Jay Bilas Bracket: ESPN Analyst Reveals His 2014 March Madness Bracket Picks

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 01:  ESPN College GameDay host Jay Bilas prior to the game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome on February 1, 2014 in Syracuse, New York.  Syracuse defeated Duke 91-89 in overtime.  (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
Rich Barnes/Getty Images

As one of the heavyweights in the world of collegiate basketball, ESPN's Jay Bilas is a name fans around the globe look to for guidance when it comes time to sit down and fill out an NCAA tournament bracket.

The field is as wide open as ever this year, further emphasized by Bilas' wild bracket, which is littered with upsets, surprises and runs that buck conventional thinking.    

While far from the only resource fans should look to for help this year, all of Bilas' explanations are backed by sound logic and have to be taken into consideration—no matter how shocking.

All Your Bracket Essentials

Bleacher Report

Here's how Bilas sees things shaping up in the 2014 rendition of the Big Dance.     

Note: Bilas' picks with full explanations can be found on ESPN Insider (subscription required).

South Region

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Jay Bilas' South Region Predictions
Round of 64
Florida vs. Albany/Mount St. Mary'sFlorida
Pittsburgh vs. ColoradoPittsburgh
VCU vs. Stephen F. AustinVCU
UCLA vs. TulsaUCLA
Ohio State vs. DaytonOhio State
Syracuse vs. Western MichiganSyracuse
New Mexico vs. StanfordNew Mexico
Kansas vs. Eastern KentuckyKansas
Round of 32
Florida vs. PittsburghFlorida
Syracuse vs. Ohio StateSyracuse
Kansas vs. New MexicoKansas
Sweet 16
Florida vs. UCLAFlorida
Kansas vs. SyracuseKansas
Elite Eight
Kansas vs. FloridaKansas

There are not too many surprises here from Bilas to start things off, although there are some missed opportunities for likely upsets.

Dayton taking down in-state big fish Ohio State at a neutral site is certainly a tantalizing option, especially with the Buckeyes showing a vulnerability to losing when a team gets hot behind the arc—as Michigan did by shooting better than 50 percent from long range in a 72-69 victory in the Big Ten tournament.

It's also plausible that Pittsburgh gives Florida a bigger run for its money than most expect thanks to the impressive streak Talib Zanna has been on of late, but it makes sense that the Gators would advance to the Elite Eight to meet Kansas.

There, Bilas is confident in the Jayhawks' ability to move past the Gators as long as Joel Embiid is healthy—which he should be, according to coach Bill Self (via Kansas Basketball on Twitter):

Should Embiid return to the court and remain healthy, Kansas will be a tough out for any team.

West Region

Jay Bilas' West Region Predictions
Round of 64
Arizona vs. Weber StateArizona
Oklahoma State vs. GonzagaOklahoma State
North Dakota State vs. OklahomaNorth Dakota State
San Diego State vs. New Mexico StateSan Diego State
Nebraska vs. BaylorNebraska
Creighton vs. Louisiana-LafayetteCreighton
Oregon vs. BYUOregon
Wisconsin vs. AmericanWisconsin
Round of 32
Arizona vs. Oklahoma StateArizona
San Diego State vs. North Dakota StateSan Diego State
Creighton vs. NebraskaCreighton
Wisconsin vs. OregonWisconsin
Sweet 16
San Diego State vs. ArizonaSan Diego State
Wisconsin vs. CreightonWisconsin
Elite Eight
Wisconsin vs. San Diego StateWisconsin

This is a pretty simple region overall.

Arizona is a dominant force and has the easiest path a No. 1 could possibly ask for to the Final Four.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 15:  Gabe York #1 of the Arizona Wildcats reacts as teammates Jordin Mayes #20 and Elliott Pitts #24 look on during a timeout in the championship game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the UCLA Bruins at the MGM Grand Garde
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

That said, teams like Oregon, Nebraska and especially Oklahoma State are strong underdogs to monitor.

Or, according to Bilas, watch out for San Diego State. If Marcus Smart and the Cowboys don't take down the Wildcats, the nation is now aware of the under-the-radar fact that the Aztecs are a serious threat to do so in the Sweet 16.

Bilas cites the elite defense San Diego State touts and the absence of injured Wildcats star Brandon Ashley as the major reasons for the shocking upset, and it's hard to argue. The Aztecs only lost by nine to a healthy Wildcats squad back in November, so anything is possible on a neutral court.

Midwest Region

Jay Bilas' Midwest Region Predictions
Round of 64
Wichita State vs. Texas SouthernWichita State
Kentucky vs. Kansas StateKentucky
NC State vs. Saint LouisN.C. State
Louisville vs. ManhattanLouisville
Iowa vs. UMassIowa
Duke vs. MercerDuke
Texas vs. Arizona StateTexas
Michigan vs. WoffordMichigan
Round of 32
Wichita State vs. KentuckyWichita State
Louisville vs. NC StateLouisville
Duke vs. IowaDuke
Michigan vs. TexasMichigan
Sweet 16
Louisville vs. Wichita StateLouisville
Duke vs. MichiganDuke
Elite Eight
Louisville vs. DukeLouisville

As crazy as this Midwest region truly is due to the presence of numerous elite teams, Bilas' bracket beautifully navigates the iffy waters with precision that makes sense.

This includes Wichita State taking down Kentucky in the Round of 32. As great as the Wildcats have looked in closing out the season, the inexperienced squad may fold under the pressure against a well-rounded veteran group.

Louisville and Duke taking care of business en route to a showdown in the Elite Eight makes a lot of sense, especially with the former being robbed of a higher seed, as Bilas recently stated on air, via Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal:

A replay of last year's Elite Eight bout seems likely, as Mike Krzyzewski's squad will once again be unable to muster enough offense to move past the Cardinals.

East Region

Jay Bilas' East Region Predictions
Round of 64
Virginia vs. Coastal CarolinaVirginia
Memphis vs. George WashingtonMemphis
Harvard vs. Cincinnati:Harvard
Michigan State vs. DelawareMichigan State
North Carolina vs. ProvidenceNorth Carolina
Iowa State vs. NC CentralIowa State
Saint Joseph's vs. UConnSaint Joseph's
Villanova vs. MilwaukeeVillanova
Round of 32
Virginia vs. MemphisVirginia
Michigan State vs. HarvardMichigan State
Iowa State vs. North CarolinaIowa State
Villanova vs. Saint Joseph'sVillanova
Sweet 16
Michigan State vs. VirginiaMichigan State
Iowa State vs. VillanovaIowa State
Elite Eight
Michigan State vs. Iowa StateMichigan State

Bilas projects a bit of a head-scratching upset pick here with Harvard over Cincinnati, considering fans would be hard-pressed to name a better pure scorer in the tournament than Sean Kilpatrick—not to mention a more frightening defense than the Bearcats.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 16:  Langston Galloway #10 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks celebrates after a basket in the second half against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the Championship game of the 2014 Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Ce
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

But Bilas balances this out with an upset pick in the form of Saint Joseph's taking down Connecticut in the Round of 64. The Huskies, after a disappointing season, are ripe for an upset, and the Hawks' Langston Galloway also just so happens to be one of the best scorers the bracket has to offer.

Still, the fact that the Michigan State Spartans are projected to move through this region like a buzzsaw is no revelation. Tom Izzo's squad is finally healthy, and when Branden Dawson is in the lineup, the Spartans are nearly unstoppable (literally—they're 21-3 this season with the junior in the lineup).

Final Four

Jay Bilas' Final Four Predictions
Michigan State (East) vs. Kansas (South)Michigan State
Louisville (Midwest) vs. Wisconsin (West)Louisville

It's hard to hate Bilas' safe picks here.

Louisville moving past Wisconsin isn't hard to fathom, especially with Rick Pitino's squad having the experience of two straight Final Four appearances.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 16:  Branden Dawson #22 of the Michigan State Spartans dunks 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/G
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Badgers are a sound squad, but making it to this point is a feat in itself. Once there, Louisville frankly has too much firepower for Wisconsin to match, but UW can certainly use the run as a building block for future tournaments.

For Izzo's team, it's a simple matter of riding the momentum created by a healthy unit that just stole the Big Ten title. As Izzo told the media after the title win, his 2013-14 roster might be the best he has coached, via Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press:

"I still think this is one of the best teams I've ever coached here," Izzo said. "And what that could mean? I don't know. It could mean out in the first round, it could mean win a national championship."

If Embiid is healthy for the matchup, the Spartans can still bang down low thanks to Dawson. If he's not, this one may get ugly. 

National Championship

Jay Bilas' 2014 National Championship Prediction
MatchupNational Champion
Michigan State vs. LouisvilleMichigan State

As Bilas understands better than most, experience is key for a team to make it through the Big Dance to the final.

Once there, efficiency and exploitation of mismatches wins the day.

While a showdown between Louisville and Michigan State is extremely safe, it is also the most logical option based on the status of both teams. As mentioned, the Spartans are healthy and dangerous, while the Cardinals will have a chip on their shoulder after being disrespected on Selection Sunday.

With Dawson a force beneath the rim on both ends of the court, it is easy to see Bilas' logic in picking the Spartans over the Cardinals. By that point, the Cardinals would have little left in the tank after making it through such a brutal region.

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