The Chronicle's 2024 March Madness predictions

Head coach Jon Scheyer instructs guards Jeremy Roach and Caleb Foster.
Head coach Jon Scheyer instructs guards Jeremy Roach and Caleb Foster.

March Madness, at last, is here. In keeping with America’s favorite pastime this part of the year, The Chronicle’s beat writers took a stab at predicting how the world’s most unpredictable tournament will shake out, how Duke and the ACC will fare and more:

Who’s your dark horse?

BYU: The East Region is a super competitive region, and it will be a gauntlet. Nonetheless, I think the Cougars have the makings for a deep run. The draw with No. 11-seed Duquesne is favorable, and head coach Mark Pope’s squad could advance past the top teams in the bottom side of the region. BYU has four players averaging double digits, led by 6-foot-7 senior Jaxson Robinson. The Cougars live and die by the three, and there is no way to predict if they will be hot from deep. But if they are, even the best defensive teams in the country are left scrambling without answers — just ask Iowa State. This team is certainly battle tested in a difficult Big 12 and isn’t scared of the moment, so I have them going to the Elite Eight. -Ranjan Jindal

Drake: Before the season started, I had Drake pegged as my mid-major team to watch. The Missouri Valley Conference — former home of famous 2018 Cinderella Loyola Chicago — has long produced quality squads. In fact, this year it nearly earned two bids to the NCAA tournament, with Indiana State just missing out. The Bulldogs, who beat the Sycamores in the conference championship, are the No. 1 team in the nation in offensive rebound percentage allowed, per KenPom, and they do not turn the ball over very much. Those are two keys for any potential underdog, but the icing on the cake is Drake’s offensive discipline and star power. The Bulldogs run a lot of set plays on offense, and their main benefactor is junior Tucker DeVries. The 6-foot-7 guard is averaging 21.8 points per game — good for sixth in all of Division I. If DeVries can get going and Drake can hold up on defense, the Bulldogs will be a tough out for any top team. -Dom Fenoglio

Michigan State: While the preseason No. 4 has surely seen a fall from grace, it is still a storied program led by an experienced coach. With this at-large bid, head coach Tom Izzo extended his NCAA tournament appearance streak to 26 years, the longest active run. Graduate guard Tyson Walker’s 18.2 points per game rank him fifth in the Big Ten. However, the Spartans’ strength lies in their defense. They sit at eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency and and 305th in adjusted tempo — they wear their opponents out. That bodes well for an underdog, and matches up with No. 1-seed North Carolina’s lightning-quick play. If both make it to the round of 32, Michigan State can keep the Tar Heels out of Los Angeles. -Rachael Kaplan

N.C. State: I think the Wolfpack has one more win in it. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a basketball team play as hard as N.C. State did Saturday night against North Carolina. They just fought, and if they fight like that against Texas Tech, then five-seed difference be damned and the Red Raiders don’t stand a chance. The DJ duo (Horne and Burns Jr.) play with simultaneous talent and precision, flaunting a firm grasp on the basics that makes them truly competitive. If they can ride the high of their ACC title and hold onto the things that equipped them for it, the Wolfpack can pull an upset and make it interesting early on. -Sophie Levenson

Who’s on upset watch?

Kentucky: The Wildcats are undoubtedly one of the strongest offensive teams in the field, if not the strongest. The one-two-punch of freshmen Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard is a combo any team would want on its side while Antonio Reeves has been one of the country’s most prolific scorers all season. I have no doubts that Kentucky can beat anyone, if not purely because it can outscore anyone. But for all the Wildcats’ strengths on one side of the ball, they’re pretty concerning on the other. Kentucky has conceded in the triple digits twice this season in its own building, once in a loss to Tennessee and another time in a win against Arkansas, and surrendered 94 to Florida, 96 to Georgia and 97 to Texas A&M. Not coincidentally, the teams the Wildcats have lost to — UNC Wilmington, South Carolina, LSU, etc. — were all ones in which their shooting went cold and their lackluster defense couldn’t keep up. Kentucky could absolutely win the whole thing, just as easily as they could bow out in the first weekend again. The Wildcats are a quintessential glass cannon, and one that for my money is a prime target for a tossed stone. -Andrew Long

Marquette: The No. 2-seed in the South, Marquette finished the regular season 25-9 and second in the Big East. The Golden Eagles are top-25 in Kenpom in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and picked up nonconference wins against Kansas and Illinois. They look like a lock for a deep run. However, the health of star guard Tyler Kolek is in question, as he has missed the last six games. Head coach Shaka Smart has said that the plan is for Kolek to play, but whether he will be 100% remains to be seen. The bigger reason I see Marquette as a possible early exit, though, is the strength of their immediate matchups. All of Florida, Boise State and Colorado bring enough firepower to knock off the Golden Eagles — with or without Kolek. In my bracket, I like the winner of that 7-10 matchup going to the Sweet 16, so I put all my chips on the table and picked Marquette to lose even earlier. As unlikely as it is, if Kolek is not fully healthy and the Golden Eagles cannot get things going on offense, my upset by No. 15-seed Western Kentucky over Marquette may just come true. -Fenoglio

Kansas: I’ll keep this short: The Jayhawks are 1-4 in their last five, have failed to win three straight since the beginning of January and will be without leading scorer Kevin McCullar Jr. moving forward due to injury. This team is a No. 4 seed solely based on the credit it built up during nonconference play; Gonzaga, Samford and McNeese are each plenty good enough to oust the one-time preseason No. 1 before the second weekend. -Levitan 

Who will be the player of the tournament?

Jamal Shead, Houston: Shead is the type of high-usage backcourt leader any team would love to have. He brings a unique level of toughness to go with his craftiness in moving the ball around and spotting up for shots from all three levels. While Shead is not the greatest 3-point scorer, he is surrounded by deep threats LJ Cryer and Emanuel Sharp. Their potency combined with a powerful frontcourt duo of J’Wan Roberts and Ja’Vier Francis makes Houston a threat to win the championship. The Manor, Texas, native has cemented himself as one of the best distributors and on-ball defenders playing in the Big Dance, and he should continue to prove his value during the Cougars’ deep run. -Micah Hurewitz

Tristen Newton, UConn: The Huskies’ star guard knows this stage all too well. In last year’s six tournament wins en route to the title, Newton shot 38.9% from three and an astounding 90% from the line — he only missed two free throws the entire tournament. His UConn team is just as good, if not better this season. Newton is included in that as well. He has two triple-doubles this season, a relatively rare feat in college hoops. His rebounding acuity and command of his offense are outstanding; even when he’s not scoring, he’s giving someone else an opportunity. Newton is the best player on the best team. So long as he continues playing like that, the Huskies may be unstoppable. -Kaplan

Hunter Dickinson, Kansas: Why not? He has to step up to make up for the absence of McCullar, who will miss the tournament due to injury and usually pairs with Dickinson to take care of the Jayhawks’ scoring and rebounds. The senior has one more year of eligibility but has yet to commit to Kansas for another year — maybe he’s looking to end on a high. Dickinson definitely has the kind of experience that corresponds with players going far in the Big Dance; he took Michigan to the Sweet 16 two years ago. His 55% field goal arm and 18 points per game are both the kind of steady that don’t get thrown off by a change of stakes. I think it’s Dickinson’s year. -Levenson

How will Duke fare?

Round of 32: After losing their final regular-season contest to the Tar Heels and making an early exit from the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils desperately need to prove themselves on the national stage. However, I just don’t think Duke has what it takes to make a deep run. With the continued absence of Caleb Foster due to injury and an offense that has looked stagnant and off-kilter, the Blue Devils don’t necessarily have the makings of a championship team at this moment in time. They will likely make it past No. 13-seed Vermont in the first round due to a sheer talent advantage, but the round of 32 could spell trouble. On the one hand, Duke could face off against No. 5-seed Wisconsin, who recently knocked off No. 1-seed Purdue en route to the Big Ten tournament title game. On the other, the Blue Devils could clash with No. 12-seed James Madison, a team with 31 wins that has immense potential. Either way, this version of Duke has not displayed the fight and grit it would need to get to the Sweet 16. It is fairly likely that the Blue Devils could return to Durham after the first weekend in Brooklyn, N.Y. -Mackenzie Sheehy

Sweet 16: If I had to blindly seed the South Region, the Blue Devils would be the No. 2 by a comfortable margin over Marquette and Kentucky. But the Cougars are the best team here, and I don’t see Texas A&M or Nebraska pulling off the upset before Duke’s chance in Dallas. Houston has the best point guard in the country, one of the best defenses in the country and the deserving USBWA Coach of the Year. It won’t take much for the Blue Devils to get past the first two rounds and into the regional, but this is the end of the road. -Levitan

Final Four: I know, I know. Of all the teams in the field, the one that got punked in two straight games, exited the ACC tournament in the quarterfinal and got swept by North Carolina seems like an illogical pick. But I see a clear path for the Blue Devils to Phoenix, and it largely hinges on the fact that Marquette and Kentucky are deeply flawed teams with serious upset potential. On top of that, I think Duke and its backcourt full of efficient 3-point shooters match up pretty well with Houston and its slow pace, while Filipowski is a unicorn who can win games by himself for the Blue Devils. Should Duke escape its opening-round matchup with Vermont, move past Wisconsin or James Madison and its matchup with Houston shakes out how I think it might, the Blue Devils have a straight shot to the Elite Eight. There, they’ll play against either a lower seed or a Golden Eagles/Wildcats group who I have doubts about. It’s not a probable path for Duke, but it’s certainly a possible one. -Andrew Long

What about the rest of the ACC?

First weekend exits: Despite N.C. State squeezing into the field via its ACC championship over the weekend to give the conference five bids, I do not think more than one team will advance to the second weekend. In March, nothing is given, but the early round draws for the ACC look less than encouraging. Duke, currently on a two-game skid, may run into trouble in Brooklyn, and North Carolina does not have an easy road out of Charlotte with Mississippi State (two wins against Tennessee and one against Auburn) or Michigan State (very streaky but can always turn it on in March) in the way. Clemson is an underdog in the first round, Virginia exited the tournament with a flop in Dayton, Ohio, against Colorado State Tuesday and the aforementioned Wolfpack — despite their No. 11 seed and its upset-rich history — would likely face offensive superpower Kentucky in the second round. The conference could get three teams to the second weekend if it's lucky, but there is a universe where that number is zero. -Hurewitz

Tar Heels to the title game: I really like the way North Carolina has been playing, and especially the supporting cast outside of RJ Davis and Armando Bacot. I have the Tar Heels going to the title game, and think they can at least get through the West region with freshman guard Elliot Cadeau being a key X-factor. New Mexico is a popular upset pick against Clemson because of its elite guard play, but I’m not sure if anybody on the Lobos can remotely guard PJ Hall or Ian Schieffelin. I have the Tigers advancing and think they can give No. 3-seed Baylor a tough contest as they are similar teams. I don’t see N.C. State’s magical run going much further than the Round of 32, but I think the Wolfpack can use their size advantage over a depleted Texas Tech team. -Jindal

Who is cutting down the nets?

Tennessee: Am I slightly shaken on this pick given Tennessee’s two consecutive losses to close the regular season? Yes. Have I also said that the Volunteers were my national title pick since January? Yes. Rick Barnes, despite being notoriously unfortunate in March, is an elite coach who knows how to set up a defense and his team is loaded with veteran talent, including the versatile Santiago Vescovi and an elite point guard in Zakai Zeigler, who missed last year’s tournament through injury. But the real reason I believe in Tennessee is because I believe in Dalton Knecht, who — aside from Zach Edey — has been for my money the best player in college basketball this year. Elite backcourts and defense win in March, and with perhaps the country’s best backcourt, best guard and one of its best defenses, all the pieces are there for the Volunteers to make their first Final Four, first title game and hang their first banner. -Long

Houston: It’s a boring pick, I know. But the Cougars only have one truly bad loss this season, and it came in the Big 12 championship game. With Iowa State out of the way (as I think it will be), Houston is cleared of its kryptonite. Injuries add a question mark, creating a bit of a depth issue, but with as good a starting five as the Cougars have, they can flat-out dominate. They tallied nine double-digit wins in the country’s best conference this season. That is no small feat. This team doesn’t want to lose again, and I don’t think it does. -Kaplan

I see the Cougars going all the way frankly because I don’t see another team doing it. I don’t see Duke beating a powerhouse Big 12 team like Houston in the Sweet 16, and I don’t see Kentucky or UConn going to the championship game. I have Purdue losing to the Jayhawks in the Sweet 16 because — well, gut feeling — but I don’t think Kansas can beat the Cougars either. Basically, I didn’t pick Houston because I think the Cougars are clear national champions. I just don’t think anyone else is. -Levenson

Yes, the Cougars took a beating against Iowa State in the Big 12 title game. But this is a Houston team which ranks second among tournament teams in forcing turnovers, defending shots inside the arc and blocking shots, and is tops in steal percentage, per KenPom. Houston is 12-4 against teams in the field and forces teams to play well outside of their comfort zones. Add in the fact that the Cougars are led by Shead, the three-year starter (and All-America first teamer) who has led his squad to a Final Four in 2021 and has made the Sweet 16 in each of his three prior seasons under head coach Kelvin Sampson. Entering the tournament it is clearly Houston and UConn which have separated themselves as the top two teams and the ones to beat, but I think this is the year where defense carries the Cougars to the promised land in Phoenix. -Hurewitz

UConn: The Huskies do have the cards stacked against them as the reigning national champions. No team has successfully defended their NCAA crown since 2006-07 Florida, and with the immense talent in the field this year, it will undoubtedly be a challenge to repeat. That being said, UConn has all the ingredients for another successful run as the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. The Huskies are led by guard Newton, who recently earned a nod as an AP First Team All-American. Not only does his utility come in the 15.2 points, seven rebounds and six assists he averages per game, but he also was a starter on last year’s championship roster. However, the Huskies have threats from all over the floor with all five starters averaging double-digits in scoring. Sophomore center Donovan Clingan has also proven to be the perfect answer to the loss of Adama Sanogo, exploding onto the college basketball scene compared to his numbers from last year. Combine all of this with the fact that UConn is the only No. 1 seed in the tournament to come in with a conference tournament title and not lose in the past month, and head coach Dan Hurley’s squad looks dangerous to come out victorious in March Madness again. -Sheehy

Purdue: Yes, I know this is a team coming off a humiliating defeat last season to a No. 16 seed. I’m usually the guards guy, so it may seem weird picking the team with the 7-foot-4 center. But the improved play from the guards is actually the reason I think Purdue can go far. Lance Jones was a great transfer pickup, and another year of Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer will only help. These guards are all prolific 3-point shooters — with five rotation players shooting above 40% from deep — and combined with Edey’s dominance inside makes this group a true offensive juggernaut. The Boilermakers have gone through an absolute gauntlet of a non-conference schedule and beat the best, with wins against Gonzaga, Tennessee, Marquette, Alabama and Arizona. The path also sets up nicely in my opinion, so I think Purdue could shrug off the March Madness demons and take this one home. -Jindal

Arizona: The Wildcats are one of the most well-rounded teams in the country, as they can beat teams on both offense and defense. In addition to their Nov. 10 victory in Cameron Indoor Stadium against the Blue Devils, they earned non conference victories against Michigan State, Alabama and Wisconsin. Arizona is led on offense by Love, and the Wildcats may have to go through the Tar Heels on their way to Phoenix. I like Arizona to get out of its region, and an in-state Final Four cannot be overlooked. More than having their home fans nearby, the Wildcats will be able to spend more time practicing in their own facilities and face a much shorter trip than any other team. So, I’m picking Arizona to be the first national champion west of Kansas since 1997. The winner that year? The Wildcats. -Fenoglio

Iowa State: With all due respect for the difficulty of the selection committee’s job, it’s baffling that UConn wound up with the top three Power Five tournament champions in its region in Iowa State, Illinois and Auburn. The Cyclones should have been considered for the final No. 1 seed; instead, they nearly missed out on a No. 2 seed entirely. Their path is tough and will likely include the defending champions in Boston, but this is a wildly fun T.J. Otzelberger team with the best defense in the country and more than a few playmakers. That’s a recipe for a Final Four, if not more. -Levitan

Full brackets

Jonathan Levitan

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Micah Hurewitz

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Dom Fenoglio | Sports Managing Editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Sports Editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and sports editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.

Sophie Levenson profile
Sophie Levenson | Sports Managing Editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.

Mackenzie Sheehy profile
Mackenzie Sheehy | Blue Zone editor

Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Recruitment/Social Chair

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and recruitment/social chair of The Chronicle's 120th volume. He was previously sports editor for Volume 119.


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