Thus begins the mad dash to fill out a March Madness bracket before the NCAA tournament kicks off.
It technically has when you consider the play-in games, but the onslaught of action starts on Thursday once the field is narrowed down to 64. Of course, that doesn't mean we're going to wait patiently and immerse ourselves in unrelated tasks today.
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According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc, March Madness drains an estimated $1.2 billion away from businesses due to unproductive work in favor of researching and watching college hoops. Per the global outplacement firm's press release:
The 2014 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament is still about one week away, but the nation’s employers already may be bracing for the inevitable dip in productivity resulting from office pools and online streaming. With an estimated 50 million Americans participating in March Madness office pools, companies stand to lose at least $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the tournament.
Well, it is a weekday, and you are here reading a college basketball article. Maybe there's something to that finding.
Before feeling guilty about costing your boss money, you already took the time and effort into clicking here and reading the lead. (Don't feel any remorse? I suppose that works, too.) You might as well stick around as I explore the bracket's top contenders. How far should these schools go on your sheet?
The favorites are usually favored for a reason.
Is picking Florida boring? Probably, unless you're an alum or huge Gators fan. Is it effective? Hopefully, because I want my $1 billion.
The SEC champions enter the tournament as the universal top seed. The Gators are on a 26-game winning streak stretching back to early December. They have averaged a 12.8-point margin of victory while dropping two games by a combined seven points.
SEC Tournament Champs! pic.twitter.com/iG1XuLeWyw— Florida Gators (@GatorZoneNews) March 16, 2014
Their path to the Final Four is also user-friendly. Albany shouldn't be a problem, and Colorado or Pittsburgh in the round of 32 should pose little trouble. Looking further down the road, No. 2 Kansas must worry about Joel Embiid's back injury, while Syracuse has dropped five of its last seven games after starting the season 25-0.
According to FiveThirtyEight's projection forecast, the Gators hold a 41 percent chance of making the Final Four and a 26 percent probability of competing in the championship clash.
The team starts four seniors, which adds an experience edge while amplifying the pressure to win it all. SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin told The Associated Press, via Fox Sports, that he's entering the tournament with an all-or-nothing mentality.
What fuels us is just our last opportunity to win a championship. The previous years, we were thinking of just getting to the Elite Eight, just getting to the Final Four. We want a championship. If we fall short of it with the Sweet 16, the Final Four, it won't be what we wanted.
The Gators' balanced attack will lead them to the Final Four, where their departing stars will exit on a high note with the NCAA championship.
Prediction: National Champions
After steamrolling Utah and Colorado, Arizona lost some steam by succumbing to UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The four-point defeat, however, should not remove the Wildcats from your Final Four plans.
Arizona places first in Ken Pomeroy's ratings with a .9519 Pythagorean winning percentage. It also holds the best defensive rating, limiting opponents to a 38.1 field-goal percentage.
In addition to sporting the nation's premier defense, Arizona shoots 51.9 percent from within the three-point arc. As long as the team accepts its limitations downtown, scoring isn't a problem either.
But if anyone should throw down from long range, it's Nick Johnson, who is riding a hot hand from deep, according to Arizona Basketball's official Twitter page:
Since Feb. 26, Nick Johnson is shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range. #APlayersProgram— Arizona Basketball (@APlayersProgram) March 18, 2014
A two-way star who touts 16.2 points per game, 4.2 boards, 1.5 steals and a 21.7 player efficiency rating, Johnson should enjoy his national coming-out party on the grand stage.
While the West Region features its fair share of talented squads, no elite contender has a better resume than Arizona. Oklahoma State or Gonzaga could present a tough matchup in the third round but one that Arizona can overcome on its path to winning the region before running into Louisville during the Final Four.
Prediction: Final Four
Poor Wichita State has been saddled with the Region of Doom.
Skeptics point to the Shockers' schedule as a reason to doubt the undefeated squad's legitimacy. They have not faced a Top 25 opponent this season, but their luck is about to drastically change as they attempt to circumvent a loaded Midwest Region.
They should cruise past the round of 64, where a dangerous Kentucky squad could await them. The Wildcats, who entered the season as a strong title contender, pushed Florida to its limit during an SEC Championship Game clash that came down to the wire.
But given their inconsistency and inexperience, the Shockers will escape a hard-fought battle. Their reward? The Louisville Cardinals, a No. 4 seed who deserves a No. 2 seed.
To be fair, Wichita State deserves that No. 1 seed. Along with Louisville, it's one of just two teams that are ranked in Pomeroy's top 10 among offensive and defensive efficiency. Overall, the Shockers rate No. 5 behind the tournament's other three top seeds and Louisville.
Giving them an early exit—by a No. 1 seed's standards—is not an indictment of them as a deserving top school. The schedule is just brutal. Due to a poor draw, Wichita State's road ends in the Sweet 16 against Louisville, who will emerge from the treacherous Midwest to face Florida in its second consecutive finals appearance.
Prediction: Sweet 16
All statistics are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.