Some experts thought that a new era had been ushered in at the culmination of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, where upsets reigned supreme. Not a single #1 seed made the Final Four for the first time since 2006 and #8 seed Butler and #11 seed VCU proved to every team that an improbable run is the new reality. Well it took only one season until the big dogs regained their dominance with all four #1 seeds making the 2012 Final Four and 2013’s Championship by Louisville making it back-to-back wins for the top overall seeds in the tournament.
Picking upsets is one of the great joys of filling out an NCAA tournament bracket, in the first two rounds at least. Save for that magical 2011 season though it seems that the cream eventually rises to the top depending on how the particular seasons of traditional favorites like Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Syracuse, etc., are fairing.
While the brackets haven’t been established yet, we can try using past examples to come up with some predictions as to who will go deep in this year’s March Madness tournament.
One of the biggest advantages to a team in the NCAA tournament is getting a favorable draw close to their home campus. This not only increases the amount of fans at the game but reduces travel time and lets body clocks adjust, especially when playing a team from across the country. The 2005 Illinois Fighting Illini team didn’t leave the state until the Final Four and even then it was only a 2 hour trip to St. Louis. Here are some teams that could take advantage of favorable draws based on regional location.
- Syracuse – The Orange lost 4 of 6 to close out the season but can get an ideal draw if headed to the East Region. The 1st and 2nd rounds are held in Buffalo, NY with the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 at what basically amounts to Cuse’s second home court – Madison Square Garden.
- Wisconsin – With a good run in the Big Ten Tournament, Wisconsin can get an optimum seeding to play their first two games at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. The Badgers were bounced in the 1st round last year, losing as a #5 seed to #12 Ole Miss, so look for them to have some extra motivation to perform well.
- San Diego State – The Aztecs fell victim to the high-flying Florida Gulf Coast Eagles in the 2nd round a year ago, losing as a #7 seed to a #15. A favorable draw in the 2014 bracket could give them two home games at the Viejas Arena to open up play.
Some Obvious Favorites
When picking the overall winner of the 2014 NCAA Tournament there’s much more involved than just picking who plays closest to home. If you’re in a bracket challenge to win some serious cash off your friends or are participating in Warren Buffet’s billion dollar challenge, then you may want to consider one of the following teams as your overall winner:
- Florida – Will enter the tournament as the #1 overall seed and a 2014 championship run would make it three straight for the top overall teams. Florida will play its first two games in Orlando and coach Billy Donovan is a two time champion.
- Wichita State – Only 1 of the last 4 teams to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated ended up winning the title but the Shockers have experience returning 9 players from last year’s Final Four squad.
Bet on the Studs
Another way to pick the eventual NCAA basketball champion is to hitch your wagon to the best player at the time. In 2012 (Anthony Davis) and 2013 (Trey Burke) the Naismith Award winner made the championship game. You can also look at times when a single player dominated and carried a team on his back like 2011 (Kemba Walker) or 2003 (Carmelo Anthony). Sometimes the parts are greater than the whole and these teams/players have a distinct possibility of taking over this year.
- Arizona – Number 1 overall RPI team with two bona fide Most Outstanding Player candidates in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon.
- Kansas – Had the toughest schedule in the nation but will still enter the tournament as a #2 seed. Two potential top 5 NBA picks in Freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
- Creighton – The Blue Jays’ Doug McDermott is the clear cut favorite to win the Naismith Award. If he can avoid the SI cover jinx Creighton can escape the 2nd round for the first time since the 70’s and make a player of the year 3-peat in the finals.
Bragging Rights Picks (or Ones to get Cut Off at the Tavern)
You’ll either look like a genius or a drunk with these picks. Picking the team that is going to shock the world in the 2014 tournament is like betting on a single number in roulette. There are trends you can follow to make the selection but in the end it relies on a lot of luck. The stars in the 2012/13 Florida Gulf Coast run were Sherwood Brown, a senior who wasn’t even ranked in Rivals recruiting and Brett Comer, a sophomore point guard who had only played the position for two years. The 2011/12 Ohio Bobcats made the Sweet 16 as a #13 seed despite finishing third in the MAC. Virginia Commonwealth had to participate in a play-in game just to make the 2011 Tourney but rode a hot streak to the Final Four that year. Here are four dark horse teams that could be the belle of the ball this season.
- North Carolina Central – The Eagles have almost everything going for them that constitutes a long postseason run. If they win the MEAC Tournament it will mark 20 straight victories for a veteran team that features 4 juniors and 6 seniors.
- St. Louis – Won 19 straight games during the season and made the 3rd round of the tournament under 1st year coach Jim Crews. Return 5 seniors from last year and a good run in the A-10 tournament could earn a St. Louis draw in the Midwest Regional.
- Cincinnati – Might enter as low as a #4 seed which would set up a game against the winner of #12/#5 in the second. Won 15 straight during the season and has an All-American Senior Guard in Sean Kilpatrick.
- Mercer – It could have easily been Mercer that made the run in last year’s tournament because the Atlantic Sun Tournament was there for the taking before Florida Gulf Coast scored the upset. Mercer has the 4th most experienced team in the entire NCAA including junior player of the year Langston Hall.
As the past has shown, anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament. All the research in the world might not be enough to beat out Helen in Accounting who lets her Yorkie pick the games or your five-year-old who makes picks based off of team mascots…but there in lies the fun of it all.
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