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A Wondrous Thursday In The 2019 NCAA Tournament - And Friday Could Be Tremendous Too

And things are just getting started.

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ACC Basketball Tournament - Championship
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 16: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils and teammates 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

When you think about it, the celebrated HBO show Game of Thrones is just NCAA tournament basketball on a more serious level. The principle is the same though: you just wait to see who’s going to get knocked off next and who will outlast everyone else and sit on the championship throne.

Fortunately the NCAA deaths are only metaphorical and everyone goes home and gets on with their lives. Peace returns after the chaos and excitement.

On Thursday, the chaos was pretty good and excitement was nearly supreme.

Maryland barely survived Belmont. Yale pushed LSU. Minnesota sent a Louisville team home, one that never seemed to recover from Duke’s stunning comeback on their home court. Bradley pushed Michigan State, Baylor took down Syracuse, Murray State was stunning against Marquette, Florida got last year’s darling Nevada and Florida State barely got by Vermont.

On the other side of the bracket, St. Mary’s pushed Villanova, ODU gave Purdue some trouble late before Purdue asserted itself, Auburn barely survived New Mexico State and little Wofford took out the Big East’s Seton Hall.

Only big dogs Gonzaga, Kansas and Kentucky really ran away from their opponents: the Zags won by 38, KU by 34 and UK by 45.

Intriguing Saturday matchups: Murray State vs. Florida State and Wofford vs. Kansas and a Big Ten matchup between Minnesota and Michigan State. As Tom Izzo underscored to Aaron Henry (Henry Aaron backwards?), it’s March and you can't slack up for a minute or you’re done. It’s not that the others aren’t interesting. Those are just really intriguing.

As for Friday, Iowa and Cincinnati is a real crapshoot. Cincinnati has been a bad tourney bet for a while but Iowa had a major late season freakout thanks to Fran McCaffrey. However, Jordan Bohannon has a brilliant instinct for the clutch. We’d have to call it a tossup but if he has the ball at the end, that would be really fun to see. He’s like a mini Laettner.

We’ll take Oklahoma over Ole Miss, but not by much and certainly Texas Tech to crush Northern Kentucky.

K-State is missing Dean Wade so we’d go with UC-Irvine here. The Anteaters are 30-5. That’s pretty impressive.

We can’t find it and can't recall it exactly but someone made a wicked Twitter post about Tennessee not knowing much about toothpaste. Not nice but very clever. They’ll know enough to squeeze Colgate though.

Virginia is going to beat Gardner-Webb extra hard to exorcise the UMBC demons. Book it.

Usually head coaches beat their former assistants in those matchups but Buffalo looks better than Arizona State so, reluctantly, we’ll have to pick against Bobby Hurley, perhaps our favorite Blue Devil ever.

Ethan Happe leads us to take Wisconsin over Oregon. He’s a superb basketball player.

Utah State will upset Washington as the PAC-12 issues come to a head and the whole conference goes out.

We don’t bet against Duke, as we always say, so Duke, even though it’s obvious.

Houston didn’t finish up great but we’ll still take them over Georgia State.

Ben Howland understands tourney basketball so we can’t see Mississippi State losing unless Liberty is running and has mastered the Pack Line that Ritchie McKay learned from Tony Bennett before taking the Liberty job again (he previously coached Seth Curry there before Curry transferred to Duke). It’s not like Howland runs a race horse offense so we could imagine an upset. It’s just unlikely.

Iona has no chance of beating UNC.

Moving along, UCF and VCU fight for the right to play Duke. Tacko Fall is one of a kind. He’s 7-6 and weighs 310, possibly the only NCAA player who outweighs Zion Williamson, barring perhaps a grossly obese player somewhere a la Nigel Dixon.

VCU will want a fast game and if they get it, Fall is not as big a factor. And going back to the days of Sonny Smith, VCU prefers a faster pace. We’ll go with VCU here although we know Johnny Dawkins has done a great job with that program. His son Aubrey has emerged as a significant talent.

Ohio State is arguably better coached but Iowa State has some nice talent. We’ll take the Cyclones here.

Finally, St. Louis and Virginia Tech. We’ve talked a lot this year about how much we admire the program Buzz Williams has built. It’s full of versatile players and Kerry Blackshear has emerged as a really solid big man. We also really admire the culture he has instilled there. He has good kids who care about each other. It’s vastly preferable to the hostile, angry, rock fight (his word not ours) culture Seth Greenberg built.

There are concerns though.

First, Virginia Tech is not a fully healthy team. Justin Robinson is back, but Zion Williamson aside, it’s very hard to come back from an injury and be in peak condition. He’s really good but will his return help or hinder? We’ll know soon.

Meanwhile, St. Louis really toughened up in the A-10 tournament, winning four games in four days at the Barclays Center. No disrespect to the Hokies, but that’s not easy and a trip to San Jose is not nearly as challenging as four days in Brooklyn.

Not that Virginia Tech is easy. We really hope Buzz Williams stays. He’s building something there that can endure and remain excellent year in and year out.

In this matchup though we think St. Louis has a real shot. So we’ll stick with the Billikens.

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