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2019 NCAA Tournament First Four And Thursday Predictions

Let the games begin!

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ACC Basketball Tournament - Championship
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 16: Teammates RJ Barrett #5 and Javin DeLaurier #12 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrate their 73-63 victory over the Florida State Seminoles in the championship game of the 2019 Men’s ACC Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 16, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The First Four kicks off the 2019 NCAA Tournament today with Farleigh Dickinson taking on Prairie View A&M and Temple and Belmont in the nightcap.

We’ve read up a bit and we think that Fairleigh Dickinson is a reasonably well coached team. But Prairie View is too - any team that’s top five in turnover margin is bound to be. Also this team started 1-11 because of a tough non-conference schedule and has lost just once since January. That’s impressive.

Back in the day, Prairie View was a joke, a team that had record long losing streaks.

No more. We’ll go with Prairie View because they do such a good job with turnovers and Farleigh Dickinson does not.

Temple and Belmont is an interesting matchup. Fran Dunphy is hugely respected and his next loss is his last before retirement. No doubt his team would like to send him out on a good note but Belmont is a tough nut to crack. Rick Byrd is widely seen as one of the great offensive minds in the game. You may remember that in 2008, Duke trailed Belmont before Gerald Henderson scored with 13 seconds left to put Duke up 71-70. Duke hung on, but just barely.

We’ll take Belmont here.

On Wednesday, North Carolina Central takes on North Dakota State and St. John’s gets Arizona State.

We’ll take Central over North Dakota State because LeVelle Moton is a tremendous coach and ASU over St. John’s because we’re huge Bobby Hurley fans. The PAC-12 was god-awful this year but St. John’s wasn’t much better and played a horrible non-conference schedule. Plus they just lost to Marquette by 32 in the Big East tournament and finished the season 2-5.

On Thursday the larger tournament begins and kicks off with #10 Minnesota vs. #7 Louisville. We’ll take the Cards in this one.

#3 LSU is in a fair amount of turmoil and #14 Yale has benefited from the overall improvement Tommy Amaker sparked in the Ivy League. Yale is much more athletic than most people think and tough-minded too. We’ll go with the upset here.

#12 New Mexico State and #5 Auburn is another fascinating matchup. When in doubt, go with the basketball school and that’s New Mexico State here.

#13 Vermont might push #4 Florida State for a bit but not for too long. FSU’s defense should the tale here.

#2 Michigan State will handle #15 Bradley without too much trouble.

#6 Maryland is talented but erratic and if they let Belmont heat up, this could be Byrd’s year to make a run. He’s by far the better coach in this matchup.

#4 Kansas gets #13 Northeastern and the Huskies, like Belmont, can really heat up from outside. Some mid-major gets hot every March and Kansas is vulnerable this year. We’re hesitant to pull the trigger but keep an eye on the Huskies in this one.

#5 Marquette opens with #12 Murray State and that means a matchup of Markus Howard and Ja Morant. Howard’s wrist is a concern and so is Marquette’s late fade. If he’s good to go, and he says he is, this should be a very entertaining game. Worth mentioning: Murray State has a history of upsets. They also have a young coach who has won 53 games over the past two seasons who is likely to be a target after the Racers are done. Keep an eye on Matt McMahon.

#7 Nevada may or may not have Jordan Caroline for its matchup with #10 Florida and that’s important as he’s not too far off of a 20/10 year. Who knew his dad was Simeon Rice? Caroline has some tendinitis in his Achilles tendon. We’ll stick with Nevada here. However, the preseason vision of Nevada as a juggernaut had not aged well. They’re plenty good but they’re not where people thought they would be.

No way in hell #15 Abilene Christian beats #2 Kentucky. That’d be a bigger upset than UMBC knocking off Virginia, rankings be damned.

#6 Villanova has rounded into form and will be difficult for St. Mary’s. The Gaels were brilliant against Gonzaga last weekend but we’re not sure they can maintain that level against an unfamiliar opponent. And Jay Wright has emerged as a master coach as he’s shown this year. It’s a tough draw for St. Mary’s.

#1 Gonzaga gets the winner of Farleigh Dickinson and Prairie View. The only way an upset happens is if the entire Gonzaga team goes out for the evening and plays with a massive hangover.

Similar thing for #2 Michigan. The Wolverines are just not going to lose to #15 Montana. They’re too good and too well coached.

Wofford earned a #7 seed and will get an athletic #10 Seton Hall. The closest analog to Wofford has been Marquette and Seton Hall beat them two out of three times this year. But Wofford is the real deal. They’re a very good team and capable of being this year’s Cinderella and would give anyone, including Kentucky, a tough game. That said, we’d rate this one a toss-up.

We’ve said before that it’s impossible to really handicap the tournament because there’s so much you can’t know about the physical and emotional states of teams. #14 Old Dominion is a prime example of that.

How will Jeff Jones’ team react to his cancer? It’s not a new story for them but will it be motivation? Will they attack #3 Purdue like a pack of wolves?

After his fall from grace at Virginia, Jones has done a nice job of rehabbing his career at ODU. It won’t be easy to beat Purdue but in 10 tournament appearances Matt Painter has never taken the Boilermakers past the Sweet 16 (four times and has lost in the opening round twice and the round of 32 four times.

If you want to take a flyer, this wouldn’t be a bad game to do it with.

Having watched Syracuse’s zone for a few years now we’d tell anyone to be wary of it. Baylor has certainly overachieved this year but at best we’d expect a close game and if Tyus Battle is good to go, it’s hard to see Baylor winning here.

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