2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

NCAA Brackets 2014: Predictions for March Madness Title Favorites

Nov 18, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators center Patric Young (4) talks with guard Michael Frazier II (20) against the Southern Jaguars during the second half at Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Florida Gators defeated the Southern Jaguars 67-53. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2014

Cinderella is sure to steal the show during the first weekend of the 2014 NCAA tournament. But once the madness subsides, it'll be the heavy hitters left standing in the journey for the national title.

 

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Credit: Bleacher Report

 

Here are my bracket predictions for the top tournament favorites this March.

*2014 NCAA tournament odds according to VegasInsider.com.

 

Michigan State Spartans, 11-2 Odds, East Region

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 16: Gary Harris #14 of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2014 Big Ten Men's Championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 16, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Gett
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans are no strangers to the Final Four, having been there six times under his watch. However, winning the East Region will be a tall task with No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Villanova and No. 3 Iowa State each lurking in the draw.

But it's hard to pick against the Big Ten tournament champions, who have won three straight games coming into the Big Dance and boast all the necessary parts to make a deep run, per Bleacher Report's Eric Ball: 

Look for seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne to provide leadership and a calming influence throughout the Spartans' run while sophomore guard Gary Harris continues to give defenses fits with his range and overall scoring prowess.

Unfortunately, Michigan State is sure to fall short in an eventual 2000 national championship game rematch with Florida in the Final Four. 

Prediction: Final Four

 

Arizona Wildcats, 8-1 Odds, West Region

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - FEBRUARY 19: Aaron Gordon #11 of the Arizona Wildcats passes during their game against the Utah Utes at the Jon M. Huntsman Center February 19, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Although No. 9 Oklahoma State shouldn't be overlooked, it's fair to say that the Arizona Wildcats landed in the easiest bracket of all. 

If Sean Miller's squad can get through a potential third-round clash with Marcus Smart and the Cowboys, it should be smooth sailing to the Final Four. No. 2 Wisconsin and No. 3 Creighton are the Wildcats' biggest threats at the bottom of the West Region bracket, and only one can reach the Elite Eight. 

If Arizona can knock down free throws and continue to crash the boards, they'll live up to their odds and find a way to North Texas for the Final Four next month. 

But the Wildcats' magical run should end in a showdown with battle-tested Louisville. 

Prediction: Final Four

 

Louisville Cardinals, 8-1 Odds, Midwest Region

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 15: Rick Pitino, head coach of the Louisville Cardinals coaches from the sideline against the Connecticut Huskies during the Championship of the American Athletic Conference Tournament at FedExForum on March 15, 2014 in Memphis, Tennes
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

The defending national champions were no doubt disrespected by the selection committee, who handed Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals a No. 4 seed in the loaded Midwest Region.

After claiming the American Athletic Conference title on Saturday, Pitino made his case for five-loss Louisville being the fourth No. 1 seed, per Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer:

I judge it from the eye test. Understand something: Every analyst has an agenda, every coach has an agenda...Do I think we should be? Yes. Do I think we will be? No.

That being said, if you ask me who is the best college basketball player in America, I would say Russ Smith. If you ask me who is the best power forward, I would say Montrezl Harrell...I’m impressed with our guys and what they have done to win a regular-season and conference tournament (title). The way we have done it, in the fashion we have done it, fits the eye test.

Despite being dealt a tough hand, the Cardinals are a popular pick to survive and advance all the way to Arlington, Texas, and why not?

After all, Louisville has been to two straight Final Fours and possesses unrivaled coaching and tremendous senior leadership. Watch for veteran point guard Russ Smith and seasoned sharpshooter Luke Hancock will set the tone for the Cardinals as they look to prove a point after being slighted on Selection Sunday.

Despite the motivation to repeat in 2014, Pitino and company are destined to run into a juggernaut in Billy Donovan's Florida Gators, who will be out to avenge their 2012 Elite Eight loss to the Cardinals.

Prediction: Runners-Up

 

Florida Gators, 5-1 Odds, South Region

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 16:  Casey Prather #24 and Scottie Wilbekin #5 of the Florida Gators celebrate their 61 to 60 win over the Kentucky Wildcats in the Championship game of the 2014 Men's SEC Basketball Tournament at Georgia Dome on March 16, 2014 in Atla
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Winners of 26 straight games, the overall No. 1 seed Florida Gators are the odds-on favorites to win it all this spring. Led by four seniors and coached by a two-time national champion in Donovan, the SEC champions have all the ingredients to go the distance in 2014.

AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky is one of many who can make a strong case for the Gators: 

After losing in the Elite Eight for three straight years, Scotty Wilbekin and company have all the motivation they need to go along with all those weapons and all that experience. They probably don't have a single first-round draft pick on the roster, but Donovan and the Gators are headed toward history.

It's not SEC bias to pick them to win it all. It's just common sense.

Having reached three consecutive Elite Eights, Florida is about as experienced as you get. Not to mention the Gators swarm the ball on defense and are capable of extending a two-point lead to double digits in a hurry. 

No. 2 Kansas, with a healthy Joel Embiid, looks to be their biggest threat en route to the Final Four, but the Gators have all of their key pieces intact and are favorites to secure the title for good reason.

Prediction: National Champions

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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