Time is running out to get your bracket done, and if you're running up against the clock, it's a good idea to quickly confer with the brightest minds in college basketball.
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Each year, experts from a number of publications reveal whom they have making the Final Four and winning the national championship. While those predictions shouldn't be taken as gospel, they do offer a helpful road map for what the best strategy may be to win your bracket pool.
Below are the five teams that the experts prefer in most of their brackets.
With Florida carrying the No. 1 overall seed into the NCAA tournament, it only makes sense that a majority of experts would put the Gators through to the Final Four.
The top team in the country could have to run the gauntlet to get there, though. Any combination of Syracuse, Kansas, UCLA, New Mexico, Ohio State and Pittsburgh stands in Florida's way.
Despite that, the Gators are a Final Four team on four out of five expert brackets ESPN.com, all four from Sports Illustrated, six out of eight at USA Today and in four out of 11 at CBS Sports. Three at SI, four from USA Today and two on CBSSports.com also favor them to win the national title.
Jeff Borzello is one of the two on CBS backing the Gators:
I know it's not chic to go with the top overall seed, but the Gators are the most complete team in the country. They're unbeaten with their current roster, and have shown the ability to beat teams in multiple ways. They're experienced, they're balanced, they have depth -- and they are one of the best defensive teams in the country. Moreover, they seem to limit mistakes and don't allow teams to go on big, game-changing runs at key junctures. They have all the ingredients to win it all. Florida has been to three straight Elite Eights, but this year they take next step and go to the Final Four. And then cut down the nets.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, while no expert, is also on the Florida bandwagon, which isn't that much of a surprise considering the logjams that the Gators defense causes for other teams, am I right?
Between its suffocating defense and balanced scoring, Florida will no doubt go deep in the tournament. Just how deep is a topic of debate.
The one team that the experts seem to favor in the South aside from Florida is Kansas. Even with Joel Embiid's health in doubt, the Jayhawks had one supporter on ESPN.com and a whopping seven on CBSSports.com. ESPN's Jay Bilas (subscription to ESPN Insider required) joins colleague Dana O'Neil in putting Kansas through to the Final Four.
Speaking on The John Feinstein Show, head coach Bill Self said that the Jayhawks are already planning as if Embiid won't be a contributor.
"We’re preparing like we won’t have him (at all), and then when he comes back, it’ll just be a bonus," Self said. "But it is a little different. It kind of leaves your kids in limbo a little bit."
In all likelihood Embiid will return at some point in the later rounds of the tournament, and if that happens and he picks right up where he left off, Kansas is a national title contender.
Michigan State Spartans
Virginia is the weakest No. 1 seed, while Villanova is the weakest of the four No. 2 seeds. That means Iowa State and Michigan State have a great chance to sneak into the Final Four. Between the two, the Spartans are getting a lot more hype.
CBS Sports' resident bracketologist Jerry Palm even has Tom Izzo taking home his second national championship:
I have felt all along that HMSU (Healty Michigan State U.) is the best team in the country, but I wasn't sure we would ever see that team again. It looks like coach Tom Izzo has gotten the band back together though, and while the drummer, Keith Appling, is playing through a sore wrist, the Spartans showed this weekend that they are primed to make a run. The committee gave them a relatively soft region as well. So many teams these days are either talented or experienced. Michigan State is both, and that's why they will cut down the nets in Dallas.
Something the rest of the field might want to keep in mind is that the most powerful leader in the free world picked Michigan State to go all of the way, per the Big Ten Network:
Barack Obama is a man you don't want to cross.
Louisville is the king until somebody knocks its crown off. The Cardinals seem a bit hard done by the selection committee, that's not stopping many experts from putting the defending champions in the Final Four at the very least.
Rick Pitino's team went four out of five at ESPN, six out of 11 at CBS Sports and four out of eight at USA Today. The Cards didn't receive much support at Sports Illustrated, where Pete Thamel was the only writer who had them winning the Midwest region.
One of the reasons some may be skeptical about Louisville is its No. 4 seed. As intimated above, it's a bit low from where you would've expected the Cardinals. As a result, the road to the Final Four got that much more difficult. Alok Pattani of ESPN Stats and Information demonstrated how much getting seeded No. 4 in the Midwest compares with being seeded No. 1 in the East, where Virginia sits:
From my article, comparison of Louisville's advancement chances given current position vs if they got 4th #1 seed: pic.twitter.com/TKBOSEZZLJ— Alok Pattani (@AlokPattaniESPN) March 18, 2014
But Louisville has reached the mountaintop before, so don't let your faith be too shaken by the perceived slight by the selection committee.
The consensus among fans and experts is Arizona received a much more favorable road to the Final Four than its top-seeded counterparts. Nicole Auerbach of USA Today argued that the selection committee essentially made the Wildcats the No. 1 overall seed in the tourney based on their road to the final:
Arizona might as well be the overall No. 1 seed. Much easier path to a Final Four than Florida.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 16, 2014
It certainly seems a valid point. If Arizona can beat Oklahoma State in the third round, should the Cowboys beat Gonzaga, it's almost a virtual lock for the Elite Eight. Potential games against Creighton or Wisconsin don't seem the most intimidating, either.
Among the 28 experts whose opinions have been culled, the Wildcats are in the Final Four in 19 of them.
That kind of broad support probably means Arizona will get beat in the second round. Nothing is ever that clean in the NCAA tournament.