Luke DeCock

In honor of a former colleague, here is a Caulton Tudor-style NCAA regional analysis

How does Coach K feel about rating Zion’s dunks?

Watch an excerpt of the Duke press conference after the ACC Tournament win over UNC when a reporter ask Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett to rate Zion's dunks.
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Watch an excerpt of the Duke press conference after the ACC Tournament win over UNC when a reporter ask Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett to rate Zion's dunks.

For many, many years, former News & Observer sports columnist Caulton Tudor reviewed the bracket in his own inimitable way, scrambling to get it done Sunday night for the Monday paper. He had his own phrases, his own slang and his own way of doing it. In honor of Tudor, who passed away in November 2017, we revived the format. It’s back by popular demand, a day later and many quips shorter.

Familiar faces and rough road for UNC in Midwest

REGIONAL RATING: First

FAVORITE: North Carolina (1) may have to beat Kentucky and Kansas … but probably won’t.

GOING SWEET: North Carolina (1), Houston (3), Auburn (5), Wofford (7).

DARK HORSES: New Mexico State (12) enters the tournament on a 19-game winning streak. Northeastern (13) draws an short-handed Kansas team and can shoot the lights out.

MIGHT FLOP: Auburn (5) and Iowa State (6) may not have much left in the tank after winning hard-fought conference tournaments. Kansas (4) is a big name but lost two starters for the season as its Big 12 regular-season streak finally ended.

SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: Wofford (7) has everything it needs to be a mid-major media darling, from a darling mascot to a hot-shooting star in Fletcher Magee. Ron Hunter is back with Georgia State (14), presumably without his famous stool.

SYNOPSIS: Everyone immediately focused on the improbable coincidence of both Kansas and Kentucky in North Carolina’s bracket for the umpteenth time – in Kansas City, no less – but the Wildcats and Jayhawks will have a hard time getting that far. This bracket is stocked with really solid teams in the middle seeds. Expect a couple to join the Tar Heels in KC instead of their more famous brethren.

Duke faces potential Final Four-caliber matchup in East

REGIONAL RATING: Second

FAVORITE: Zion Williamson (1).

GOING SWEET: Duke (1), Michigan State (2), Mississippi State (5), Belmont (11).

DARK HORSES: Yale (14) comes out of the strongest Ivy League in decades and is only three years removed from a first-round win over Baylor. Richard Pitino and Minnesota (10) take on Louisville (7), the school that fired his father.

MIGHT FLOP: It’ll be a miracle if LSU (3) doesn’t flop, with its coach suspended and the program in turmoil. Virginia Tech (4) will be in this category if Justin Robinson isn’t back at full speed.

SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: There are two in Dayton, together. Fran Dunphy is every coach’s favorite coach, a Big 5 lifer and the epitome of class making his last run with Temple (11). Belmont (11) got the nod from the committee every mid-major hopes to get. It’s a shame only one can advance. There’s also the possibility of a Bull City crosstown classic between Duke and N.C. Central (16).

SYNOPSIS: Duke and Michigan State often seem to find each other in the tournament, with Mike Krzyzewski’s lopsided record against Tom Izzo one of the great anomalies of this era of basketball. A regional final between the two would be like a Final Four game in a basketball building, not unlike the North Carolina-Kentucky game in 2017. Count on it.

Order at hand in the strong-at-the-top West

REGIONAL RATING: Third

FAVORITE: In the one bracket that will go as planned in the first weekend, Texas Tech (3) will emerge from a brutal regional slugfest.

GOING SWEET: Gonzaga (1), Michigan (2), Texas Tech (3), Florida State (4).

DARK HORSES: Buffalo (6) has shooters and the experience of a first-round upset of Arizona last year. Murray State (12) has Ja Morant, the best player outside the power conferences (with apologies to Chris Clemons).

MIGHT FLOP: The top seeds here are solid, but Syracuse (8) looked like its usual world-beating March self at times and a CBI team at others. One important rule: Don’t pick a team a year late. We’re looking at you, Nevada (7).

SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: Everyone’s rooting for Morant, but Markus Howard is an even more explosive scorer for Marquette (5). Vermont (13) has three Duncan brothers who somehow found their way to Vermont from Evansville, Ind.

SYNOPSIS: This bracket is strong at the top, with everything set up for the top seeds to advance to a battle royale in Anaheim. All four of them are elite teams that do so much well, it’s hard to pick a winner. We’ve been riding Texas Tech all year, no reason to stop now.

This is Virginia’s year in the South, honestly it is this time

REGIONAL RATING: Fourth

FAVORITE: Virginia (1) has to shake off last year’s historic debacle but the Cavaliers face a smooth path to Minneapolis.

GOING SWEET: Virginia (1), Purdue (3), Cincinnati (7), UC Irvine (13)

DARK HORSES: Count on UC Irvine (13) being impeccably coached by Russell Turner. St. Mary’s (11) pulled the upset of Gonzaga in the WCC tournament and looked awfully good doing it.

MIGHT FLOP: For ever and ever, Virginia (1) will be in this space after what happened in Charlotte last year. DeAndre Hunter is back and healthy and the Cavaliers will be fine as long as Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome don’t both go cold at the same time. Villanova (6) has a famous March name but had to scrap and claw to get back to the NCAA tournament after a rough start.

SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: Jeff Jones battled prostate cancer all season long and broke down in tears when Old Dominion (14) won the Conference USA tournament. The former Virginia coach will have plenty of people rooting for the Monarch’s run to continue against Purdue (3).

SYNOPSIS: If Virginia (1) can get past the first round, there isn’t anything in the Cavaliers’ way that is any better than what they saw (and beat) in the ACC.

MY PICKS: North Carolina, Duke, Texas Tech, Virginia

CHAMPION: Duke

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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