There is always a certain degree of uncertainty heading into the NCAA tournament, but that has been ratcheted up to an even higher level this year due to the parity that exists in college basketball.
Although a few teams arguably stand out above the crowd, there are no guarantees or surefire Final Four squads in the fold. Simply put, this figures to be one of the most unpredictable tourneys in recent memory.
The NCAA tournament is referred to as March Madness for a reason, and there is no question that chaos is going to ensue. The pressure on high seeds to perform will be absolutely immense, and it can be argued that none of them has the makeup to succeed under such lofty expectations.
With that said, here is a look at what you can expect out of some of the premier teams in the 2014 NCAA tournament along with an official March Madness bracket to keep track of all the action.
Perhaps no team has enjoyed a more impressive season thus far than the Florida Gators. Not only did Florida go a perfect 18-0 in the SEC, but it also suffered just two losses all season long, and they came against fellow tournament teams in the form of Wisconsin and Connecticut by narrow margins.
The one thing that the Gators boast above most other teams is depth of talent. Forward Casey Prather leads the way, but Florida has five players averaging over nine points per game and it goes eight players deep in terms of guys who can impact the game in a positive way.
Four of them are trusted seniors in the form of Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Will Yeguete. As seen in this photo courtesy of Gainesville Television Network's Hannah Oliveto from Florida's Senior Night, they are truly the backbone of the team:
Because of that leadership and experience in important games, Florida is better equipped to win than any of the other highly touted teams. There will absolutely be some challenges along the way, but the Gators feel like the only safe bet to reach the Final Four among No. 1 seeds.
All bets are off once the Gators reach that point, but based on how dominant they were throughout SEC play this season, look for Florida to cut down the nets at season's end.
The fact that the Wichita State Shockers finished the season a perfect 34-0 should be a cause for celebration, but instead it has led to plenty of skepticism. Wichita State is no pushover, having reached the Final Four last season, but there is a belief that it will be a victim of over-seeding and perhaps even overconfidence.
Selling the Shockers short may not be such a good idea, though. In addition to going undefeated, the vast majority of their wins were achieved with relative ease. The level of competition obviously wasn't the greatest, but going undefeated at any level is something that shouldn't be dismissed.
Prognosticators may not believe in Wichita State, but Gonzaga head coach Mark Few does. Few knows what it is like for a mid-major team to have power conference expectations, but he believes that the Shockers are capable of living up to them, according to Scott Gleeson of USA Today:
They were a great team last year. This year, they're really, really good. From a coaching perspective, they're as good as any team going into the tournament ... I'm just very impressed with what they've been able to do, especially on the road. We've been dealing with it for four years. For every team you play, it's like it's their Super Bowl.
That is high praise from the coach of a team that could fly under the radar and make some noise in the tourney.
Flying under the radar simply isn't possible for the Shockers, though. Wichita State has a fighting chance with returning players like Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker playing spectacular basketball, but getting past the Elite Eight doesn't appear to be in the cards.
Prediction: Lose in Elite Eight
Which team will perform best in the NCAA tournament?
As vulnerable as Wichita State appears to be on the surface, it can be argued that Villanova is an even bigger threat to make an early exit in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats earned an impressive 28-3 record during the regular season, and they endured just two losses in the Big East, both of which came against Creighton in blowout fashion.
Going 16-2 in the Big East would have been viewed as a major accomplishment as recently as a year ago, but the conference is a shell of its former self. Nova and Creighton were the only teams to finish with a conference record of better than 10-8, so the level of competition was lacking all season long.
Teams can only play who is on their schedule, though, and Villanova succeeded in that regard. Despite the Wildcats' impressive season, they have largely gone unnoticed on a national scale, according to ESPN's Andy Katz:
Villanova may have had the quietest terrific season of any top 10 team in recent memory. Big East champs.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) March 7, 2014
Head coach Jay Wright probably doesn't mind that, but there is a reason why Nova hasn't received much publicity. It boasts three players averaging 14 or more points per game, but the Wildcats lack that one guy who can take a game over.
That is often needed at some point during March Madness, and it will likely come back to bite Villanova at some point, as we saw against Seton Hall. There always seems to be at least one or two high seeds that don't survive the first weekend, and Villanova will suffer that fate with a loss in the round of 32.
Prediction: Lose in round of 32
The Arizona Wildcats were the top team in the nation for much of the season thanks to a 21-0 start, and while they still have the potential to do some damage in the NCAA tournament, their play has tapered off as of late. Zona closed out the regular season on a 7-3 run, which isn't awful by any means, but it certainly isn't dominant.
From an overall talent perspective, Arizona is unquestionably among the top teams in the country. That much is evident based on the fact that the Wildcats swept the major Pac-12 awards this season, according to Arizona Athletics on Twitter:
Guard Nick Johnson has taken big leaps forward in his junior season, and freshman forward Aaron Gordon has been as good as advertised. Gordon has struggled mightily at the free-throw line this season, though, with a success rate well under 50 percent.
In fact, that is a major concern for the Wildcats as a whole. They rank 292nd in the nation at 66 percent, so they are going to struggle to close out games in the NCAA tournament. Because of that, Arizona will fall short of the Final Four as well with a loss in the Elite Eight.
Prediction: Lose in Elite Eight
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