No singular sporting event, save for maybe an Olympics, consistently provides the everyday drama and excitement that the NCAA Tournament provides. Welcome to March Madness, America! Professors, teachers, bosses, and managers throughout the country: prepare for poor attendance in the ensuing Thursdays and Fridays. Without further ado, here is your 2014 tournament primer.
The committee largely did a really nice job getting the right teams in the dance. One notable exception is SMU, led by Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. The Mustangs had four top 36 wins (Cincinnati, Connecticut twice, and Memphis) while going an impressive 23-9 overall and 12-6 in the underrated first-year American Athletic Conference. SMU also went 8-8 away from home. Juxtapose that figure to a team like Kansas State, whose best road win was against Texas Tech. KSU was helped by playing in a strong Big 12 but had nearly an identical RPI to SMU and only went 20-12 overall. On another note, nice job of the committee of not shying away from the Atlantic 10 Conference. All six teams from that league with bids (Saint Louis, VCU, George Washington, St. Joe’s, UMASS, and Dayton) had at least 23 wins and five top 60 wins on their resumes, while beating each other up in conference play down the stretch. Well-deserved recognition for an unappreciated league.
South Region (Memphis)
Florida is the top seeded team in the bracket after finishing the SEC a cool 21-0. They were placed in Orlando and shouldn’t have difficulty moving on to Memphis. In San Diego, UCLA should have a massive home-court advantage over Danny Manning’s Tulsa Hurricanes. One of the best opening round games in any bracket is fifth seeded VCU against twelfth seeded SF Austin, riding an unbelievable 28 game winning streak. If VCU can survive and advance, a potential matchup between protégé and mentor awaits in the Sweet 16 with Shaka Smart and Billy Donovan respectively. Up in Buffalo, Dayton and Ohio State collide in a battle for state rights. Ultimately though, if Kansas gets Joel Embiid healthy by the second weekend they have the ability to advance to the Final Four. Star freshman Andrew Wiggins has really come on strong as of late as Kansas’s talent has matured throughout the season.
East Region (New York)
Virginia was handed the last of the number one seeds by the committee but certainly earned it by winning the ACC regular season title outright and then the conference tournament over a game Duke squad. There’s another brutal 5-12 matchup in this bracket out west in Spokane, where Cincinnati, led by Sean Kilpatrick, is up against Harvard. The Crimson upset New Mexico last year as a 14 seed and are the three-time defending Ivy League champions. In Buffalo, an old-time Big East game can materialize in Villanova and Connecticut if chalk holds form. Even as the four seed, no team in the East is as dangerous as the Michigan State Spartans. Sparty is now healthy and coming off a Big 10 tournament championship. Amazingly, no four year player has ever failed to make it to the Final Four under Tom Izzo. It very well could be Keith Appling and Adreian Payne’s time.
West Region (Anaheim)
Despite being the nine seed, Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State is arguably the best player in the West bracket and a tough draw for eighth seeded Gonzaga. The winner will in all likelihood face a monster of a challenge in San Diego against top seeded Arizona. One of these years, San Diego State is finally going to break through in a big way. They are led by former Michigan head coach Steve Fisher and senior guard Xavier Thames. The other arguable best player in this bracket is Creighton’s Doug McDermott. McDermott, who plays for his dad Greg, leads the nation in scoring at 26.9 points per game and is currently fifth all-time in NCAA history with a ridiculous 3,105 points scored. He alone makes the Bluejays a tough out, and if he is able to come through against Bo Ryan’s well-schooled Wisconsin unit in a potential Sweet 16 contest, can carry Creighton to Arlington. The other Nebraska school is also in this region. A special shout-out must be made to Tim Miles, who worked a small miracle in Lincoln to lead Nebraska into March Madness for the first time since 1998.
Midwest Region (Indianapolis)
As funny as it sounds, the Wichita State Shockers are no joke. A year after barely losing to eventual National Champion Louisville in the Final Four, Wichita State completed a perfect regular season and enter the tournament 34-0. They have four potential pros in Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, and Tekele Cotton and have the talent and experience to play with anybody. That sentiment will be put to the test early with a potential Round of 32 classic with Kentucky, who many pundits believed would be the best team in the country. John Calipari’s immensely gifted and young team is extremely daunting in a “one-and-done” scenario. Almost unbelievably, Louisville, coming off a 29-5 campaign in winning the AAC is slotted as a four seed. They play in Orlando and should be able to get by Manhattan and Saint Louis. In the lower half of the region, one of the great nonconference rivalries has a chance to reemerge in Duke and Michigan. The Wolverines, even without Mitch McGary, have improved mightily since their ten point loss to Duke in Durham back in December. If this game happens, it will be advantage Michigan in Indianapolis, and a chance to return to Arlington and the Final Four.