The 2014 NCAA tournament is set, setting us up for the craziest three-week event in sports. All we can say now is let the madness begin!
There were some surprises from Selection Sunday, but the top teams know that they have to win six games to bring home the national championship. While a seed and the draw make it easier or harder, the only thing the squads should care about at this point is finding a way to survive and advance.
Meanwhile, fans can use the next few days to pick a national champion and perfect their bracket in an attempt to correctly guess as many games as possible.
Teams to Watch
After early season losses to Wisconsin and Connecticut, Florida turned it on and finished the regular season with 23 wins in a row.
After winning the SEC tournament, the Gators will enter the Big Dance with the No. 1 seed in the South region and are one of the favorites to take home the national title.
The best thing Florida has going for it is its balance. Casey Prather is the team's leading scorer, but Michael Frazier II, Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young all average more than 10 points per game. Jeff Goodman of ESPN compares this squad to the group that won two national championships a few years back:
Florida has so many weapons, balance and great chemistry. Obviously, not nearly as talented as 2006-07 teams, but some similar attributes.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 8, 2014
Meanwhile, Dorian Finney-Smith is one of the best bench players in the entire country on both ends of the court. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports notes the transfer's versatility:
Dorian Finney-Smith epitomizes versatility. Guarding multiple positions for Florida, including Shabazz Napier. Can guard PGs!— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 3, 2013
This overall talent throughout the roster help the Gators rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. Wichita State is the only other team that can make this claim.
The only question is if Billy Donovan's squad can make the jump after reaching the Elite Eight three seasons in a row. However, the improvements of Prather as a go-to scorer and Wilbekin as a leader should make the difference for a Final Four run and possibly more.
The first thing you notice when you watch Arizona play is its smothering defense. According to TeamRankings.com, the Wildcats have the nation's most efficient defense, allowing just 0.869 points per possession.
Additionally, the squad ranks in the top 10 in the country in points allowed per game, opponent shooting percentage and opponent effective shooting percentage.
This is possible thanks to a great team effort as T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson force turnovers on the perimeter while Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski make it impossible for opponents to score at the rim.
Of course, the team can score as well. Johnson has been the most impressive of the bunch when he is on, although there is plenty of inconsistency. Still, ESPN's Dana O'Neil and Dick Vitale point out that he has been better than what has been shown in the box scores:
I can't type. Nick Johnson doesn't have the eye-popping NUMBERS but every night makes a case for NPOY— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) January 30, 2014
Up front, few teams have the ability to slow down the size and athleticism of Gordon and Tarczewski, giving the Wildcats a huge advantage in the paint.
The squad has rightfully earned a No. 1 seed in the West region and should be able to make a deep run in this tournament toward the Final Four.
Despite a perfect 34-0 record heading into the NCAA tournament, Wichita State still does not get enough respect. There are plenty of critics who question the Shockers' schedule with only a few games against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI.
Head coach Gregg Marshall responded to his critics who doubt the team's legitimacy, via Rothstein:
It's humorous. I think that would be the word. Everybody has got an opinion. In this world with blogs and writers and all the different so called experts, everyone has an opinion. You can't please everyone all the time and it's really just the world that we live in. But those detractors out there, they only fuel our fire. We appreciate the detractors for that very reason.
On the other hand, Eric Prisbell of USA Today points out how impressive this season has been:
Remarkable season for 34-0 Wichita State, becoming 1st team since mighty '91 UNLV to enter NCAAs unbeaten. @GoShockers are capable of 40-0.— Eric Prisbell (@EricPrisbell) March 9, 2014
Regardless of who you play, going undefeated requires a great deal of focus and composure to go with talent. It is even harder a year after reaching the Final Four, as you cannot sneak up on anyone and you get every team's best effort.
No matter what you think of their schedule, no one can discredit the amount of talent on the roster. Fred VanVleet took a huge step this season and became one of the top point guards in the country. He has distributed the ball to Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early and Tekele Cotton, who are all capable of lighting up the scoreboard on a given night.
As long as this group plays to its ability, it can once again find itself in the Final Four as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region.
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