Handicapping Your Brackets: 2014 NCAA Tourney

It is time to Dance again, and that means filling out your Tournament Bracket. The 2014 NCAA Men’s National Championship has arrived! Throughout the season I watch an extensive amount of college hoops. So much so, that my family even knows a great deal about these teams. These are my thoughts on this year’s contest that you will hopefully find beneficial when filling out your own sheets. I have broken down each Region to identify some favorites, and some “noise makers” that may surprise you. There are “Cinderellas” every year, and now you have a glimpse at some lesser known teams who could potentially fill that role. Be sure to check back Thursday, to see how I have filled out my personal bracket, and why. You can also enter the PeoplezPerspective.com Bracket Challenge, and see how you stack up against others including myself. There will be a very unique prize awarded to the one who fills out the most accurate entry. Good luck, and enjoy the festivities!

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South Region (Dayton)
 
The Favorites: Florida (32-2), UCLA (26-8), Kansas (24-9)
The Noise Makers: Tulsa (21-12), Dayton (23-10), New Mexico (27-6), Eastern Kentucky (24-9)
 
florida seniorsThis year’s Florida team reminds me an awful lot of the Back-to-Back Champions from 2006 and 2007. They are led by four selfless seniors, who work tirelessly at both ends of the court. Can you imagine if Bradley Beal had stayed and was a part of this crew as well. They have all the makings of a champion, and are my personal favorites to do so… UCLA just proved they are capable of winning it all, after walking through the loaded Pac 12 and coming out victorious. Sophomore Kyle Anderson is a walking triple-double, and as a 6’9” point guard does not get enough national attention. However, as good as they are, they can also be beat… Kansas is known by most, as they feature two potential NBA lottery picks, maybe even two #1’s overall. Center Joel Embid is still very raw, and nursing an injury; Freshman Andrew Wiggins has been hot of late, but can be inconsistent. They will be a tough out, but also face some very difficult matchups just to get to the Sweet 16… Tulsa is coached by Danny Manning, who as a player won a national championship, almost single handedly. The team is inspired, and has won 11 straight games in pretty convincing fashion. Although Conference USA is down this year, this team can cause nightmares for UCLA in their opening contest… Dayton is coached by Archie Miller, who is the younger brother of Arizona head coach Sean. He is proving his worth in building the Flyers into a very young and dangerous program. They started to come on the second half of the season in the very deep and challenging Atlantic 10. Getting to the regional final would mean a chance to shine before their home fans. That is motivation this club has the ability to match… New Mexico had a very disappointing exit in last year’s tournament, losing their first game to Harvard as a 3 seed. The Lobos have good size led by Senior Cameron Bairstow, and an absolutely clutch performer in Senior guard Kendall Williams. The two have enough heart to carry New Mexico unexpectedly far in this tournament… All of the 15 seeds this year are stronger than you would expect, and Eastern Kentucky may be the best of them all. Down the stretch they were incredibly hot, knocking off both Ohio Valley favorites Murray State and Belmont, to win their conference. That hot streak could continue and provide a real scare for Kansas in their opener.

West Region (Anaheim)

The Favorites: Arizona (30-4), Creighton (26-7), Wisconsin (26-7)
The Noise Makers: New Mexico State (26-9), Nebraska (19-12), BYU (23-11)

sim bhullarArizona is an incredibly talented, yet young team. They eked out a few victories along the way to their #1 seed, which some may question them deserving. When sophomore forward Brandon Ashley was lost for the season in February the team lost a big portion of their firepower. Junior Nick Johnson (nephew of NBA legend Dennis Johnson) has been the life force for the ‘Cats. They are capable of an extended run, but he will need others to step up their game to realize the team’s potential… Creighton receives a lot of national attention because of their senior stud scorer Doug McDermott, and rightly so. But the team is too one dimensional, and if he is held in check, or goes cold, they can be looking at an early exit. So far that has not been the case. But, the tournament brings out a level of competition not seen in the regular season… Wisconsin seems to be in this position every year, as that of a lower seed. Although they have been on a tear of late, I still see the team that lost 5 of 6 in the middle of the season. It was less about them losing, and more about who they lost to, that makes me weary of them in the tourney. They play aggressive, and will attack for forty minutes, and they may just take advantage of the least competitive region… New Mexico State has one of the most interesting players in the entire country in Sim Bhullar. He stands at 7’5”, weighs 355 pounds, and is athletic. None of that is a typo. If you think that is something, his “little” brother Tanveer is also on the team and he is 7’3” and 335 pounds. The Aggies are more than just Bhullar, but he is a game changer few teams can match. The further they go in the tournament the bigger of a story they will become. San Diego State has their hands full in game one… Nebraska is known for corn and football, it is the order that confuses. Basketball is not something you would think to put them on the map. Coach Tim Miles is quickly erasing that stereotype, and has his team playing at exceptionally high levels. Sophomore guard Terran Petteway is one of the purest shooters in college, and could very easily lead the tournament in scoring – depending on the number of games they play. Their first opponent Baylor has been playing well in recent weeks, but has also underachieved for much of the season. The door may be open just wide enough for an upset… Modern fans will undoubtebly remember Jimmer Freddette when they think of BYU, and this year they have his clone in Tyler Haws. While he is much lesser known than the Jimmer, Haws comes from strong Basketball blood lines, and his 23.4 points per game placed him sixth in the nation in scoring. BYU plays hard, and can light up a scoreboard. They are as dangerous of an opening opponent as there is, and their matchup with Oregon should be a track meet.

Mid-West Region (Indianapolis)

The Favorites: Michigan (25-8), Duke (26-8), Louisville (29-5)
The Noise Makers: Wichita State (34-0), Tennessee (21-12), Mercer (26-8)

rick-pitino-russ-smithMichigan bullied their way to a seven game win streak and into the B1G Ten Championship. That is where their rivals Michigan State exposed their weakness, and won in convincing fashion 64-55. Michigan is overrated due to their reaching last year’s National Championship game. The loss of forward Mitch McGary is what separates them from being true contenders again. They have nice players, but do not have a viable inside option, and will remain vulnerable in every game… If you had to place a bet sight unseen before each season, Duke would most likely be your safest chance to win a national championship. This year, led by freshman standout Jabari Parker is no different. He is my personal choice to go 1st in the NBA Draft (if he does leave school early), but despite how big he has been down low, the team is too reliant on outside shooting. They feature several sharp shooters, and when they are hot can be lethal. But, they have had cold spells, and it should be a real concern in a single elimination setting… The defending National Champion Louisville Cardinals are quickly becoming everyone’s favorite to win this year as well. It is true they are the hottest team coming into this tournament, but their detriment will be the region they were assigned to. The Mid-West is by far the deepest and most competitive region, and as such Louisville will have the toughest road to hoe. They certainly have the capability to repeat as champions, but they will truly have to earn it… It is not often that I would consider a #1 seed to be a “noise maker”, but this year is very unique with Wichita State and Virginia. All season the Shockers have been doubted and disrespected, mainly by the media and the voting committee. This is the same team that reached the Final Four last year, and returned the majority of its core contributors. If anything, this team is better than last year’s and all they did was go out and beat everyone on their schedule; quite convincingly at that. They have been punished once again with the teams in their region, but they will not back down from any opponent. They are the team I would like to see win it all, but that is asking a lot of them… If any team this year personified the role of Jeckyll and Hyde it is certainly the Tennessee Volunteers. They have shown flashes of a national power, and then efforts completely mailing it in. The good news is, outside of Louisville, they are the hottest team coming into the dance. The bad news is you never know who will show up. Their first test against Iowa in the play-in game should shed some light on which team was on the bus… The Mercer Bears are a popular pick to play spoiler against Duke. They certainly have the athleticism to match up in this contest, and they will not be afraid of the spotlight. Mercer does a little bit of everything well, and should provide quite a scare. Ultimately it will come down to how effective their perimeter defense can be in their opening game.

East Region (New York City)

The Favorites: Iowa State (26-7), Michigan State (26-8), Villanova (28-4)
The Noise Makers: Virginia (28-6), Providence (23-11), St. Joe’s (24-9), Delaware (25-9)

tom izzoIowa State has as good a trio in Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane, and Dustin Hogue, as there is. Add in Georges Niang’s balanced contributions and you are potentially looking at the winners of the East region. They have survived a brutal schedule in the Big 12, and have a favorable bracket position. They have the makings to go far… Coach Tom Izzo’s blueprint for post-season success is already legendary. That was before he led his Michigan State Spartans to yet another B1G 10 championship. This is pure blue-collar effort, and Izzo gets his players to overachieve with unmatched consistency. They truly live up to their Spartan name, and by the end of March they may very well still be standing… Villanova took advantage of a down year in the re-constituted Big East Conference. While some may accuse them of beating up on an inferior league, their out of conference wins are more impressive than you might think. Slim victories against Delaware, Kansas, and Iowa, as well as blowouts against St. Joe’s and Towson State, are proof this team has enough firepower to withstand the tournament competition. Like Michigan State, they too bring their lunch pails and grind it out each game… Virginia earned a #1 seed by beating people’s expectations time and time again. They play in an elite ACC conference, yet do not boast any major recruits. Their 13 game win streak during the season felt nice, but still not great. Like Wichita State, all they did was beat everyone on their schedule, which includes the likes of Duke, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and North Carolina. They probably still do not care if anyone has taken notice, but eventually you are going to have to… The Providence Friars feature a player in Bryce Cotton that not many teams can contain. He averages over 21 points per game, with nearly 6 assists, and he plays literally every minute. His diminutive stature makes his accomplishments seem even more heroic, and that inspires his teammates to keep the pace. This was on full display in the Big East Championship game, which in winning, may have been the only way the Friars made it to the dance. They are playing loose, and with confidence, and have enough man-power to pose a serious threat to anyone they face… St. Joe’s battled all season in an underrated Atlantic 10 Conference. Their hard work culminated with them knocking off a tough VCU opponent to take home the league trophy. They are playing with as much confidence as anyone, and have enough grit to get punched in the mouth and get back up again. They have a favorable opener against UConn, and could become even more confident, and dangerous, should they survive… Representing one of the smallest states in this country means you have to really do something big to get attention. The Blue Hens of Delaware have flown under the radar all season, and are poised to make a splash in this year’s tournament. They feature a three guard combo in Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, and Jarvis Threatt, that averages 57.2 points per game. You cannot just shut down one, you must stop them all. That is a big task for anyone, even the mighty Michigan State Spartans. This has a chance to be the big upset of the second round.

Be sure to check back on Thursday, to see a full Bracket breakdown, and enter the PeoplezPerspective.com Bracket Challenge now!
The group password is: ncaa2014

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