It’s that time of year again and I can’t help but get some lyrics stuck in my head…”It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” As soon as the Selection Sunday show ended, people started filling out their brackets in hopes of being the first one to ever create the perfect bracket. According to Jeff Bergen of DePaul University, the odds of that are 1 in 9.2 quintillion…quintillian, with a Q. When has bad odds ever stopped someone from trying? With that said, here are some predictions from the analysts here at Last Word On Sports.
I had a lot of trouble picking my bracket this year. Usually, there is a clear-cut choice for the national title (or at least a maximum of two or three). This year, though, it is pretty wide open.
With a few powerhouse teams getting a much lower seed than they may deserve – Louisville and Michigan State immediately come to mind – the #1 seed will be in some trouble in the East and Midwest. I’m taking both the Cardinals and the Spartans, both #4 seeds, to come out of their respective conference and make the Final Four. I am also picking Florida to sneak by the Syracuse Orange in the South and Doug McDermott and Creighton to out duel the Arizona Wildcats in the West.
My upsets include Harvard over Cincinnati, Tennessee over UMass, North Dakota State over Oklahoma, NC State over Saint Louis and St. Joseph’s over Connecticut in the Round of 64. I decided to ride North Dakota State into the Sweet Sixteen because of their free throw and shooting percentage, blocking ability and the fact they manage to keep games close. I also have St. Joe’s knocking off Villanova and reaching the Sweet Sixteen.
Ultimately, I have Louisville winning it all. They have proven all season they are an extremely talented team. They have the pedigree and experience to win and are out to prove that a #4 seed was too low for them. They will defeat Michigan State in Arlington, Texas and repeat as champions.
The South division will pit two veteran coaches, in Billy Donovan and Jim Boeheim, against each other with Florida versus Syracuse respectively. I say Florida manages to get by, with a little bit of defense, in what will be a very close game. Two woefully underseeded teams in Michigan State and Iowa State will find themselves in the East division’s Elite Eight contest. Michigan State, with all their players healthy, has too much firepower (especially driving the lane) for opposing teams to handle. The Spartans will power past Iowa St. and Florida to reach the National Championship Game. On the other side of bracket, Oklahoma St. and Wisconsin will survive a tricky West division, with Wisconsin advancing to the Final Four for the first time in over a decade. In the Midwest, Louisville and Michigan will emerge as the contenders, but Louisville will use its great guard play to roll past the Wolverines and the Badgers en route the National Championship Game.
Finally, in a battle of wits between two of the college game’s most decorated coaches, I give the edge to Tom Izzo and his formidable Spartans roster. Michigan State will be the best team of 2014’s NCAA men’s hoops season.
Essentially my strategy was to pick a few mild upsets first round, then gradually weed out the number one seeds. I picked mostly 3 seeds. And Syracuse to win mostly because they had a rough stretch late but I believe in the team that won 25 straight games earlier in the season, and that they will find that form again. I think the tournament is very wide open this year, and I don’t have a single number 1 seed making the final four.
For my Final Four, I’ve taken a pair of number ones. Florida was the best team in the country during the regular season and I see them making it to the final weekend. Arizona also had a very impressive season, and might be the most purely talented team in the country. I have the Wildcats going to the National Championship game.
As for Wichita State, I just don’t see them getting past Louisville. The Shockers had a tremendous undefeeated season, but the committee has put them in the region of death, with Louisville deserving more than a #4 seed especially the way they’ve played down the stretch. However, I have Big 10 regular season Champs Michigan going to the final four. I know they lost their conference tournament, but I don’t put huge stock in that as more and more teams rest their starters in these conference tournaments unless they have something huge to play for seeding wise.
Michigan State is overlooked as a number 4. They fought through injuries all year, and finally now have their best starting five all on the court. For this reason I think they beat number one ranked Virginia in the sweet sixteen and are a real threat in the tournament. That said, the team nearly every analyst is overlooking is Villanova. Most are saying they don’t deserve a number 2 seed, but I disagree. Contrarian that I am, they prove the world wrong and win the whole darn thing.
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