During the round of 64 and round of 32, we're rarely thinking about who will actually win the NCAA tournament. We're more focused on Cinderella stories, buzzer-beating shots and emerging superstars we may not have even heard of just days before.
It's all about the storylines, baby.
But once the Sweet 16 teams are set, we generally remember that there is a title to be won at the end of all the madness. After the first weekend of action, the true contenders emerge and begin to do battle with a title on the line. It's a whole new tournament.
So, which of the remaining teams have the best chances of winning the title, now that Vegas has updated the odds? And do those odds seem accurate?
Let's find out.
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|San Diego State||38-1|
Of course, the BPI and Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight see the top contenders a little differently, via ESPN Stats and Info:
Both agree that the top six contenders are Florida, Louisville, Arizona, Michigan State, Virginia and Wisconsin, however (though VegasInsider would throw Michigan into that mix as well).
Seeing as I picked Louisville as my championship team before the tournament began, I'm quite pleased to see both Vegas and FiveThirtyEight give them excellent odds to pull off the feat. It's a bit more surprising that Michigan State has just an eight percent chance of winning the title, however, as the Spartans have been red-hot in their two postseason tournaments, winning five straight.
But of all the major contenders remaining, they have easily the toughest matchup awaiting, as they stare down a very, very good Virginia team. In fact, that game from purely a matchup perspective is the top offering from the Sweet 16.
The winner of that game should reach the Final Four. Iowa State is dangerous but is without Georges Niang. UConn is a Shabazz Napier cold streak away from elimination.
Of course, UConn is also two Napier showcases away from reaching the Final Four. And UConn showed it wasn't just a one-man team against Villanova, especially when Napier got into early foul trouble and had to sit.
But his teammates responded. Napier had nothing but praise for them after the Villanova win, via Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant:
The biggest thing I was thinking was back to my freshman year when I was sitting on the bench. I wasn't starting, I was sitting on the bench watching how everything was going. Then I snapped back to reality, and how well my team was playing, how they were showing how good they are and it was just a beautiful feeling.
It was a big moment when I got myself in foul trouble, and we didn't skip a beat. It shows the maturity of this team.
From a storyline perspective, the matchup between Kentucky and Louisville is hugely interesting. After all, there is an in-state rivalry at stake, the fact that Rick Pitino formerly coached Kentucky and last year's championship squad taking on the team that started off this season No. 1 in the polls and boasts incredible talent, even if they often underachieved during the season.
But Kentucky did come on strong down the stretch and, in its last seven games, has only lost to Florida (twice). And John Calipari has fared well against Pitino in the past, according to ESPN Stats and Info:
Since John Calipari took over at Kentucky in '09-10 season, he's faced Rick Pitino's Louisville team 6 times and won 5 of those games— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
Of course, this round of the NCAA tournament has been particularly sweet for Pitino:
Rick Pitino is 11-0 all-time in his career as a head coach in the Sweet 16— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 25, 2014
That one should be fun.
The entire Midwest bracket is really intriguing, as last year's runner-up, Michigan, faces arguably the hottest team in the tournament in Tennessee, which won the play-in round and has now won nine of 11. Any of the four teams could emerge from this region, but for now Louisville is the favorite.
Meanwhile, Florida has arguably the easiest road to traverse among the four remaining. UCLA is a talented team, no doubt, but Florida has a better starting five and more experience. Should Florida get by UCLA, it'll either face No. 10 Stanford or No. 11 Dayton, just two of the three double-digit seeds (No. 11 Tennessee is the other) remaining in the tournament.
If Florida doesn't reach the Final Four, it will be a huge disappointment for the Gators. The draw has developed nicely for their chances.
Arizona also has to like its chances. San Diego State is no pushover, but it also nearly was eliminated by New Mexico State in the round of 64. Both Baylor and Wisconsin would be tough matchups for the Wildcats, but the West Region always looked like a favorable draw for Arizona, and little has changed in that regard.
Three of the four No. 1 seeds remain. Both No. 2 seeds, Michigan and Wisconsin, are title contenders. Louisville and Michigan State remain the favorites to emerge from their region, according to VegasInsider.
There are still Cinderella stories in Dayton, Stanford and Tennessee, but the big boys are emerging in college basketball. Let the clash of the powerhouses begin.