March 17, 2014
By Brian Edwards
The No. 1 seeds for the 2014 NCAA Tournament are Florida, Wichita State, Virginia and Arizona. The Gators are the No. 1 overall seed and bring a 26-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. The LVH Superbook has UF installed as the 4/1 favorite to cut the nets down in Dallas.
Michigan St. has the second-shortest odds (+450), but the Big Ten Tournament champs are a No. 4 seed. I have the Spartans third in my updated power rankings, behind No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Louisville.
The next-shortest odds belong to Arizona (6/1), Kansas (8/1), Wichita St. (15/1), Virginia (15/1), Duke (15/1), Syracuse (15/1) and Louisville (15/1).
Speaking of the Cardinals, they are also a No. 4 seed. I understand that the Selection Committee has to take into account every team's entire resume. Therefore, I'm ok with Michigan St. and Louisville not being top seeds. But four seeds?! Really?
Tom Izzo's team had late-season home losses to Nebraska and Illinois, so I can see the Spartans being a No. 3 seed. But U of L should be no worse than a two seed.
Let's cruise through each region with some instant analysis...
Florida will face the winner of Mt. St. Mary's vs. Albany on Thursday in Orlando. In the 2006 NCAA Tournament, the Great Danes faced top-seeded UConn and led by a 50-38 score with 11 minutes remaining. The Huskies would rally to win, but Albany gave us one of the biggest challenges from a No. 16 seed in Tournament history.
Assuming the Gators advance, they'll face the winner of Colorado vs. Pittsburgh. I liked how the Panthers played in the ACC Tourney and expect them to get past the Buffaloes.
In the 5/12 matchup, VCU will take on Stephen F. Austin in San Diego. Bettors should check the status of VCU's Melvin Johnson, who injured his knee in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals.
Johnson was on crutches for the Rams' loss to St. Joseph's in the A-10 Tourney finals. He averages 10.4 points per game. Shaka Smart owns a 7-3 career record in the NCAA Tournament, leading VCU to the 2011 Final Four.
Stephen F. Austin hasn't lost since Nov. 23. The Lumberjacks only played one team in the Top 95 of the RPI. They led at Texas by four at intermission but ended up on the wrong end of a 72-62 decision.
If form holds in the South, the Sweet 16 matchups would be Florida vs. UCLA and Kansas vs. Syracuse. That would give Memphis a pair of national-title game rematches. Carmelo Anthony led the 'Cuse past KU in the finals of the 2003 Tourney, while Florida put on a dunk contest against the Bruins in the 2006 finals.
Arizona's path to North Texas is littered with potholes. In fact, the Wildcats are in the most danger of failing to get to the Sweet 16 out of the No. 1 seeds. Why, you ask? Well, because they might have to go against Oklahoma St. the first weekend.
Since Marcus Smart returned from a three-game suspension, the Cowboys are playing like the Final Four contender they appeared to be back in November and December. Travis Ford's team will go up against Gonzaga in its first game.
If Arizona gets to Anaheim, the host city for the West Region semifinals, it will most likely be looking at a matchup against Oklahoma or San Diego St., both of whom are capable of beating the Wildcats.
The West's No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, Wisconsin and Creighton, respectively, have difficult paths to Anaheim, too. The Badgers might have to face Oregon, albeit in Milwaukee. The Ducks, who get to play a BYU team that'll be without its second-best player Kyle Collinsworth (ACL tear), had won eight in a row before losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Bluejays and National Player of the Year Doug McDermott will get the winner of Baylor-Nebraska if they advance past No. 14 seed UL-Lafayette, which upset Ga. St. in overtime to earn its first NCAA bid since 2005 when it lost to Louisville.
Like Oklahoma St., Baylor has put its January/early February woes in the rearview mirror and Scott Drew's squad would have a significant size advantage against Creighton. The Bears also have one of nation's best 3-point shooters in Brady Heslip.
The top-seeded Shockers might face the last team it lost to in the Midwest semifinals. That would be fourth-seeded Louisville, which trailed for a big chunk of its national semifinal showdown against Wichita St. last year before rallying to win and eventually capture the 2013 national championship.
That rematch isn't a given by any means, however. For starters, Gregg Marshall's team will have to take on the Kansas St.-Kentucky winner. There's no doubt that both groups of Wildcats have the talent to beat Wichita St and Louisville. In fact, UK knocked off Rick Pitino's team earlier this season at Rupp Arena.
The third-seeded Duke Blue Devils better be on upset alert when they collide with Mercer. The Bears won at Ole Miss, at Ohio and vs. Seton Hall during the regular season, and they lost by just three at Texas. Bob Hoffman's team also has two wins over Florida Gulf Coast, which advanced to the Sweet 16 last season.
If form holds in the Midwest, Duke would face second-seeded Michigan in the region semifinals in Indianapolis. That would be a rematch of the 1992 finals and a hotly-contest second-round game in the 2011 Tournament.
In order, the top seeds in the East are Virginia, Villanova, Iowa St. and Michigan St. This region's semifinals will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The top-seeded Cavaliers will face Coastal Carolina, which is coached by 68-year-old Cliff Ellis. Coastal Carolina is the fourth school Ellis has taken to the Tournament. He was Clemson's head coach in the 1990 Tourney when UConn's Tate George hit the baseline buzzer beater after receiving the length-of-the-court pass from Scott Burrell at the Meadowlands. (Who could ever forget the look of disbelief on Elden Campbell's face?) If the Cavs advance, they would get the winner of George Washington vs. Memphis. I'm not certain that we'll get a Michigan St.-Virginia showdown at MSG, and it's not because I think Memphis or GW will knock off UVA.
I find it ridiculous that Cincinnati seems to be the team everyone is sleeping on in this region. In fact, like I've been saying for months, I won't be surprised if the fifth-seeded Bearcats make it to Dallas. With the exception of Florida, Cincy probably defends and rebounds better than any team in America.
**B.E.'s Bonus Nuggets**
-- UCLA fans had to cringe when they saw the Bruins in the same region as Florida. The Gators have sent UCLA packing from the NCAA Tournament three times since 2006.
-- Speaking of cringing, how pissed were Stephen F. Austin fans when d-bag Seth Davis (the college hoops equivalent of Mark May) predicted it to get all the way to the Sweet 16? Davis gave the Lumberjacks the kiss of death. I'm not sure that dork has ever given out an accurate prediction on Selection Sunday.
-- I felt like the Selection Committee made a number of mistakes. The worst was leaving SMU out of the field. I would have had the Mustangs in ahead of BYU. I wouldn't have had a problem with BYU getting a bid if not for the injury to Collinsworth, who was the Cougars' top rebounder, leading assist man and second-leading scorer. And Dave Rose's team didn't even have to go to Dayton? I already noted the seeding mistakes with U of L and Michigan St., but what about New Mexico?! The Lobos are a seven seed? That's deplorable. They beat fifth-seeded Cincy by 19 points and have two wins over fourth-seeded San Diego St. With that said, I'm not that pissed if I'm 'Noodles' Neal, the former Ga. Tech guard who is in his first season as head coach at UNM. That's because I think UNM will handle Stanford in its opening game and would face Kansas without Joel Embiid. In other words, you'd rather be a seven seed than a three seed in KU's region because you want to get the Jayhawks with Embiid in street clothes.
-- When I think of a true sleeper team, I'm talking about a team that seeded fifth or worse and is capable of producing a six-game winning streak. In this year's field, I think the legit sleepers include Cincy, UNC, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Kentucky and Kansas State, Oklahoma and North Carolina State.
--I left New Mexico, Providence, Pittsburgh and UConn off the above list of legit sleepers, but none of those four teams will get eliminated without a fight.
--I've always liked Clark Kellogg, but I can't give him a pass on his egregious error during the Selection Show on CBS. Who the hell is Peter Dinwiddie?! Colorado's Spencer Dinwiddie has been one of the best players in the Pac-12 the last two years. Moments after Kellogg's mistake, Peter Dinwiddie was trending on twitter. If I'm CU coach Tad Boyle, Kellogg's first name is either Leonard or Eugene moving forward.
-- Best First-Round Games:
1-Harvard vs. Cincinnati
2-Kentucky vs. Kansas St.
3-North Carolina vs. Providence
4-Baylor vs. Nebraska
5-Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma St.
6-Tennessee vs. Iowa
--I guess UT-Iowa is technically the only first-round game these days, but I don't subscribe to this new verbiage that calls the games in Dayton first-rounders and refers to the Round of 32 as the third round.
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