2019 NCAA Tournament: Six teams that can win it all

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Now that the 68-team NCAA tournament bracket has been announced, the next step is to attempt to figure out who will cut down the nets April 8 in Minneapolis. While there have been some surprises in the “one and done” era, more often than not the national champion has high-level guard play, at least one NBA-caliber talent and credible experience.

There can be outliers, especially when it comes to the experience factor, but after Duke’s freshman-led team won it all in 2015 the last three champions have been considerably older. Below are six teams that can win the NCAA tournament, a high-seed you should fade and a team seeded fourth or lower that can go on a run.

REGIONS: East | South | Midwest | West


The top overall seed, the Blue Devils are back to full strength as elite freshman forward Zion Williamson made his return for the ACC tournament. Williamson and classmate R.J. Barrett are in the eyes of more than a few the top two NBA draft-eligible prospects in college basketball. Add in fellow freshmen Tre Jones and Cam Reddish, and Mike Krzyzewski’s team has the high-end talent needed to win six straight over the next three weeks.

As for the supporting cast, the Blue Devils received quality contributions from the likes of Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire and even Antonio Vrankovic during the ACC tournament. Forward Jack White and guard Alex O’Connell are also part of the rotation, so the bodies are there even with Marques Bolden (knee) out of the lineup. The youth of this team may be a concern for some, but when you have a Hall of Fame head coach like Coach K on the sideline that helps matters.


The Tar Heels won 27 games and finished tied atop the ACC standings with Virginia, ranking in the top ten in both adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency. There’s a good combination of youth and experience, with seniors Luke Maye, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams working with talented freshman point guard Coby White and sophomore center Garrison Brooks.

The depth is provided by another freshman in Nassir Little, with juniors Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods part of the rotation as well. In addition to the talent and guard play, North Carolina also has a Hall of Fame head coach on its sideline in Roy Williams. Williams has led his alma mater to three national titles, and North Carolina was a one-seed in all three. They’re on the top seed line this time around as well.


Mark Few’s Bulldogs are questioned by some on a consistent basis, thanks in large part to the fact that they ply their trade in the WCC. But to state that Gonzaga doesn’t have a shot at winning a national title solely because of its conference affiliation would be a mistake; this is a deep, talented roster that still has contributors who two years ago reached the championship game.

Junior forwards Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke have been outstanding, with the former winning WCC Player of the Year honors and the latter being one of college basketball’s best defenders. And if Killian Tillie, who’s had to deal with injuries for much of this season, is able to contribute Gonzaga will have a front court that can match up with any team. The perimeter attack is headlined by senior point guard Josh Perkins and redshirt sophomore Zach Norvell, with guard Geno Crandall and wing Corey Kispert providing additional depth. The Zags have the nation’s most efficient offense by a decent margin, and they’re solid defensively as well.


Kentucky is ranked just outside of the top 10 in both adjusted offensive (13th) and adjusted defensive (12th) efficiency, and they go eight deep with talent both on the perimeter and in the paint. Sophomore forward P.J. Washington (14.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) leads four double-digit scorers, with guards Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson and forward Reid Travis next in line. Ashton Hagans can apply pressure defensively at the point while also being the team’s best distributor on the other end.

Kentucky is young, as it has been most seasons during Calipari’s tenure, but like his best teams there’s some experience mixed in. There’s certainly value in experience this time of year, but talent is key as well. The Midwest bracket projects to be very difficult to navigate, but like top-seed North Carolina the Wildcats are capable of making the run to Minneapolis.


Rick Barnes’ Volunteers have wins over two of the teams on this list, as they beat Gonzaga in Phoenix in early December and also won two of their three meetings with Kentucky. Tennessee has depth, talent and experience, with two-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and senior forward Admiral Schofield leading the way. Tennessee is deep in the front court, and on the perimeter Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner are the headliners.

Tennessee enters the tournament ranked third in adjusted offensive efficiency, and while this group isn’t elite defensively it’s solid on that end of the floor. Winners of 29 games, the Volunteers should be motivated by the way in which their 2018 season ended (a second-round loss to Loyola University Chicago). At minimum, Tennessee has enough to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2010.


With Michigan State having beaten Michigan three times this season, and the Spartans being one of four teams ranked in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency (Virginia, Duke and North Carolina being the others), some may wonder how the Wolverines are the team listed here. Well it’s all about the path to the Final Four, and Michigan’s road to Minneapolis may be smoother than Michigan State’s.

One year after reaching the national title game Michigan has the pieces needed to duplicate that feat, beginning with point guard Zavier Simpson. Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews provide scoring on the wings, and in the front court Iggy Brazdeikis and Jon Teske have combined to average 24.5 points and 12.0 rebounds per game. John Beilein’s team is ranked second in adjusted defensive efficiency, with the offense currently ranked 18th with regards to efficiency.


Given Virginia’s lack of a Final Four appearance during this current run of success, this may be a case of grabbing the low-hanging fruit. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers are healthy, which wasn’t the case last season (De’Andre Hunter’s thumb), and with the additions of Kihei Clark and Braxton Key this group is deeper with Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome leading the way. But until Virginia gets over the hump they’re going to be questioned. Maybe Virginia will do what Villanova did in 2016, escaping the first weekend demons and then going on to win the national title.


Bruce Pearl’s Tigers dodged a bullet in Saturday’s SEC tournament semifinals, beating Florida by three in what was a controversial finish. Auburn left no doubt Sunday however, as it blew out Tennessee and was then given a 5-seed in the Midwest Region. The perimeter tandem of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown is averaging 31.1 points per game, and sophomore forward Chuma Okeke is the leading scorer for a front court that doesn’t lack for depth or athleticism.

Auburn has a tough first round matchup (New Mexico State), but this is a team that can go on a run after being bounced in the second round by Clemson last season.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.