Projecting the Seeds and Field
1 Seeds: Florida, Arizona, Wichita State, Villanova
2 Seeds: Wisconsin, Kansas, Duke, Michigan
3 Seeds: Syracuse, Virginia, Creighton, Louisville
4 Seeds: Cincinnati, San Diego State, Iowa State, Michigan State
5 Seeds: Oklahoma, North Carolina, Ohio State, St. Louis
6 Seeds: Kentucky, UConn, VCU, Memphis
7 Seeds: Texas, Massachusetts, New Mexico, UCLA
8 Seeds: Oregon, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Baylor
9 Seeds: Colorado, George Washington, Gonzaga, SMU
10 Seeds: Arizona State, Kansas State, Stanford, Dayton
11 Seeds: Nebraska, BYU, Pittsburgh, Harvard
12 Seeds: St. Joseph’s/Minnesota, Tennessee/Xavier, LA Tech, North Dakota State
13 Seeds: Georgia State, Delaware, Stephen F. Austin, Manhattan
14 Seeds: Mercer, UC Irvine, Toledo, North Carolina Central
15 Seeds: Eastern Kentucky, American, Utah Valley, Weber State
16 Seeds: Stony Brook, Wofford, Mount St. Mary’s/Coastal Carolina, Southern/Milwaukee
Last Four In
Last Four Out
Final Four Picks – Teams with whom you can’t go wrong when filling out your bracket
The likely number one overall seed will probably be chosen as the favorite when participants fill out their brackets next week. Perhaps the only knock on Florida is playing in the SEC, which is arguably the weakest power conference in America. However, over the last two weeks no team has been playing better basketball, and it is always smart to select the hottest team headed into March – see Louisville last year.
Speaking of Louisville, the Cardinals were the team on everyone’s mind at this time one year ago. This year, they appear to be on no one’s. The team is still led by senior guard Russ Smith, one of the best players in college basketball. In addition, last year’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock is on the roster along with this season’s breakout performer Montrezl Harrell. Similar to Florida, the team appears to be playing its best basketball of the season and should thrive off the experience gained from winning a national championship last year.
The Spartans had a bumpy road in the Big Ten this season, which included a sweep at the hands of rival Michigan and an uncharacteristic home loss to Nebraska. However, injuries have been a large part of that misfortune in conference play, and the team still has the most talented roster in the Big Ten. During the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Spartans were healthy and ranked as high as number one, highlighted by a win at Kentucky early in the season. Guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris finally appear healthy at the right time, while senior Adrien Payne is a stretch four and perhaps one of the toughest players to stop in college basketball.
Although the Orange went through a rough patch in late February/early March, which included home losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech, the team was without one of their best players in Jerami Grant. He returned last Sunday, and the Orange dismantled Florida State – a team fighting for its NCAA tourney life – on its home floor. Syracuse was ranked number one for the majority of the season, and if healthy should still be a Final Four favorite.
Other Contenders – Other teams that are legitimate Final Four contenders
When Mitch McGary was lost for the season with a back injury, many believed the Wolverines would be in a fight just to make the field of 68. However, Nik Stauskas became a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, while Chris LaVert has emerged as the number two option for the Wolverines in McGary’s absence. The Wolverines have some impressive victories this season, including a win at Wisconsin and a sweep of Michigan State, which won them the Big Ten regular season title.
Many fans filling out brackets may underwrite the Shockers due to playing in the less-regarded Missouri Valley Conference. However, 34-0 is no fluke no matter the conference. The Shockers became the first team since the 1991 UNLV Rebels to finish the regular season unbeaten. That UNLV team went on to the Final Four. Wichita State will also look to advance to the Final Four and repeat its surprise run from one year ago, when the Shockers made the National Semifinals as a nine seed.
When college hoops fans think of Duke, they tend to think first of freshman phenom Jabari Parker. However, sophomore forward Rodney Hood may be just as important to the Blue Devils’ success, averaging 16.5 points per game and shooting 42.5% from three-point territory. Duke was playing some of the best basketball in the country prior to an underwhelming loss at Wake Forest, but should still factor as a Final Four favorite with Parker and Hood – two potential NBA lottery picks this coming June.
The Jayhawks may possess the most talented roster in the NCAA, including Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, the likely top two selections in the 2014 NBA Draft. However, their youth has been tested multiple times this season, especially on the road. All four of their losses in Big 12 play came in hostile road environments. Questions also surround the back of Joel Embiid, who was sent to California last week to be examined by a specialist and is expected to miss the first weekend of the tournament. There are many questions surrounding Kansas, but Andrew Wiggins is playing his best basketball of the season, and if Embiid can come back healthy, there may not be a better team from top to bottom.
Top Seeds that could lose early – Have caution when picking these top teams to go far
The Wildcats were ranked number one for the much of the season, but they lost sophomore forward Brandon Ashley halfway through Pac-12 play. Since his injury on February 1st, the Wildcats have lost three games and shown some weakness in their frontcourt.
Creighton relies heavily on the likely consensus Player of the Year, Doug McDermott. However, the Blue Jays looked extremely vulnerable towards the end of the season, losing two of their last three games. If McDermott has an off-night, Creighton could bounce out early.
Creighton’s Big East counterpart will likely capture the final number one seed that is up-for-grabs, the Wildcats defeated Kansas early in the season, but their other three big games all resulted in blowout losses (16 points at Syracuse, 28 points vs. Creighton, 21 points at Creighton). Villanova is a solid team, but it benefited from playing in a weaker conference this season and will be one of the weakest number one seeds in recent memory.
Virginia won the ACC regular season championship, but it benefited from a very easy schedule by not having to go to North Carolina or Syracuse, and playing Duke only once (at Cameron Indoor). While the Cavaliers were successful in the conference portion of their season, they lost against many NCAA tourney-caliber teams in the nonconference portion – Virginia Commonwealth, Wisconsin, UW-Green Bay and Tennessee.
Sleepers – 5 Seeds or Lower that will do some damage
Oregon was looking like a top 10 team earlier when the Ducks started off the season 13-0. They dropped eight of their last 10 in January and early February, but have since rattled off seven consecutive victories and appear to be returning to their early season form.
Much like Oregon, the Cowboys were in the top 10 during an earlier portion of the season. Also similar to Oregon, they went on a mid-season skid that left them in danger of missing the dance altogether. Recent victories over Kansas and Kansas State put those concerns in doubt, and the team appears to be entering the tournament at the right time.
The Buckeyes are not always pretty to watch on the offensive end, but they boast one of the top defensive units in the nation. Senior guard Aaron Craft is as good of an on-ball defender as they come, and Thad Matta always seems to have his teams prepared once March rolls around.
Cinderella Watch – Three low-seeded teams that could win a game or two
The Crimson upset New Mexico as a 14 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. They possess six players who log at least 20 minutes per game, and every single one of those players participated in either the 2012 or 2013 NCAA Tournament.
The team started off 3-6, but it finished the season with a 20-1 record to clinch the top seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Georgia State has arguably the top mid-major backcourt in college basketball with sophomore R.J. Hunter and Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow.
Stephen F Austin
The Lumberjacks are on a 25-game win streak, which is the second-longest in college basketball behind Wichita State. With four different players averaging double figures, many pundits are labelling Stephen F Austin as this season’s Florida Gulf Coast.
Five Players to Watch – The five most exciting players in the tournament
Doug McDermott – Creighton
The National Player of the Year candidate leads the nation in scoring at 26.5 points per game. He recently became the eighth player in Division I history to go over the 3,000 point plateau.
Scottie Wilbekin – Florida
The point guard is the most important player on the Gators team and can basically do it all: pass, shoot and defend. He was named SEC Player of the Year for his contributions this season on the nation’s number one team.
Ron Baker – Wichita State
Baker broke out in last year’s tournament during the Shockers improbable run thanks to exceptional shooting from three-point land. If he can shoot the ball as well as he did in last year’s tournament, watch out.
Russ Smith – Louisville
Although he didn’t win Final Four Most Outstanding Player a year ago, Smith may have been Louisville’s best player through the entire tournament. He sometimes drives Rick Pitino crazy with some decisions, but that just makes him more fun to watch.
Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State
Smart was suspended for three games this season for going after a fan in the stands in a game at Texas Tech. He tends to struggle when he is frustrated, but he is an extremely talented player when he is able to keep his emotions in check.
National Champion – Who will cut down the nets?
Every season, Florida appears to be a “sexy” pick because of their fast-paced style and ability to shoot the three-pointer consistently. However, this team is not like the typical Florida team that was made up of small guards that gun a plethora of threes. Instead, Florida is a well-rounded group with a pass-first point guard in Scottie Wilbekin, an athletic wing that can score in Casey Prather, a three-point sharpshooter in Michael Frazier III, and a dominant force inside in Patric Young. This is likely Billy Donovan’s finest team since he won two consecutive national titles with Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer seven years ago. The Gators are the most balanced team in the country, which is exactly what a team needs in order to survive multiple contrasting styles of play in the NCAA Tournament.