March Madness has arrived, with the official release of the 2014 Brackets. While some teams are preparing for their first opponent in this year’s NCAA Tournament, others are feeling snubbed after being left out of the big dance. But, like it or not, we are officially down to 68 teams and 68 teams only. No more bubble talk. Some teams popped their own bubbles by securing a berth in the tourney, while others’ were forced to watch the selection committee pop them by leaving them out of postseason play. With that part over and done with, it is now time to focus on the teams who are still alive, as well as predictions and sleeper and upset picks for those who may still be standing as March Madness commences with the Final Four in North Texas the first weekend in April. With that being said, I will offer some upset picks and predictions for my Final Four, with a brief breakdown of all four regions of the brackets, beginning with the No. 1 overall seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the Florida Gators.
* The Gators are No. 1 for a reason. Despite a struggle in the SEC Championship Game, Florida is the odds on favorite to cut down the nets in Arlington. Don’t get cute – advance the Gators to the Final Four.
* The Kansas Jayhawks are the No. 2 seed, but their tournament will depend on the health of Joel Embiid, who is likely out for at least the first two games, provided they can win two games. A third round matchup against either the New Mexico Lobos or Stanford Cardinal will not be easy. I like them to advance to the Sweet 16, but beyond that, it all depends on the health and availability of Embiid.
* Minor upset – No. 9 Pitt Panthers over No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes
* Biggest upset – No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes over No. 3 Syracuse Orange in the third round
* Many like the No. 12 and No. 13 seeds to pull off upsets in this bracket, but I’m not buying it. While Stephen F. Austin and Tulsa are good teams, VCU and UCLA are better. Bottom line.
* The Virginia Cavaliers are worthy of a No. 1 seed, despite what many say to the contrary. As good as they are – and I am a big believer – they will not reach the Final Four. Neither will the No. 2 seeded Villanova Wildcats.
* I like the No. 3 or No. 4 team to reach the Final Four from the East, with the Iowa State Cyclones and Michigan State Spartans both playing their best basketball at the right time.
* Harvard pulled off a major upset last year. Cincinnati is not playing well right now. Smell whats cooking? I don’t. I still like the Bearcats to knock off the Crimson.
* The No. 6 North Carolina Tar Heels are an enigma. They could reach the Final Four, or at least the Elite Eight. They could also be bounced by the No. 11 Providence Friars. Neither would surprise me. Good luck predicting which UNC team will show up, but I am predicting they don’t make it too far. Maybe not past the Big East champs, but certainly not into the Sweet 16.
* The Arizona Wildcats may have received the easiest path for any No. 1 seed, but that does not mean that you should automatically pencil or click them into the Final Four. They have flaws. Expect them to show up early, as they will be tested in the third round with the winner of the Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys matchup. I like OSU to take out Gonzaga and give Arizona a run before the Wildcats pull away late.
* I am calling this the upset region, as I like quite a few possibilities. I can see No. 12 North Dakota State taking out No. 5 Oklahoma as well as No. 6 Baylor making a run. I am not saying they are a Final Four team, but the Bears can play with the best of them when they are clicking, much like they have been as of late.
* The Oregon Ducks have some very good wins this season. They also have some very bad losses. I like them to beat BYU, who I don’t feel belongs in the first place, but I do not see them getting past a Wisconsin team who can actually put points on the board.
* The Wichita State Shockers will not sneak up on teams this season like they did last year, but they still will play with an edge. They will need that in a likely Sweet 16 matchup with the Louisville Cardinals, who are playing as well as any team in the country and will also be playing with something to prove after being slapped as a No. 4 seed.
* This is the deepest region of the bracket in my eyes, as the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines and No. 3 Duke Blue Devils were one more win away from being considered for the final No. 1 spot in the tournament. They will likely meet in a Sweet 16 matchup, with the winner having an inside track to make it to Arlington.
* Which Kentucky Wildcats team will show up to face the Kansas State Wildcats? If good Kentucky listens to John Calipari, this team could make a run and knock out the No. 1 Shockers. If the bad Kentucky team comes to play and ignores its coach, they will not get past K-State.
* I like a pair of double-digit seeds pulling off upsets in this region. While I won’t predict who will win the first round games between North Carolina State vs. Xavier and Tennessee vs. Iowa, I like both of them to advance to the third round by knocking off St. Louis and Massachusetts. Sorry, Atlantic 10 readers.
* Florida Gators (Kansas has an outside chance will a healthy Embiid)
* Michigan State Spartans (although I really like Iowa State)
* Wisconsin Badgers (but watch out for the Arizona vs. Oklahoma State winner)
* Louisville Cardinals (unless Duke or Michigan can knock down a ton of three’s)
* I see Florida vs. Louisville in the championship game, with the Gators cutting down the nets, 72-67.