March Madness bracket 2019: Bill Bender’s expert NCAA Tournament predictions
In last year’s NCAA Tournament bracket picks, I left a section of March Madness tips in the bottom with this gem:
“I always take all the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds to win in the first round. If I miss, then I have a story to tell.”
Last year was the first time I filled out an “expert bracket” for Sporting News, and I learned the most valuable lesson of all: Get the national champion right. You can guess where this is going.
I picked Virginia to win the NCAA Tournament — and the Cavs promptly became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 seed, when UMBC pulled that first-round shocker last year. That’s the difference between doing this for the first time and, say, somebody who’s covering their 31st Final Four this season, like our own Mike DeCourcy. Mike picked Villanova to beat Michigan last year because he knows what he’s doing.
My bracket was a disaster. I also pointed out “five games that will determine your bracket.” The problem with that was none of those five games materialized because of early-round upsets. This is a lot more difficult than football, where the end game is picking the winner of Alabama and Clemson every year.
I didn’t even get that right last year.
That just reinforces the lesson: I had Villanova in the championship game last year but didn’t pick the Wildcats to win it all. I wouldn’t have remembered picking Virginia to lose the championship game. If you want to win your bracket, then you must get the national champion right. It’s as simple as that.
It’s beyond embarrassing when you miss like that, but I wore that for a year, and I now have that story to tell. So, let’s try this again: One of three ACC teams will win the national championship this year. It comes down to a choice among Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.
I could pick North Carolina. It swept the Blue Devils in the regular season and nearly pulled off the three-sweep (with Zion Williamson in Duke’s lineup, mind you) in the ACC Tournament. The Heels have a trio that can carry them to another one with Cameron Johnson, Luke Maye and Coby White.
I could pick Virginia, too. That would be the best story, to bounce back from losing to No. 16 last year to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1984. Plus, it would give me another story to tell next year.
But, I’m going to go with Duke and the bump that comes with the return of Zion. That’s the thing I missed last year: You see, the Cavaliers lost De’Andre Hunter before the tournament last year and I disregarded the impact. I won’t ignore what Williamson can do with the most talented team in the country.
It’s a riskier pick than it seems — it always is with freshmen. But I’m going to trust the Blue Devils to win it all. At a minimum, I’m trusting them to get out of the first round.
If not, then I’ll have an even better story to tell.
NCAA Tournament bracket picks
March Madness features from Sporting News
“40 Minutes of Hell” to Hog Heaven: Nolan Richardson’s 1993-94 Arkansas team will go down as one of the most fun SEC title-winning teams of all time. It was something he built, one minute at a time.
A barrier-breaking title: The 1961-62 Cincinnati Bearcats made history when they started four black players in their NCAA title game win over Ohio State. We remember the importance of that groundbreaking win.
An Oral History of Steph Curry’s 2008 Breakout: In 2008, a little-known, baby-faced guard from Davidson completely took over the NCAA Tournament.
Upset City: Reliving the wildest opening venue in NCAA Tournament history.
The Fagan Jinx: They’re not just upset “alerts” when Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan is in attendance. Recapping the many improbable upsets Fagan has been on hand to witness.
DeCourcy’s best of 30 years: Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy ranks the best games he has witnessed from 30 years’ worth of NCAA Tournament coverage.
The thrill of victory . : Sporting News staff recall their favorite memories of the NCAA Tournament.
. And the agony of defeat: Sporting News staff recalls their most heartbreaking memories from the NCAA Tournament. Get your tissues ready.
Top 80 upsets in March Madness history: It’s not March Madness until there’s an upset. Ranking the best we ever saw.
Best buzzer-beaters in NCAA Tournament history: The defining shots of the NCAA Tournament, and the reason it’s dubbed “March Madness.”