How Zion’s Health Affects This Year’s NCAA Tournament

The 2018-19 college basketball regular season will come to a close on March 10 and teams around the country will head into their respective conference tournaments. A week later on March 17, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will release the 68-team field for this year’s tourney.

One player, Duke’s Zion Williamson, could have a huge impact on how that 68-team field is set up.

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Williamson, the favorite to win the Naismith Award as college basketball’s player of the year, was injured in a game against North Carolina. He has missed four games and will sit out a fifth, the Blue Devils season finale against those same Tar Heels on Saturday, March 9.

Will Williamson return to the Duke lineup? His presence, or lack thereof, has a profound effect on the Blue Devils.

Ready for ACC Tournament

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has said that Williamson would not play until he was 100 percent. While he will not play in the season finale, Coach K has said that Williamson should be ready to go for the ACC tourney.

Duke will be one of the top four seeds and, as a result, will not play their first game until Thursday, March 14. That will give Williamson additional time to rest up.

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Duke Without Williamson

Williamson averages 21.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game this season. R.J. Barrett (23.3 ppg) is Duke’s leading scorer and his role doesn’t change much without Williamson in the lineup.

Cam Reddish, who averages 14 points a game, is the one most affected by Williamson’s absence. Reddish ends up taking more shots, especially from 3-point range, as a result of Williamson out of the lineup.

The biggest thing for Duke playing without Williamson is their shortcomings defensively. The best lineup for Krzyzewski is Williamson, Barrett, Reddish, point guard Tre Jones, and either Alex O’Connell or Jack White. It’s a small lineup, but it is virtually impossible to guard. Defensively, it works because Williamson can defend any opponent’s big man. Without him, Duke has trouble defending opposing forwards.

Still the Favorite

Despite not having Williamson for the final five games of the season, Duke is still the favorite (+185) to capture this year’s NCAA tournament. Duke is 25-4 and ranked No.4 in the country heading into its final game of the regular season. Duke is 3-1 in games without Williamson and having him back for the ACC tournament and the NCAA tourney gives the Blue Devils a huge advantage.

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Gonzaga (29-2), one of the few teams to beat Duke this season, will likely be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. The Bulldogs are extremely talented led by Rui Hachimura (20.6 ppg). The downfall for head coach Mark Few’s team is depth. After their starting five, things get dicey for Gonzaga. Few has never won a national title, but at +450 the Bulldogs are a value pick.

Virginia, which became the first No. 1 seed to ever lose a first-round game last year, will be a No. 1 seed again this year. Head coach Tony Bennett’s team is the best defensive team in the country holding opponents to just 54.1 points per game. That could be a detriment come tourney time. The Cavaliers’ slow tempo could cost them in a game an opponent successfully speeds up. Defense does win championships though and at +550, Virginia with all of its experience is a solid pick to win it all.

North Carolina (24-5) has come on strong at the end of this season having won its last six games in a row. The Tar Heels lack the frontcourt size they have had in the past, but Cameron Johnson (16.9 ppg) and Luke Maye (14.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg) are tough to contain.

Tennessee (26-3) and Kentucky (24-5) are other teams to watch. The Wildcats have had a huge second half of the season and Tennessee could gain a share of the SEC title for the second consecutive season.


Here are the latest odds to win this year’s NCAA tournament.

For comparison, check out the NCAA tournament odds from our February 27th article.

Duke                        +185

Gonzaga            +450

Virginia            +550

Kentucky            +950

North Carolina            +950

Tennessee            +950

Michigan            +1150

Michigan State +1150

Texas Tech            +2000

Nevada            +2300

Marquette            +2800

Purdue                        +2800

Article by Rick Bouch

Posted March 9th, 2019

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