie Pippen suggested Williamson shut it down for this very reason back in January.

"I think he's done enough for basketball, college basketball, that it's more about him personally now," Pippen said on ESPN's The Jump. "I think for him as a young player that I would shut it down. I would stop playing because I feel that he could risk a major injury that could really hurt his career." 

The extent and significance of his injury will become clearer over the next few weeks, but don't expect this debate to be settled any time soon.

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