Ranking the Teams with the Easiest Road to the 2014 Final Four
Reaching the Final Four isn’t just about how good your team is—it’s also about who you had to beat along the way. Sometimes, having a favorable matchup (or set of matchups) can turn what looks like an also-ran like last year’s ninth-seeded Wichita State squad into a March success story.
This season’s Shockers, of course, are a a higher-profile team, heading in as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest. That’s often the best way to get an easy path to the national semis, but does Wichita State have the easiest road of all?
Herein, a look at what’s ahead for the Shockers, along with five more teams that lucked out on Selection Sunday to get comparatively easy chances at trips to Arlington.
6. San Diego State
The San Diego State Aztecs would certainly be considered a major surprise as a Final Four participant, but they actually match up quite well with their prospective West Region opposition.
In a region with unremarkable defenses at the top, fourth-seeded San Diego State has a world-class D—ranked second in the nation with 56.6 points allowed per game—to use on opponents who want nothing to do with one.
The first major test for Xavier Thames and co. will be a likely Sweet 16 meeting with top-seeded Arizona, but the Wildcats offense hasn’t been the same since Brandon Ashley’s foot injury, and the Anaheim venue makes it almost an Aztecs' home game.
After that, it’s probably either Creighton (already an SDSU victim once this season) or Wisconsin, in a rare year when Bo Ryan’s team can’t compete with the nation’s best on the defensive end of the floor.
5. Wichita State
Although the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region is obviously meant to be a reward for Wichita State, with a gifted No. 16 seed to start and a fairly easy date with an inconsistent foe (Kentucky or Kansas State) to follow, it also comes with a built-in trap.
The Sweet 16 offers a likely showdown with Louisville just a short drive from the Cards’ home town, and even Wichita State might not be good enough to win a pseudo-road game against the team that eliminated it from last year’s Final Four.
However, this year’s Shockers are better—and this year’s Cardinals worse—than their 2013 counterparts, making a WSU win perfectly feasible even under adverse conditions.
Meanwhile, likely Elite Eight foes Duke or Michigan are both coming off ugly losses that underscore how much more susceptible they are to one bad game than the 34-0 Shockers have yet proven to be.
For a No. 2 seed, Wisconsin is in awfully good shape at this point. The Badgers match up well with their half of the West Region, and there’s no top seed with a tougher road to the Elite Eight than Arizona has.
Wisconsin doesn’t have a glaring single weakness to exploit, making it tougher for a massive underdog such as No. 15 American to handle Bo Ryan’s team.
The Badgers’ ability to control the tempo should get them past either Oregon or BYU to the Sweet 16, not to mention putting the brakes on Doug McDermott and Creighton in that round.
For the Elite Eight, any of Arizona, Oklahoma State or San Diego State could be a plausible opponent, but even the top-seeded Wildcats have been prone to offensive flameouts that the Badgers would be happy to exploit.
No. 5 in the polls and the defending national champs, the Louisville Cardinals still got saddled with a fourth seed in the Midwest Region. The good news is that the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be played in Indianapolis, not even two hours away from the Louisville campus.
In addition, the almost-guaranteed Sweet 16 showdown with Wichita State is the only really scary game Louisville may have to face.
It’s a serious obstacle, to be sure, but with the crowd on their side, the Cardinals (who are still immensely faster and quicker than the Shockers) have a real chance to take down Gregg Marshall’s undefeated squad.
That leaves only the Elite Eight, and even the toughest potential foes there—Duke or Michigan—depend too heavily on individual stars Jabari Parker and Nik Stauskas, respectively, to handle Louisville's defense.
Crowned ACC champion twice over, Virginia proved it deserved a top seed, and the committee obliged with No. 1 in the East Region.
The best part of that news for the Cavaliers is that the only other team in the region with a defense near UVA’s level—the Cincinnati Bearcats—probably won’t make it as far as a potential Sweet 16 showdown.
The Cavaliers allow only 55.3 points per game, which ranks first in the nation.
As such, Tony Bennett can look forward to throttling back the pace and keeping the score in the 50s to his heart’s content.
That will be an especially uncomfortable milieu for potential Elite Eight opponents Iowa State or Villanova, both of whom thrive on scoring points rather than preventing them.
Of course, probable Sweet 16 foe Michigan State won’t like it much better, considering how much the Spartans have lived off the fast break this season.
This spot is supposed to be the prize for the No. 1 overall seed, and this year the selection committee delivered. Not only is Florida the best candidate to win it all, but the Gators’ South Region is loaded with question marks.
After the second-round warm-up game and a third-round shellacking of overmatched Pitt or Colorado, Billy Donovan’s boys will probably face UCLA in the Sweet 16.
The Bruins have a couple of NBA stars-in-waiting, but they can’t approach Florida’s experience or depth.
Kansas and Syracuse come closer, but the Orange won’t be able to get their offense on track against the Gators’ pressure in a potential Elite Eight duel (sorry, Tyler Ennis), while the Jayhawks don’t have the point guard talent to cope with Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill.