March Madness 2014 Predictions: Breaking Down Experts' Picks

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March Madness 2014 Predictions: Breaking Down Experts' Picks
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March Madness is finally upon us, and with the 2014 field now set, everyone suddenly becomes an expert. You know, like that one guy at work who swears up and down that he’s perfected a “system” and will be glad to take your money in the office pool.

There are about as many theories about how to fill out a bracket as there are stars in the sky, and when it truly comes down to it, almost none of them can correct for the often random drama the NCAA tournament is capable of producing. 

You could look at 100 brackets and never see the same thing twice. That's part of what makes this such a fun time of year. 

Here, we take the brackets from four of the very best analysts in all of college basketball. We'll poke, prod and dissect their picks for you, and believe me, you'll thank us later.

And don't forget, just because they're the experts, it doesn't mean they'll always get it right. That's just the beauty of March Madness.

 

South Region (Gary Parrish/CBS Sports)

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Find his bracket here.

Regional Final: No. 2 Kansas over No. 1 Florida

Upsets: None

 

Parrish's Take

Let's call this the "play it safe region," because that's exactly what Parrish does. There are precisely zero upsets and nearly every top seed advances to the next round.

No. 1 seed Florida and No. 2 seed Kansas will meet in the Regional Finals—talk about a marquee matchup—with Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks heading off to Texas for the Final Four.

Florida bumps off Pitt and VCU on their road to that marquee battle, and Kansas takes the harder road over New Mexico and Syracuse. It’s a definite possibility, no doubt, but one that requires a bit of a "wait and see" attitude, given the absence of Joel Embiid in the Kansas frontcourt for who knows how much longer.

But you can't really fault a guy for hoping. That Florida-Kansas matchup is potentially the most exciting of any regional final, and it would be made all the more so if it features a battle of the big men between Patric Young and Embiid.

 

Analysis

There's playing it safe, and then there's playing it safe.

In this case, it would seem we're looking at the latter. This has the feel of a bracket turned in by the guy in the office who doesn't look at anything but the numbers next to the team's name. You can count on one hand (perhaps not but we're going somewhere with this) the number of times when every single higher seed advanced in a given region.

Where's the drama? Where are the upsets? Where's the Cinderella?

This region has a couple of teams that are more than capable of upsetting the apple cart and busting a few brackets. 

How about No. 12 Stephen F. Austin (31-2) out of the Southland? Everyone talks about the Gators 26-game winning streak coming into the tournament, but the Lumberjacks have them beat. They've won 28 straight, dating back to Nov. 23, and they're one of the best ball moving teams in the country. And besides, a No. 12 basically always beats a No. 5.

And where's the love for New Mexico? The Lobos (27-6) could be a nightmare matchup for Kansas in the third round if, as currently believed, Embiid cannot return from a stress fracture in his back in time. 

New Mexico's 6'9" forward Cameron Bairstow torched the Jayhawks for 24 points and six boards in an 80-63 loss back in December, and that was with Embiid in the lineup. Without him, it wouldn't be shocking at all to see Bill Self's crew booking a flight home before the second week of the tournament. 

That's a pretty close matchup with Embiid in the lineup and healthy. Given that neither one of those things are a guarantee this time around—and in fact, Embiid is more than likely to be out until at least the second week of the tournament—that's a bit of hopeful pick.

If the Jayhawks can survive that first weekend—no guarantee—they could absolutely re-stake their claim to being one of the teams capable of winning the whole thing. But that’s a big, emphatic if.

 

East Region (Ian Powers/New York Daily News)

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Find his bracket here.

Regional Final: No. 4 Michigan State over No. 3 Iowa State

Upsets: No. 7 UConn over No. 2 Villanova, No. 4 Michigan State over No. 1 Virginia

 

Powers' Take

Michigan State and Iowa State are surging at the right times, and their matchup in the regional final seems to be something that's gained steam on a lot of brackets. If you're looking for a couple of surging teams from power conferences, you can’t go wrong with the Spartans or Cyclones, that's for sure. 

On their path to that meeting, the Spartans take down Cincinnati and No. 1 seed Virginia, and the Cyclones handle North Carolina and a surprising UConn Huskies team in the Sweet 16. 

And what a regional final it would be. Michigan State is as deep as any team in the country, and Iowa State has 11 wins against teams in the RPI top 50. Both have gotten their ships in order at the perfect time, and March is often about riding the hot hand.

 

Analysis

The East Region is a bit odd in that the No. 3 and 4 seeds are clearly better than the top two seeds. It's a little interesting that Virginia and Villanova, who many felt were competing for the final top seed, ended up in the same region. And it's even more interesting that you'll find very few people giving either of them a shot of heading to Arlington. 

Michigan State vs. Iowa State is the best possible regional final in this bracket, and there's no real issue with going in that direction. Both are from power conferences, both won their conference tournaments and both have the mettle to make deep runs.

The real surprise here, again, is the lack of any major surprises. UConn beating Villanova to get to the Sweet 16 is something of an upset, especially given a lot of people don't believe the Huskies will get by a dangerous St. Joseph's team in the second round, but it's not a true bracket-buster. And if Shabazz Napier gets hot, who knows?

But other than that, once again, none of the higher seeds seem to have much trouble. 

Let's not forget that Tommy Amaker's Harvard squad is in this region. The Crimson upset New Mexico in the second round last year as a No. 14 seed, and they have the shooters to make some noise again. 

North Carolina is also a bit of an interesting case.

The Tar Heels come into the tournament having won 12 of their last 14 games, and with victories over Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky and Louisville. They face an extremely tough match with Big East tournament champion Providence in the second round, but should they get by, and Marcus Paige/James Michael McAdoo get hot, they could make a run.

 

West Region (Jay Bilas/ESPN)

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Find his bracket here. (Subscription required)

Note: Complete bracket along with explanations are subscription only, but luckily for you, Bleacher Report's Chris Rolling breaks it all down for you here.

Regional Final: No. 2 Wisconsin over No. 4 San Diego State

Upsets: No. 12. North Dakota State over No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 11 Nebraska over No. 6 Baylor, No. 4 San Diego State over No. 1 Arizona. 

 

Bilas' Take

The North Dakota State Bison are one of those teams from a small conference that nobody wanted to see on their line this past Selection Sunday. Bilas gives the Summit League a ton of credit, having their champion send Oklahoma, a 23-win team from the seven-bid Big 12 Conference, home early. 

But the Bison's run ends just short of true Cinderella status, with a third-round exit against eventual Elite Eight qualifier San Diego State.

No. 1 seed Arizona survives a stiff test from Oklahoma State in the third round, but their championship dreams are cut short by the Aztecs in the Sweet 16. 

The real intriguing pick in this region, and Bilas' eventual selection to advance to Arlington, is Wisconsin.

The Badgers are just as stingy as ever on defense, but they have more offensive weapons than in years past. They come into the tournament with wins over Florida and Virginia, two teams good enough to be rewarded with top seeds.

 

Analysis

The biggest upset, at least in terms of seeding, on Bilas' bracket is North Dakota State over Oklahoma. That's an upset on paper, but when you consider how stingy (11th-fewest turnovers in the nation) the Bison are with the ball, and how much the Sooners have overachieved, you can certainly understand it. 

Arizona could have significant problems with Oklahoma State before they ever reach the Aztecs in the Sweet 16, and even that pick, while an upset, makes sense. The Wildcats held off San Diego State by nine points on Nov. 14, but they'll be more banged up this time around.

It's a little surprising that Baylor isn't getting any credit here. Bilas has Nebraska bouncing them in the second round, but the Bears have won 10 of their last 12, and they used that stretch to not only move off the bubble but to become a sleeper pick to emerge from the West Region and into the Final Four.

Wisconsin is a tremendous team—certainly more offensively gifted than recent Badgers tournament squads—but there always seems to be something missing from them at this time of the year. They struggle to get over the hump, and Creighton will be waiting for them, led by Doug McDermott, in the Sweet 16. 

That's a matchup that could well determine who punches a ticket to the Final Four. And if the Badgers can win that one, they could be on their way.

 

Midwest Region (Jerry Palm/CBS Sports)

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Find his bracket here.

Regional Final: No. 2 Michigan over No. 4 Louisville

Upsets: No. 12 NC State/Xavier over No. 5 St. Louis, No 11 Iowa/Tennessee over No. 6 Massachusetts, No. 4 Louisville over No. 1 Wichita State

 

Palm's Take

Palm taps No. 2 seed Michigan and No. 4 seed Louisville to renew their acquaintances in the regional final. The two teams met in last year's national championship game, with the Cardinals emerging with an 82-76 victory and the title. 

Unike last season, Louisville will not move on here and earn a chance to defend their crown.

A pair of play-in game teams will be on the move in this bracket, with Palm so unconvinced by No. 5 seed Saint Louis and No. 6 seed Massachusetts—both from the Atlantic 10—that he has both of them losing to whichever team emerges from those opening contests. That could be NC State or Xavier in the Billikens case or Iowa or Tennessee for the Minutemen. 

Beyond that, there are few surprises. The No. 1 seed Wichita State Shockers are out in the Sweet 16, falling to Louisville, and the other two highly prominent programs in the bracket don't find any more success. No. 8 seed Kentucky falls to the Shockers in third-round play, and No. 3 seed Duke falls to Michigan in the Sweet 16.

 

Analysis

It seems, at least by glancing at his bracket, that Palm is no fan of the Atlantic 10 Conference. Despite sending six teams to the dance, and thus showing the league's depth, neither Saint Louis or Massachusetts will stick around long. And that's not really unreasonable. NC State/Xavier and Tennessee/Iowa are all dangerous teams, and one of them could become the big-conference Cinderella of this year's field.

Other than that, this region isn't full of significant upset possibilities. At least when it comes to the lower end of the seeding chart. No. 8 seed Kentucky, should they get by a dangerous No. 9 seed in Kansas State, could push Wichita State in the third round, and if you're looking for a real Cinderella, Duke better not sleep on No. 14 Mercer in the second round. Or else they could get Lehigh-ed again like in 2012.

Louisville is a good pick here. The Cardinals are one of the most talented teams in the country, they're defending their title, and they have cause to feel highly disrespected by their ludicrous No. 4 seed. That's a dangerous combination for every other team in the Midwest Region.

 

Final Four/National Championship

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Parrish: Kansas, Michigan State, Creighton, Wichita State

Powers: Florida, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Louisville

Bilas: Kansas, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Louisville

Palm: Kansas, Michigan State, Arizona, Michigan

 

Experts' Take

It's amazing, when you look at the individual path each expert took with his bracket, that they all seem to have ended up pretty close to the same place.

Kansas was a near-unanimous selection to come out of the South Region. Only Powers of the New York Daily News dissented with the Florida Gators emerging from that talented and dangerous group. In reality, you can't really argue with either of those teams, and particularly so if Embiid comes back strong for the Jayhawks.

In the East, Michigan State was the unanimous selection by all four experts. The Spartans are on a roll, and with Tom Izzo on the sidelines, you can bet that they know how to handle the pressures of March Madness and win.

The final two regions saw a few out-of-the-box picks. Wisconsin was chosen by two of our experts to win the West (Powers and Bilas), but we also saw some love for Arizona, the No. 1 team in the nation for much of the season, and somewhat surprisingly, Creighton.

The Midwest was the real crapshoot. Louisville, like Michigan State, has gotten a ton of late attention, and our experts seem to be compensating for the lack of respect given Rick Pitino's club by the selection committee. 

When it comes to the team that will be cutting down the nets in Arlington, three of our four experts went with the Spartans, and Parrish was the lone dissenter. He tabbed Wichita State—who would have to go undefeated to do it—as the 2014 national champions.

 

Final Analysis

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

You can argue the selections all you want, but there's a definite case to be made for each and every one of them. 

You're not going to find a ton of experts who aren't tabbing either Florida or Kansas in the South Region. They're clearly the two best teams, but without a healthy Embiid, it would seem that the senior-led Gators are currently the safer bet.

In the East Region, it’s a case of "what have you done for me lately?" The Spartans peaked at the right time, winning the Big Ten tournament—knocking off Wisconsin and Michigan in the process—and have a ton of momentum and experience. But don't sleep on Iowa State. They can flat-out play, and they're definitely capable of crashing the Spartans' party.

The West Region has a ton going on and a lot of moving parts. Arizona, Wisconsin, Creighton and San Diego State are all capable of heading to Arlington, and you also have pair of dangerous sleepers in Baylor and Oregon. This, more so than any other, could be the region capable of producing that lone Final Four team that almost nobody expected.

In the Midwest Region, it's Louisville's party. To be the champs, you've got to beat the champs, and Wichita State, Michigan and Duke will find that out. The American Athletic Conference didn't get a ton of respect this season, and with a conference title in their lone season before jumping to the ACC, the Cardinals could do something to change that.

Know what's a shame? That Florida/Kansas and Michigan State would have to meet in the Final Four and not the championship game.

That could well be the best game of the tournament, and the winner will likely emerge to find Louisville on the other side.

But despite all the love going the Spartans' and Jayhawks' ways, it's hard to bet against the Gators. 

Billy Donovan's team is led by four seniors, is as unselfish as they get and will be extremely difficult to beat. When it comes to crunch time, you just can’t be against the Gators, and that’s why they’ll be the team cutting down the nets in Arlington on April 7.

 

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