March Madness, 2014 Style
March 20, 2014
March Madness is upon us and the 2014 version of the madness should be intriguing to say the least. I can easily envision a dozen or more teams who have a chance to win it all. The parity of 2014 should leave us with a number of great games in the later rounds heading into the Final Four.
Let me spend some time going over the four regions.
It is pretty much unanimous that the Midwest Region is the toughest bracket. This region’s number-one seed is unbeaten Wichita State. You would think that the Shockers would have gotten a favorable draw. But Wichita State did not get any favors as Michigan, Duke and Louisville are seeded Nos. 2-4. The first two played for conference tournament titles on Sunday and were considered to have a shot at a No. 1 seed themselves. The Cardinals, meanwhile, won the AAC tournament handily and also are ranked in the top 10 nationally in both offense and defense. And a young, scary, and talented Kentucky team might await the Shockers in the second round.
My sleeper pick in this region is Arizona State. On paper, the 10th seed Sun Devils have a tough draw. But they are playing schools that have struggled of late, No. 5 seed Texas in the first round and No. 2 seed Michigan in the second round.
I like Louisville coming out of this region. The defending champs are tournament tough and are currently playing their best basketball of the season. I realize this would be an upset as Wichita State returned everyone from it’s Final Four team last year.
The easiest region looks like the West Region. The West has arguably the weakest No. 2 (Wisconsin), No. 3 (Creighton), No. 4 (San Diego State) and No. 5 (Oklahoma) seeds. The toughest test for No. 1 seed Arizona could come in the second round, as it could face Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have won five of seven after snapping a seven-game losing streak that included losing all three games that star guard Marcus Smart had to sit out as a suspension for shoving a Texas Tech fan back in February.
My sleeper pick here is No. 12 seed North Dakota State. The Bisons have impressive wins over Notre Dame, Delaware, and Western Michigan. They lead the nation in FG% at 51% and they have won 14 of their last 15. They will give Oklahoma all the Sooners can handle in first round action and have the game to also upset San Diego State in the second round.
If Arizona can make it past an early matchup with Oklahoma State, it could cruise through this region to a Final Four appearance.
Virginia is the top seed in the East region. The Cavaliers are on a roll and answered the critics when they rolled through the ACC Tournament last week. Virginia wears people down with a suffocating defense coupled with it’s slow-tempo offense. This style of basketball often thrives during tournament basketball. Since conference play began, only Florida and Wichita State have been more impressive. The toughest thing about this region is that Michigan State, the No. 4 seed, may be awaiting the Cavaliers in the third round. The Spartans are the fashionable pick out of this region and that game would be a must-see battle.
North Carolina is my sleeper team in this region. The Tar Heels put together a 12-game winning streak in conference play but enter the tournament having lost consecutive games, to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium and against a hot Pittsburgh team in the ACC tournament. On offense, the key for North Carolina will be point guard Marcus Paige not waiting until the second half to take over games. He needs to be a bit more selfish for UNC to look more like the team that ran through the ACC in February.
I believe Virginia will emerge from the East. I do not see No. 2 Villanova or No. 3 Iowa State beating the Cavaliers. And though UVA and Michigan State are almost mirror images of each other, I like Virginia putting more points on the board.
The tournament’s overall number-one seed, Florida, highlights the South Region. The Gators, winners of the SEC regular season title and the postseason tournament, are on a 26-game winning streak. They have not lost since Dec. 2. I do think Florida will be tested in this region. I view the South as the second-toughest, with UCLA, Kansas, Syracuse, VCU and New Mexico joining the Gators.
My sleeper pick in this region is New Mexico. The Lobos are the Mountain West Tournament champion and have the talent to compete and beat the likes of Ohio State, Syracuse, and Kansas. They have an All-America big man in Cameron Bairstow (20.3 points, 7.6 rebounds per game) who is clearly the best big in this region. New Mexico is already on a roll, and it can stay on one.
I got Florida coming out of this region but there could be some great games. Andrew Wiggins of Kansas could carry the Jayhawks through the region. In his last three games, the freshman has averaged 31.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.0 steals while shooting 50 percent from the floor.
My Final Four consists of Florida, Virginia, Arizona, and Louisville. I like Florida and Arizona to advance to the final game with the Wildcats coming away with the 2014 national title.
Enjoy the games and ripping up of your brackets.