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New year, new chance at a ‘Perfect Bracket’

The perfect 2019 NCAA bracket

The News & Observer's Joe Giglio breaks down his picks for the perfect 2019 NCAA bracket. He tells you what he thinks the big upsets will be and whether Duke and North Carolina will make it to Minneapolis for the Final Four.
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The News & Observer's Joe Giglio breaks down his picks for the perfect 2019 NCAA bracket. He tells you what he thinks the big upsets will be and whether Duke and North Carolina will make it to Minneapolis for the Final Four.

If you get every pick wrong, does that still count as perfect?

My awful picks tested that theory last year. I’m back again (for the 15th year) with the picks for all 67 NCAA tournament games. Follow the “Perfect Bracket” picks to office-pool glory!

First Four

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North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton directs his team during an NCAA college basketball game against Norfolk State in the championship of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2019, in Norfolk, Va. Jason Hirschfeld AP

No. 16 North Dakota State (18-15) vs. No. 16 N.C. Central (18-15): The third time has to be the charm for the Eagles, who make the sojourn to Dayton again but don’t leave empty-handed this time. Pick: N.C. Central.

No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson (20-13) vs. Prairie View (22-12): KenPom has this as a true coin flip. The Prairie Panthers. Let’s go with the alliteration for the win (honestly, that’s as good of a reason as any). Pick: Prairie View.

No. 11 Belmont (26-5) vs. No. 11 Temple (23-9): The last time Temple made it past the Round of 64, it started in Dayton (and beat N.C. State there in 2013). Pick: Temple.

No. 11 Arizona State (22-10) vs. No. 11 St. John’s (21-12): If only the coaches Bobby Hurley (Arizona State) and Chris Mullin (St. John’s) could suit up for this one. The Sun Devils are repeat “First Four” offenders. They get this one. Pick: Arizona State.

East Region

First round

No. 1 Duke (29-5) vs. No. 16 N.C. Central: Too bad these two teams can’t figure out a way to regularly play in Durham. Pick: Duke.

No. 8 VCU (25-7) vs. No. 9 Central Florida (23-8) The Rams don’t have an answer for UCF giant Tacko Fall. Pick: UCF.

No. 5 Mississippi State (23-10) vs. No. 12 Liberty (28-6): It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you needs is a knife. Actually, Alanis, the Bulldogs have two ‘spoons (guards Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon) and that’s all they need. Pick: Miss. State.

No. 4 Virginia Tech (24-8) vs. No. 13 Saint Louis (23-12): The return of injured guard Justin Robinson will help the Hokies, not that they need it. The Billikens are dreadful on offense. Pick: Virginia Tech.

No. 6 Maryland (22-10) vs. No. 11 Temple: At least one team from the “First Four” has reached the Round of 32 every year since the play-in round started in 2011. It’s the Owls turn this year. Pick: Temple.

No. 3 LSU (26-6) vs. No. 14 Yale (22-7): Every team publicly involved in the FBI/adidas scandal (Arizona, N.C. State, Auburn) lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. LSU coach Will Wade was ensnared (and has been suspended) in the latest wiretap revelations. Pick: Yale.

No. 7 Louisville (20-13) vs. No. 10 Minnesota (21-13): Speaking of FBI/adidas problems, Chris Mack inherited a mess at Louisville from Rick Pitino and immediately turned the program around. He gets the best of Pitino’s son, Richard, who is Minnesota’s coach in this one. Pick: Louisville.

No. 2 Michigan State (28-6) vs. No. 15 Bradley (20-14): The 13-year NCAA drought is an unlucky number for Bradley. Pick: Michigan State.

Second round

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 9 Central Florida: Mike Krzyzewski faces a former assistant (UCF’s Johnny Dawkins) for the third time in the NCAA tournament. This will be a serious test but Duke survives. Pick: Duke.

No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech: Two teams cut from the same cloth. The Bulldogs outlast the Hokies in a “Pointing Spiderman Meme” game. Pick: Mississippi State.

No. 11 Temple vs. No. 14 Yale: The Owls are actually 0-1 against the Ivy League this season. Senior guard Shizz Alston sends retiring coach Fran Dunphy out with a trip to the Sweet 16. Pick: Temple.

No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 2 Michigan State: The Spartans fought through all kinds of injuries to win the Big Ten title. Junior guard Cassius Winston carries them through a rock fight with the Cards. Pick: Michigan State.

Regional semifinals

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have some size in Reggie Perry and Aric Holman but no real answer for Zion Williamson. Then again, no one really does. Pick: Duke.

No. 11 Temple vs. No. 2 Michigan State: “Bracket luck” is real and after some early flameouts, the Spartans are overdue in that category. They cruise past Temple into the regional final. Pick: Michigan State.

Regional final

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State: Tom Izzo did beat Duke in the 2005 Sweet 16. That was his only win against Mike Krzyzewski in 12 tries. The “Zion Effect” hits the Twin Cities for Krzyzewski’s record 13th Final Four trip. Pick: Duke.

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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski greet each other before the start of their ACC/Big Ten Challenge game. Duke beat Michigan State 78-69 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 in Durham, N.C. News and Observer file photo

West Region

First round

No. 1 Gonzaga (30-3) vs. No. 16 Prairie View: After losing in their conference final, the Zags take out their pent-up frustrations out on the Panthers. Pick: Gonzaga.

No. 8 Syracuse (20-13) vs. No. 9 Baylor (19-13): The worse Syracuse looks in the regular season, the better the Orange plays in the NCAA tournament. Pick: Syracuse.

No. 5 Marquette (24-9) vs. No. 12 Murray State (27-4): Ja Morant will get all the pub here for the Racers (and rightfully so), but he’s not the best guard in this game. That would be Marquette’s Markus Howard. Pick: Marquette.

No. 4 Florida State (27-7) vs. No. 13 Vermont (27-6): The Seminoles wear teams out with size and depth. The Catamounts have no counterpunch. Pick: FSU.

No. 6 Buffalo (31-3) vs. No. 11 Arizona State: Hurley’s old team (Buffalo) is better than his current team. Pick: Buffalo.

No. 3 Texas Tech (26-6) vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky (26-8): The Red Raiders are the best team in the Big 12. Chris Beard’s crew can flat-out defend. Pick: Texas Tech.

No. 7 Nevada (29-4) vs. No. 10 Florida (19-15): The Martin twins (Caleb and Cody, who began their careers at N.C. State) are back for the Wolf Pack and they have more help (Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter) this time. Pick: Nevada

No. 2 Michigan (28-6) vs. No. 15 Montana (26-8): The bracket broke wide open for the Wolverines last year. Will it again? Pick: Michigan.

Second round

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 8 Syracuse: The Orange knocked Gonzaga out in 2016 on its way to the Final Four but big man Rui Hachimura should have a field day in the middle of Syracuse’s zone. Emphasis on “should.” Pick: Gonzaga.

No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 4 Florida State: The Seminoles have been on a tear since a 1-4 ACC start. The Eagles have mostly been in the tank. Pick: FSU

No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Texas Tech: The MAC champions are excellent on offense but they haven’t faced a team who defends like the Red Raiders. Pick: Texas Tech.

No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 2 Michigan: It’s foolish to pick against John Beilein, but it just feels like Michigan peaked in early December. The lone wolf dies but the Pack survives. Pick: Nevada.

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Nevada forwards Cody Martin (11) and twin brother Caleb react after a big basket against New Mexico in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Reno, Nev., Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. Tom R. Smedes AP

Regional semifinals

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Florida State: An ACC team has eliminated Gonzaga four years in a row, including FSU last year in the Sweet 16. Not this time, Hachimura and Brandon Clarke power past the Noles. Pick: Gonzaga.

No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 7 Nevada: The Martin twins are tough but the Red Raiders are tougher. This could turn out to be the most physical game of the tournament. Pick: Texas Tech.

Regional final

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 Texas Tech: The Zags, No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency, have the juice to handle Texas Tech’s defense. Mark Few’s program makes it second Final Four trip in three years. Pick: Gonzaga.

South Region

First round

No. 1 Virginia (29-3) vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb (23-11): “A 16 never beats a 1 ...” Poor, Gardner-Webb, Virginia has been waiting all year for this. Pick: Virginia.

No. 8 Ole Miss (20-12) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma (19-13): Neither team really belongs in the field. OU’s Lon Kruger gets a slight coaching edge in a true 8/9 coin flip. Pick: Oklahoma.

No. 5 Wisconsin (23-10) vs. No. 12 Oregon (23-12): It’s normally best to stay away from “surprise” conference winners but the Ducks are on fire and a “12 always beats a 5.” Pick: Oregon.

No. 4 Kansas State (25-8) vs. No. 13 UC-Irvine (30-5): Classic “go with the cooler nickname” bracketology. The Anteaters also happen to be really good. Pick: UC-Irvine.

No. 6 Villanova (25-9) vs. No. 11 Saint Mary’s (22-11): Here’s where you go against the “surprise” conference winner. The Gaels are still celebrating their West Coast Conference win over Gonzaga. Pick: Villanova.

No. 3 Purdue (23-9) vs. No. 14 Old Dominion (26-8): Purdue’s lost four times in the past 22 games and only to teams who start with the letter “M.” It’s Old Dominion, not “Mold” Dominion. Pick: Purdue.

No. 7 Cincinnati (28-6) vs. No. 10 Iowa (22-11): Never pretty but always effective, the Bearcats send the Hawkeyes packing. Pick: Cincinnati.

No. 2 Tennessee (29-5) vs. No. 15 Colgate (24-10): There’s only room in the bracket for one team with the “Raiders” nickname. Pick: Tennessee.

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Virginia coach Tony Bennett argues a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, March 15, 2019. Chuck Burton AP

Second round

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 9 Oklahoma: With the burden of the first-round ghosts out of the way, the Wahoos play freely and smother the Sooners. Pick: Virginia.

No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 13 UC Irvine: A month ago, the Ducks were 6-8 in the Pac-12 and toast. Now they’re on their way to the Sweet 16. Pick: Oregon.

No. 6 Villanova vs. No. 3 Purdue: Picking against Jay Wright and Villanova got me into last year’s mess but the champs aren’t quite up to their usual March standards. Pick: Purdue.

No. 7 Cincinnati vs. No. 2 Tennessee: They might need an octagon and five-minute rounds to keep this clash in order. The Vols and their Admiral (senior guard Admiral Schofield) sail on. Pick: Tennessee.

Regional semifinals

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 12 Oregon: With Bol Bol, the Ducks just might have a chance against the Wahoos. Without him, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy squash the Ducks. Pick: Virginia.

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 2 Tennessee: Purdue’s skill and shooters (Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline) outlast Tennessee’s toughness. Pick: Purdue.

Regional final

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 3 Purdue: It’s going to be an “at last” moment for one of these teams. UVa hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1984. Purdue’s drought goes back to 1980. Matt Painter’s moment finally arrives. Tony Bennett’s will be soon. Pick: Purdue.

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Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. (0) catches the ball following a dunk by Purdue’s Matt Haarms (32) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) Nati Harnik AP

Midwest Region

First round

No. 1 UNC (27-6) vs. No. 16 Iona (17-15): Roy Williams improves to 29-0 in the opening round. That stat will never cease to be amazing. Pick: UNC.

No. 8 Utah State (28-6) vs. No. 9 Washington (26-8): The Aggies, not Nevada, won the Mountain West. Washington has limped to the finish with a 4-3 record. Make that 4-4. Pick: Utah State.

No. 5 Auburn (26-9) vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (30-4): Be wary of New Mexico State, making its third straight NCAA trip. Auburn’s terrific guards need to be at their best. Pick: Auburn.

No. 4 Kansas (25-9) vs. No. 13 Northeastern (23-10): Not your typical Kansas team, and the Huskies are feisty, but KU big Dedric Lawson is too much to handle. Pick: Kansas.

No. 6 Iowa State (23-11) vs. No. 11 Ohio State (19-14): The committee made a mistake putting Ohio State in the field. Iowa State will quickly correct it. Pick: Iowa State.

No. 3 Houston (31-3) vs. No. 14 Georgia State (24-9): Not on Virginia’s level but Houston is eager to get back into the tournament after last year’s heartbreaker to Michigan. Pick: Houston.

No. 7 Wofford (29-4) vs. No. 10 Seton Hall (20-13): Unwise to underestimate Seton Hall. The Pirates are salty but Wofford has more than gunner Fletcher Magee. Pick: Wofford.

No. 2 Kentucky (27-6) vs. No. 15 Abilene Christian (27-6): Meet Jalone Friday, the MVP of this year’s “All Name” team. Too bad Kentucky won’t leave Friday and Abilene Christian “Jalone.” Pick: Kentucky.

Second round

No. 1 UNC vs. No. 8 Utah State: The Aggies will run with the Tar Heels. Bracket Rule No. 27: Never run with Roy. Pick: UNC.

No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 4 Kansas: Auburn’s speed vs. Kansas’ size. The Rock Chalkers have a habit of making a run when the least is expected. Pick: Kansas.

No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 3 Houston: The problem with the Cyclones, and Virginia transfer Marial Shayok, is they don’t play enough defense. That’s a bad problem to have in March. Pick: Houston.

No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 2 Kentucky: The Wildcats have a history of crushing the bracket dreams of the “little guy” (see: Cornell and Wichita State, twice actually). Pick: Kentucky.

Regional semifinals

No. 1 UNC vs. No. 4 Kansas: If Roy Williams owes anyone, it’s Kansas. He’s 0-3 with the Tar Heels against his former school. He gets this win back and all of the alleged sins of “Stickergate ‘08” are finally forgiven. Pick: UNC.

No. 3 Houston vs. No. 2 Kentucky: Houston is “Final Four” good. They’re just in the wrong part of the bracket. Pick: Kentucky.

Regional final

No. 1 UNC vs. No. 2 Kentucky: You know what they say about payback. Kentucky lost “the Luke Maye Game” in this round in 2017. This time, the Wildcats use their size advantage (Reid Travis dominated UNC in December) to eliminate the Tar Heels. Pick: Kentucky.

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Kentucky coach John Calipari embraces North Carolina coach Roy Williams prior to their game during the 2018 CBS Sports Classic on Saturday, December 22, 2018 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Final Four

National semfinals

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 1 Gonzaga: The Zags are the only team to beat Duke at full strength this season. Actually, it was Gonzaga missing a key part (forward Killian Tillie). Tillie’s 3-point stroke will have to be the difference between these two evenly-matched teams. Duke’s lone weakness (the 3-point line) prevents a sixth title for Krzyzewski. Pick: Gonzaga.

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 2 Kentucky: John Calipari doesn’t get enough credit for how much his Kentucky teams improve during the season, especially on defense. He does it every year but it’s even more pronounced this year after losing the opener to Duke by 34. Pick: Kentucky.

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Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura (21) drives the ball against Pacific’s Jeremiah Bailey during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Stockton, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) Ben Margot AP

National championship

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Kentucky: The Zags are in the final, again (they lost to UNC in 2017), and a blue blood is in their way, again, but this time they bring home the first title for a West Coast team since 1995 (UCLA) and first by a team outside of the power structure since 1990 (UNLV). Pick: Gonzaga.

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