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Wayne Staats | | March 21, 2019

2019 NCAA tournament predictions: Picks, upsets for March Madness, South Region

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The 2019 NCAA tournament should have plenty of upsets and surprises, but does that mean No. 1 seed Virginia is going to have another shocking loss? It's time for South Region predictions.

The Cavaliers are the favorites in the region, though No. 2 Tennessee and No. 3 Purdue are also hoping for a March Madness run.

2019 NCAA tournament predictions: South Region picks, predictions

REGION PREDICTIONS: East | Midwest | West

The No. 1 seed: Virginia

No first-round embarrassment this year. The Cavaliers — and their fans — are probably sick of hearing about the UMBC game. The best way to change that narrative of NCAA tournament disappointment is to go on a run. This could (should?) be the year. Because of their reputation, Virginia will be a popular upset victim. But KenPom rates this team in the top 5 on both offense and defense. This will be a different story.

The other top contender: No. 2 Tennessee

The Volunteers were ranked No. 1 in the nation for a stretch during the season, tied for second in the SEC and made the conference tournament final. Up until that loss to Auburn in the SEC final, the Volunteers had an outside chance to earn a No. 1 seed. That didn't happen, but Tennessee is in position for a long March run. Grant Williams, with his 19 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, is the perfect March Madness star.

Best First-Round game: No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Oregon

Get ready for two great defenses to battle in San Jose. Ethan Happ (more on him below) is the Badgers' biggest star, but Oregon is one of the hottest teams in the country. The Ducks were only 15-12 overall and 6-8 in conference after losing to UCLA on February 23, but have gone 8-0 since. That included four wins in four days to win the Pac-12 title. During the eight-game run, Oregon allowed 50 points or fewer three times, including a 68-48 win against Washington to win the auto bid.

Star player ready to destroy your bracket: Ethan Happ, Wisconsin (or Jordan Ford, Saint Mary's)

Wisconsin is a No. 5 seed, but Happ is the type of player who could carry the Badgers to the Elite Eight. He's averaging 17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game as Wisconsin is back in the NCAA tournament after a rare miss a season ago. But if you're looking for a star on an even bigger sleeper team, look to Saint Mary's. Jordan Ford averages 21.3 points per game for the Gaels and shoots 42.3 percent on 3-pointers.

Upset pick: No. 13 UC Irvine over No. 4 Kansas State

K-State won a share of the regular-season Big 12 crown to help end Kansas' run of consecutive conference titles. But after an early exit in the Big 12 tournament, the Wildcats might be having another short trip. Star Dean Wade is doubtful for the tournament, a big miss that severely damages K-State's dreams of making a second consecutive Elite Eight season. But UC Irvine also seems to have the tools of an upset winner. At 30-5, the Anteaters have only one loss in 2019. They're also fifth in the country in field goal percentage defense (38 percent).

The teams: No. 1 to No. 16

  1. Virginia (29-3)
  2. Tennessee (29-5)
  3. Purdue (23-9)
  4. Kansas State (25-8)
  5. Wisconsin (23-10)
  6. Villanova (25-9)
  7. Cincinnati (28-6)
  8. Ole Miss (20-12)
  9. Oklahoma (19-13)
  10. Iowa (22-11)
  11. Saint Mary's (CA) (22-11)
  12. Oregon (23-12)
  13. UC Irvine (30-5)
  14. Old Dominion (26-8)
  15. Colgate (24-10)
  16. Gardner-Webb (23-11)

The pick: No. 1 Virginia

Forget the past NCAA tournament struggles — if you can. This is the fifth time in six seasons the Cavaliers earned a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Here's how they've done: Sweet 16, Round of 32, Elite Eight (blew a big lead vs. Syracuse) and First Round. That doesn't seem promising. But this Cavaliers offense has the scoring ability to work with the usual dominant defense. This time, Virginia plays to its seed and makes the FInal Four.

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