If things had gone how they were supposed to, sports fans and bettors would be living in the wake of Selection Sunday right now. We'd all be comparing thoughts about each of the four regions and deciding which picks to make in our NCAA Tournament bracket as the first round, originally slated for March 19, quickly approaches.
Unfortunately, that isn't the reality right now. We all know by now that the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic is the most important thing going on in our society, and that clearly takes precedent over the cancelation of any sporting event or tournament.
At the same time, our job here is to inform and entertain the betting public, and we are going to keep things light and try to do exactly that while we're all quarantined indoors with no games to watch. So after watching an entire regular season of college basketball in preparation for the best time of the year, we aren't letting all that research and knowledge do to waste.
Making NCAA Tournament Predictions Using Bracketology From Joe Lunardi
With so many conference tournaments canceled before being finished, the tournament bracket the NCAA releases is wholly incomplete. Lucky for us, famed ESPN college basketball analyst and Bracketology king Joe Lunardi releases his bracket regularly throughout the season leading up to Selection Sunday.
After an outpouring of interest on social media, Lunardi decided to release his bracket, which is a welcome tease for the many fans and bettors that have been waiting to see how things may shape up.
Lunardi historically nails the field for the most part in his brackets, although there is definitely some margin for error with one-bid conferences that never officially crowned a champion. We'll never have the answers to some questions but that isn't going to stop us from putting what we know about this college basketball season to good use.
This is still March Madness, so even if NJ betting sites don't have much to offer players right now, here we are to give out several bold predictions for the 2020 NCAA Tournament that never was.
March Madness Picks: Bold Predictions For 2020 NCAA Tournament
For the sake of debate and finding some closure after the sudden end to the season, we are taking Lunardi's expert projections and treating them as the official bracket in order to make some picks for what we think would've happened once the tournament tipped off.
- No. 11 UCLA Goes From Last Four To Second Round
After a slow start to the season, the UCLA Bruins rattled off seven straight wins at the end of the conference schedule and nearly earned itself a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title. According to Lunardi, UCLA was one of the 'last four in' and was slated for a First Four game with NC State.
After taking down the Wolfpack in perhaps the most interesting First Four game, it's easy to envision the No. 11 seeded Bruins advancing into the second round. The No. 6 seed Penn State win eight in a row during January and February but were trending the completely wrong way at the end of the season, losing five of the last six games, and the Bruins were playing some of its best basketball.
- No. 12 Yale Takes Down Michigan
There's usually one No. 12 seed that defeats a No. 5 seed even though it doesn't happen as often as some people think. The No. 12 was 3-1 in 2019 but was 3-13 in the four years prior, so there really is no set way to determine how regular it is.
With that said, all of this year's No. 12 seeds are interesting if we are going by Lunardi's bracket. But after checking the projected betting lines for a better idea of how oddsmakers might see these games, we think the Ivy League champion had a legitimate chance to knock off No. 5 Michigan.
This Yale team went toe-to-toe with an offensive juggernaut in LSU during the opening round of the 2019 tournament, losing by just a few points as No. 14 seed. With a veteran group playing a sometimes offensively-challenged Michigan team, Yale not only had a great shoot at covering 7.5 points but could've won that game. After all, the Bulldogs only lost by two to Penn State, which beat Michigan by nine on the road.
- No. 6 Iowa Over No. 3 Duke In The Second Round
If things broke how Lunardi saw it, No. 6 Iowa could meet No. 3 Duke in the Midwest region during the second round. Thanks to a potent offense and a great geographic location, we absolutely would've had the Hawkeyes over the Blue Devils in the second round.
Fran McCaffery's Iowa program is one of those teams we had our eye on as the season progressed as a team that could make some noise during the tournament. Between national player of the year hopeful Luka Garza at center and veteran sharpshooters Jordan Bohannon, Joe Wieskamp, and Patrick McCaffery on the outside, this Hawkeyes team is not one many would've wanted to play.
Duke had yet another terrific season but struggled at times against prolific offenses that can score. North Carolina State, Wake Forest, and even North Carolina were able to put points on the board against Duke and two of those teams managed a win. With Iowa being a clear step above all of them, this feels like a possible upset pick we would've rolled with.
- No. 2 San Diego State Doesn't Make Sweet 16
San Diego State was slated for a No. 1 seed nearly the entire regular season but things went downhill at the end. The loss in the Mountain West championship means the Aztecs were backing into the tournament and despite ending the season at 30-2 and going 11-0 away from home, Lunardi had this team slated for a No. 2 seed in Gonzaga's region.
In our view, blowing a 16-point lead to Utah State on a neutral floor is about as brutal as it gets for a team whose odds were pretty low to win the national title. The first round of the tournament would've been no issue, but we would've seen things stopping for the Aztecs in the second round against No. 10 Texas Tech as part of our March Madness predictions.
The Red Raiders are a defensive stalwart similar to San Diego State but played upper-echelon competition in the Big 12 all season long. Texas Tech lost four in a row to close the season and needed a strong conference tournament showing to enter the bracket on a positive note, but its tournament experience and regular-season schedule would've had us looking to take an upset against SDSU if they had met.
- No. 1 Dayton Reaches Its First Final Four
The closes the Dayton Flyers have ever come to the Final Four was losing in the regional final during the 2014 tournament to Florida. It's unfortunate that this club, led by sure-fire NBA talent Obi Toppin, won't get a chance to try and win a region for the first time in program history.
Using the seeding in Lunardi's bracket, it's exactly what we saw happening after they exacted revenge on Florida, took care of Maryland and beat an overachieving Florida State team in the 2020 East regional final.
The Flyers lost two games by a combined eight points this season and one of them was to Kansas, plus their last loss came before Christmas. Not only did Dayton grab a No. 1 seed but it also got placed in a region without too many threats, and that's a recipe for a run to Atlanta.
- No. 3 Seton Hall In The Final Four
Seton Hall earned its first top-10 ranking in two decades this year and closed the regular season as one of the best teams in the country. After earning a No. 3 seed in the West region going by Lunardi's projections, the Pirates were set up for its first Final Four run since 1989.
Whether Arizona or Texas Tech could beat San Diego State or not, the winner of that game plays Seton Hall, a program with several wins over top-10 teams and one of the best all-around players in college basketball in Myles Powell. Especially considering this team's performance on the road, hopes were high for Seton Hall. In a region with an untested Gonzaga team at No. 1 and San Diego State at No. 2, the Pirates had just as good a chance as any to come out of the region and fly to Atlanta in early April.
- No. 3 Michigan State Escapes The South Region
The preseason No. 1 team didn't have such a strong regular season but managed to get hot at the right time, and we think Tom Izzo had a great chance to work some magic in March once again after surviving the best conference in college basketball and earning a piece of the Big Ten regular-season title.
With Cassius Winston captaining the Spartans on the floor and a pretty simple first few rounds according to the projections, Michigan State could've fulfilled its preseason potential for the most part after winning six of seven to close the season. Five of those wins came against top-25 teams as well.
For us, this meant beating ACC powerhouses Virginia (last year's champion) and Louisville, although it's very possible that No. 1 seed Baylor would've been waiting in the Elite Eight. By that time in the tournament, we're confident the Spartans would be playing as well as they possibly could, especially having gotten through UVA and either Illinois or Creighton.
- Kansas Wins The National Title
This is by no means a bold prediction but Kansas is the team we saw cutting down the nets in Atlanta when the tournament ended, winning its first championship since 2008. Bill Self's Jayhawks starring Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson were on a 16-game win streak which closed the regular season when the sport was halted and it's really hard to imagine this team's next loss was coming.
Kansas had more Quad 1 wins than any other group in the country and was the top-rated team according to the NCAA's new ranking system (NET). Even the losses are impressive: a neutral site game against Duke, at home against Baylor and at Villanova. Once building out our bracket our thought was: who was going to beat them?
Unless Baylor, the last team to beat Kansas (on January 11), appeared in the championship game, our view is that this was Kansas' tournament to win. Oddsmakers felt the same way with the Jayhawks cemented as the tournament favorites at all NJ and PA sportsbooks, and it's okay with us that this is the No. 1 overall team since that's how things tend to wind up at the end of the NCAA Tournament. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!