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Weighing In: March Madness 2014

It’s that time of year. And for College basketball fans and pseudo-gamblers alike, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Christmas?

Christmas?

March Madness is upon us, and this year, it may just be as crazy as ever.

After all, we’re looking at a field where two of the tournament’s top seeds – particularly, the Virginia Cavaliers (28-6, ACC Champions) and the undefeated Wichita State Shockers (34-0, MVC Champions) – don’t figure to make it past the Sweet Sixteen in the majority of brackets. Were looking at two four-seeds – the Michigan State Spartans (26-8, Big 10 Champions) and the Louisville Cardinals (29-5, AAC Champions) – who are heavy favorites to win the whole thing. We’re looking at a Big West Tournament champion in Cal Poly who, against all odds, got into the NCAAs with a losing record (13-19).

And, lest we forget, we have Warren Buffett, of all people, throwing down the gauntlet of 1 billion dollars to the person who predicts a perfect bracket. The feat itself, however, would require unbelievable luck, as any person has a 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (more than 9.2 QUINTILLION) chance of accomplishing it.

Ha ha. VERY funny, Warren.

Ha ha. VERY funny, Warren.

So, who ya got?

Now, while it is amusing for people to proclaim their knowledge of college basketball by attempting to accurately predict the outcomes of 63 games, the truth is, this is why we enjoy the madness – it’s a combination of knowledge and sheer luck that people guess correctly. Sometimes, it makes no sense why some Cinderella teams make the runs that they do, or why some heavy favorites fall so hard in the early rounds.

That said – and with the disclaimer that I, too, have little reason to believe that my picks will be right – allow me to present the teams I believe will get to the Elite Eight, Final Four, and the National Championship game.

We will see how far off I am in a couple weeks.

ELITE EIGHT

South Region: (1) Florida vs. (7) New Mexico

Florida has been the hottest team for the past four months, having not lost a game since December 2. With their draw in the South, there is no reason to believe the team’s four seniors can’t muscle their way into the Elite Eight. My pick for New Mexico, however, will require a little bit of good fortune. While they have one of the best unheralded big men in the country, in F Cameron Bairstow, I don’t know if they can get past a 2-seeded Kansas team at full strength, especially with Freshman C Joel Embiid. If Embiid is hobbled or inactive for an expected Round of 32 matchup with UNM, I believe New Mexico can pull off the upset. This may be just what the Gators want, especially if the Lobos can get to the Elite Eight. It probably won’t be easy for Florida, but I expect their experience and overpowering game to come out on top.

WINNER: (1) Florida

East Region: (2) Villanova vs. (4) Michigan State

In an interesting East Region, I think that Villanova, who “quietly” won 28 games, despite losing to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament, can make a run. Head coach Jay Wright has not been in a position for such a run since 2009, when they reached the Final Four. A combination of the Wildcats’ chemistry, their “dribble-drive” offense, and a favorable bracket draw, can take them to the Regional Semis. The same can be said for Michigan State – minus the “dribble drive” offense, plus the fact that they are on a roll, having won the Big 10 Tournament title and having all of their most lethal weapons healthy at the right time. ESPN, especially, has been singing their praises all the way to the National Championship, and I believe that their momentum and experience under coach Tom Izzo can propel them to the Final Four.

WINNER: (4) Michigan State

West Region: (3) Creighton vs. (4) San Diego State

In an unlikely Elite 8 matchup of offense vs. defense, Creighton’s Doug McDermott (right) will run into SDSU’s Xavier Thames. (Maybe.)

I feel like I’m going out on a limb for both of these teams to make it to the Elite Eight – especially with powerhouses like (1) Arizona and (2) Wisconsin on this side of the bracket. However, I’m not without my reasons for putting them this far. San Diego State brings one of the country’s toughest defenses to the table, along with Mountain West Player of the Year, G Xavier Thames. Creighton boasts, arguably, the country’s best scorer in F Doug McDermott (26.9 points/gm). I think SDSU’s defense, and possibly a POY performance from Thames on the offensive end, will get them past Arizona in the Sweet 16. I also believe McDermott will put the Bluejays on his back to get them to the precipice of a Final Four berth. Ultimately, the best offensive player will out-duel the best defensive player in a close game. As an Aztec alum, that pains me to say.

WINNER: (3) Creighton

Midwest Region: (1) Wichita State vs. (3) Duke

It has been argued up and down that the undefeated Missouri Valley champs were royally screwed in their bid for a National Championship – their draw consists of potential matchups with (8) Kentucky, defending champion (4) Louisville, and Big Ten regular season champion (2) Michigan. However, their combination of experience (having reached the Final Four in 2013 as a 9-seed) and a massive chip on their shoulder could see them in a position to reach the Elite Eight. Duke also has experience on their side – at least with head coach Mike Krzyzewski – and Tisdale Award winner Jabari Parker. As the 3-seed in the Midwest, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine them breezing through to a Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan – a matchup I can see them winning. In the end, I believe the upstart Shockers will continue shocking the College Basketball world, and reach their second straight Final Four.

WINNER: (1) Wichita State

FINAL FOUR

(1) Florida vs. (4) Michigan State

Can Keith Appling and the Michigan State Spartans prove all the experts right with an NCAA title run?

Can Keith Appling and the Michigan State Spartans prove all the experts right with an NCAA title run?

Here we pit two of the most heavily-favored teams in the tournament in a National Semifinal matchup. This will be a highly-anticipated game (should this come to pass), and it may come down to one possession. The fact remains that Tom Izzo thrives under these situations, and it’s hard to argue against ol’ Sparty to get to the championship game. However, I don’t think this physical rotation of Florida’s will be denied. Allow me to go against the grain (at least in ESPN’s case), and roll with Gator Nation.

WINNER: (1) Florida

(1) Wichita State vs. (3) Creighton

Here we see two unlikely Final Four participants, who (at least, in this scenario) will have proven to the nation that they belong in the “Nation’s best” conversation. While the individual player talk leading up to the game will center on Creighton’s McDermott, I think it will be the Shockers’ PG Fred VanFleet – considered the leader of the squad, and a consummate MVP for WSU – who will get the last laugh. I said McDermott will put the Bluejays on his back, but he can’t do it all against one of the best teams in the country. That’s right – I got the Shockers in the National Championship game.

WINNER: (1) Wichita State

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

(1) Florida vs. (1) Wichita State

According to most experts, Florida vs. Wichita State would be an unlikely Championship matchup. That doesn't mean it can't happen.

According to most experts, Florida vs. Wichita State would be an unlikely Championship matchup. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

This would be billed as as much a “David vs. Goliath” matchup as you could get for two 1-seeded teams in the National Championship game – one physical juggernaut from the SEC vs. the “little” undefeated team from Wichita, Kansas. This could have the buzz of Duke vs. Butler in 2010, and I believe that this game could have all the makings of that epic matchup four years ago. While I believe everyone’s hearts will be with a shocker of a Wichita State upset in this scenario, it will be the Gators who will their way to a championship, and will help head coach Billy Donovan cut down the nets for the fourth time in his career.

WINNER: (1) Florida

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