As one of the heavyweights in the world of collegiate basketball, ESPN's Jay Bilas is a name fans around the globe look to for guidance when it comes time to sit down and fill out an NCAA tournament bracket.
The field is as wide open as ever this year, further emphasized by Bilas' wild bracket, which is littered with upsets, surprises and runs that buck conventional thinking.
While far from the only resource fans should look to for help this year, all of Bilas' explanations are backed by sound logic and have to be taken into consideration—no matter how shocking.
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Here's how Bilas sees things shaping up in the 2014 rendition of the Big Dance.
Note: Bilas' picks with full explanations can be found on ESPN Insider (subscription required).
|Round of 64|
|Florida vs. Albany/Mount St. Mary's||Florida|
|Pittsburgh vs. Colorado||Pittsburgh|
|VCU vs. Stephen F. Austin||VCU|
|UCLA vs. Tulsa||UCLA|
|Ohio State vs. Dayton||Ohio State|
|Syracuse vs. Western Michigan||Syracuse|
|New Mexico vs. Stanford||New Mexico|
|Kansas vs. Eastern Kentucky||Kansas|
|Round of 32|
|Florida vs. Pittsburgh||Florida|
|UCLA vs. VCU||UCLA|
|Syracuse vs. Ohio State||Syracuse|
|Kansas vs. New Mexico||Kansas|
|Florida vs. UCLA||Florida|
|Kansas vs. Syracuse||Kansas|
|Kansas vs. Florida||Kansas|
There are not too many surprises here from Bilas to start things off, although there are some missed opportunities for likely upsets.
Dayton taking down in-state big fish Ohio State at a neutral site is certainly a tantalizing option, especially with the Buckeyes showing a vulnerability to losing when a team gets hot behind the arc—as Michigan did by shooting better than 50 percent from long range in a 72-69 victory in the Big Ten tournament.
It's also plausible that Pittsburgh gives Florida a bigger run for its money than most expect thanks to the impressive streak Talib Zanna has been on of late, but it makes sense that the Gators would advance to the Elite Eight to meet Kansas.
There, Bilas is confident in the Jayhawks' ability to move past the Gators as long as Joel Embiid is healthy—which he should be, according to coach Bill Self (via Kansas Basketball on Twitter):
Should Embiid return to the court and remain healthy, Kansas will be a tough out for any team.
|Round of 64|
|Arizona vs. Weber State||Arizona|
|Oklahoma State vs. Gonzaga||Oklahoma State|
|North Dakota State vs. Oklahoma||North Dakota State|
|San Diego State vs. New Mexico State||San Diego State|
|Nebraska vs. Baylor||Nebraska|
|Creighton vs. Louisiana-Lafayette||Creighton|
|Oregon vs. BYU||Oregon|
|Wisconsin vs. American||Wisconsin|
|Round of 32|
|Arizona vs. Oklahoma State||Arizona|
|San Diego State vs. North Dakota State||San Diego State|
|Creighton vs. Nebraska||Creighton|
|Wisconsin vs. Oregon||Wisconsin|
|San Diego State vs. Arizona||San Diego State|
|Wisconsin vs. Creighton||Wisconsin|
|Wisconsin vs. San Diego State||Wisconsin|
This is a pretty simple region overall.
Arizona is a dominant force and has the easiest path a No. 1 could possibly ask for to the Final Four.
That said, teams like Oregon, Nebraska and especially Oklahoma State are strong underdogs to monitor.
Or, according to Bilas, watch out for San Diego State. If Marcus Smart and the Cowboys don't take down the Wildcats, the nation is now aware of the under-the-radar fact that the Aztecs are a serious threat to do so in the Sweet 16.
Bilas cites the elite defense San Diego State touts and the absence of injured Wildcats star Brandon Ashley as the major reasons for the shocking upset, and it's hard to argue. The Aztecs only lost by nine to a healthy Wildcats squad back in November, so anything is possible on a neutral court.
|Round of 64|
|Wichita State vs. Texas Southern||Wichita State|
|Kentucky vs. Kansas State||Kentucky|
|NC State vs. Saint Louis||N.C. State|
|Louisville vs. Manhattan||Louisville|
|Iowa vs. UMass||Iowa|
|Duke vs. Mercer||Duke|
|Texas vs. Arizona State||Texas|
|Michigan vs. Wofford||Michigan|
|Round of 32|
|Wichita State vs. Kentucky||Wichita State|
|Louisville vs. NC State||Louisville|
|Duke vs. Iowa||Duke|
|Michigan vs. Texas||Michigan|
|Louisville vs. Wichita State||Louisville|
|Duke vs. Michigan||Duke|
|Louisville vs. Duke||Louisville|
As crazy as this Midwest region truly is due to the presence of numerous elite teams, Bilas' bracket beautifully navigates the iffy waters with precision that makes sense.
The midwest region has 3 of last year's Final Four teams (Louisville, Michigan and Wichita State).— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) March 16, 2014
This includes Wichita State taking down Kentucky in the Round of 32. As great as the Wildcats have looked in closing out the season, the inexperienced squad may fold under the pressure against a well-rounded veteran group.
Louisville and Duke taking care of business en route to a showdown in the Elite Eight makes a lot of sense, especially with the former being robbed of a higher seed, as Bilas recently stated on air, via Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal:
Jay Bilas: "To suggest that Louisville's not in the top-12 teams in the country just boggles the mind."— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) March 16, 2014
A replay of last year's Elite Eight bout seems likely, as Mike Krzyzewski's squad will once again be unable to muster enough offense to move past the Cardinals.
|Round of 64|
|Virginia vs. Coastal Carolina||Virginia|
|Memphis vs. George Washington||Memphis|
|Harvard vs. Cincinnati:||Harvard|
|Michigan State vs. Delaware||Michigan State|
|North Carolina vs. Providence||North Carolina|
|Iowa State vs. NC Central||Iowa State|
|Saint Joseph's vs. UConn||Saint Joseph's|
|Villanova vs. Milwaukee||Villanova|
|Round of 32|
|Virginia vs. Memphis||Virginia|
|Michigan State vs. Harvard||Michigan State|
|Iowa State vs. North Carolina||Iowa State|
|Villanova vs. Saint Joseph's||Villanova|
|Michigan State vs. Virginia||Michigan State|
|Iowa State vs. Villanova||Iowa State|
|Michigan State vs. Iowa State||Michigan State|
Bilas projects a bit of a head-scratching upset pick here with Harvard over Cincinnati, considering fans would be hard-pressed to name a better pure scorer in the tournament than Sean Kilpatrick—not to mention a more frightening defense than the Bearcats.
But Bilas balances this out with an upset pick in the form of Saint Joseph's taking down Connecticut in the Round of 64. The Huskies, after a disappointing season, are ripe for an upset, and the Hawks' Langston Galloway also just so happens to be one of the best scorers the bracket has to offer.
Still, the fact that the Michigan State Spartans are projected to move through this region like a buzzsaw is no revelation. Tom Izzo's squad is finally healthy, and when Branden Dawson is in the lineup, the Spartans are nearly unstoppable (literally—they're 21-3 this season with the junior in the lineup).
|Michigan State (East) vs. Kansas (South)||Michigan State|
|Louisville (Midwest) vs. Wisconsin (West)||Louisville|
It's hard to hate Bilas' safe picks here.
Louisville moving past Wisconsin isn't hard to fathom, especially with Rick Pitino's squad having the experience of two straight Final Four appearances.
The Badgers are a sound squad, but making it to this point is a feat in itself. Once there, Louisville frankly has too much firepower for Wisconsin to match, but UW can certainly use the run as a building block for future tournaments.
For Izzo's team, it's a simple matter of riding the momentum created by a healthy unit that just stole the Big Ten title. As Izzo told the media after the title win, his 2013-14 roster might be the best he has coached, via Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press:
"I still think this is one of the best teams I've ever coached here," Izzo said. "And what that could mean? I don't know. It could mean out in the first round, it could mean win a national championship."
If Embiid is healthy for the matchup, the Spartans can still bang down low thanks to Dawson. If he's not, this one may get ugly.
|Michigan State vs. Louisville||Michigan State|
As Bilas understands better than most, experience is key for a team to make it through the Big Dance to the final.
Which team wins Bilas' final?
Once there, efficiency and exploitation of mismatches wins the day.
While a showdown between Louisville and Michigan State is extremely safe, it is also the most logical option based on the status of both teams. As mentioned, the Spartans are healthy and dangerous, while the Cardinals will have a chip on their shoulder after being disrespected on Selection Sunday.
With Dawson a force beneath the rim on both ends of the court, it is easy to see Bilas' logic in picking the Spartans over the Cardinals. By that point, the Cardinals would have little left in the tank after making it through such a brutal region.