Final Four Predictions 2014: Early Projections Following NCAA Bracket Release

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Final Four Predictions 2014: Early Projections Following NCAA Bracket Release
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The 2014 NCAA tournament field of 68 teams is set and the bracket has been revealed. Now, all that's left to do is project how it will all play out over the next three weeks.

 

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Credit: Bleacher Report

Every year, upsets steal the show through the early rounds. But recent history tells us that the top seeds will be there in the end. After all, a No. 1 seed has won the title in six of the past seven years and 11 times over the past 15 years. 

With the road to Arlington, Texas having been revealed on Selection Sunday, I'll project which teams will survive and advance all the way to the Final Four in North Texas.

 

East Region: No. 4 Michigan State Spartans

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The East is arguably the most wide open of the four regions this March with Virginia earning the No. 1 seed, Villanova No. 2 and Iowa State representing the No. 3 seed. But you won't find a more dangerous team than Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans, who are flying under the radar as the No. 4 seed.

Izzo's squad has won three in a row following a dominant performance at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, per Chicago Tribune's Fred Mitchell:

I told my players we’ve got to play three games here. I thought that was important that we get games under our belt. And we play three games and shazam! We get to play our rival (Michigan). You know, so it’s Fourth of July and Christmas. You get both.

The Spartans wrapped up their impressive run with a 14-point win over arch-rival Michigan, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region.

Led by seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne and sophomore guard Gary Harris, who leads the Spartans with 17.2 points per game, Michigan State possesses the ideal blend of experience, coaching and talent to make a run at the national championship this year and record its seventh Final Four berth under Izzo.

 

Midwest Region: No. 4 Louisville Cardinals

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The undefeated Wichita State Shockers will be a popular pick to advance to the Final Four from the Midwest Region this spring. But don't sleep on the reigning national champions: The Louisville Cardinals.

Shockingly, Rick Pitino's team will be the No. 4 seed in the Midwest. But the Selection Committee's error isn't likely to derail the Cardinals, who are playing their best basketball of the season having won five games in a row.

With seniors and champions Russ Smith and Luke Hancock leading the way, Louisville has the leadership and championship pedigree in place to make a deep run in 2014. 

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Keep in mind that Saint Louis is the No. 5 seed in the Midwest. Therefore, Louisville will be favored to get to the Sweet 16. There, the Cardinals could potentially find themselves staring down a rematch with Wichita State, whom they knocked off in the Final Four a year ago en route to the title.

As the last team to beat the Shockers, Pitino, Smith and Hancock, Montrezl Harrell, Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear are the right team to end Wichita State's remarkable run. Not to mention a team hasn't run the table and won a title since Indiana did it back in 1976. And no team has done it since the field expanded to 60-plus teams in 1985.

 

South Region: No. 1 Florida Gators 

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Billy Donovan's Gators enter the Big Dance on an incredible 26-game winning streak and boast all of the traits of a national-championship team.

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Florida's core is comprised of four seniors, and the Gators have reached the Elite Eight in each of the past three years. On top of that, Donovan knows what it takes to lead a team to the promised land, doing so in back-to-back years in 2006 and 2007.

What's more, Florida can turn teams over and put up points in a hurry, a key to blowing out lesser teams early and coming from behind once the going gets tough late in the tournament. 

Florida will have a tough time winning four games in the South Region with No. 2 Kansas, No. 3 Syracuse and No. 4 UCLA each posing a threat, but given how consistent the Gators have been all year long on both ends of the floor, you've got to give them the edge early on.

 

West Region: No. 1 Arizona Wildcats

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You could certainly argue that Arizona lucked out and received the easiest bracket of the four No. 1 seeds this year, per The Seattle Times' Jerry Brewer on Twitter:

After all, the Wildcats wouldn't have to face second-seeded Wisconsin until the regional final and certainly won't be too concerned with No. 4 San Diego State or No. 5 Oklahoma in the regional semifinal, if either team gets there.

Plus, the No. 3 seed in the West Region is a vulnerable Creighton squad, who rely heavily on National Player of the Year favorite Doug McDermott.

Arizona's biggest threat could possibly be No. 9 Oklahoma State, who they could potentially meet in the Round of 32.

Although the Wildcats have shown weaknesses following their 21-0 start to the season, their strength on the boards and ability to lock down teams defensively make them a favorite to come out of the West this March.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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