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NCAA Bracket Predictions: East Region

Zion Williamson (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is perhaps the most thrilling, excruciating time on the sports calendar. It’s certainly the time college basketball is its most relevant nationally, and it brings out the expert in everyone as brackets everywhere are filled in and submitted with varying levels of confidence.

I watch maybe 12 minutes of college basketball per year, and convince myself come bracket time that I’ve got this thing nailed. I never do.

So what we’re going to do is pick games and then give some (likely wrong) rationale for each one. Sometimes there’s a real reason for the pick. Other times there’s not. We don’t recommend filling out a bracket based on these selections, but feel free to do so if you need someone to blame.

We’ll start in the East region because that’s where No. 1 overall seed Duke resides.

Round 1

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 North Dakota State

It must be weird playing for NDSU or NCCU knowing that your game doesn’t matter because you’re going to get waxed in the first round. We didn’t even need to wait for the play-in game to finish. Duke won’t lose to NDSU. Probably.

Pick: Duke

No. 8 Virginia Commonwealth vs. No. 9 Central Florida

VCU is scorching hot with 12 consecutive wins to close their regular season slate. Being hot in March is better than being cold in March, FYI.

Pick: VCU

No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Liberty

Liberty has the 279th-best strength of schedule in the country. Mississippi State’s defense isn’t great, but their offense should be enough to overwhelm the ASUN winners.

Pick: Mississippi State

No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 St. Louis

Hokies vs. Billikens in a matchup of two First Team All-Weird mascots. St. Louis finished sixth in the Atlantic 10. That’s all we need to know about them.

Pick: VA. Tech

No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Belmont

Belmont scored nearly 90 points per game. That’s fun. Let’s hope they get hot and swing an upset.

Pick: Belmont

No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Yale

LSU’s head coach Will Wade was caught on a wiretap trying to pay players to come play for him. That’s not great! Luckily for the Tigers, neither is Yale.

Pick: LSU

No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Minnesota

Rick Pitino’s son, Richard, is the Golden Gophers’ head coach. It’d be neat if they knocked out the Cardinals.

Pick: Minnesota

No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Bradley

There’s not a lot of rules to picking brackets. One of them is to never sleep on Tom Izzo.

Pick: Michigan State

Round 2

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 VCU

Duke has Zion Williamson. VCU does not.

Pick: Zio-, er, Duke

No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. No. 5 Mississippi State

The Bulldogs went 1-5 against Top 25 teams this season. Virginia Tech is a top-25 team. Ipso facto, they win. Science.

Pick: VA. Tech

No. 3 LSU vs. No. 11 Belmont

It feels like the Wade story is one of those things that carries a team through to the tournament, where a talented group of players looks at one another and decides they’re going to go win some games to prove a point.

Pick: LSU

No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Minnesota

Remember the earlier rule about Tom Izzo? Yeah, it still applies.

Pick: Michigan State

Sweet 16

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 VA. Tech

Duke’s inability to shoot threes may come back to bite them eventually, but it won’t be against ACC foe Virginia Tech, who Duke lost to in their only meeting this season. It should be noted Williamson did not play in that one.

Pick: Duke

No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 LSU

LSU might actually have more talent, but if they’re missing a head coach, this is the kind of game where Michigan State rolls.

Pick: Michigan State

Elite 8

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State

Chalk is boring, but we’re here. These are the two best teams by a wide enough margin that they should be upset-proof. As enticing as it is to take the Spartans in this one, Duke’s talent (read: Zion) is just too overwhelming to pick against.

Pick: Duke