By: Tim Van Blarcom, Feature Writer
The first weekend of the 2014 NCAA men’s tournament is over and bracket owners all across the country are weeping. The Sweet Sixteen contains three teams seeded 10 or higher; Dayton, Stanford, and Tenessee. Two 2-seeds have been eliminated; Kansas, and Villanova. Fan favorite picks Duke, Wichita State, Syracuse, VCU, and Creighton have also all been eliminated. And there are still 2 more weeks of games to come.
There is still plenty of time for additional upsets but before the Sweet Sixteen games kick off on Thursday, March 27, let’s take a look at the teams that have made it this far.
1 Florida Gators (32-2, 18-0 SEC)
First Two Rounds: 67-55 over 16 Albany, 61-45 over 9 Pittsburgh
Florida has shown that their 28-game win streak is not due to a weak SEC conference. Florida took both the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament titles and hold opponents under 60 points a game. Florida’s defense is what makes this team elite but they rely on being bigger, faster, and more athletic to hold a major edge against opponents. Offensively, Florida has been sluggish beyond the arc, shooting only 25% in the tournament so far, and is not the greatest free throw shooting team. Florida’s offense is an unpredictable group with every player capable of scoring into the double digits but also disappearing from games. Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin and senior forward Casey Prather are the leaders of this team offensively and will need to score consistently to complement this teams elite defense.
4 UCLA Bruins (28-8, 12-6 PAC-12)
First Two Rounds: 76-59 over 13 Tulsa, 77-60 over SF Austin
UCLA came in 2nd to Arizona for the PAC-12 regular season title but pulled off the upset against Arizona in the PAC-12 Title game. UCLA is a strong offensive team that averages 81.8 points a game and shoots 49% from the field. The Bruins don’t have a defense that will slow down opponents but they do average 9 steals per game and can score in transition very easily. UCLA is at their best when they can consistently score in transition and out shoot their opponent in volume and accuracy. Against SF Austin, UCLA shot only 65% at the free throw line and that could get them in trouble later on. The last time the Bruins played an elite defense was against Arizona where they shot 85% from the free throw line. UCLA is never completely out of a game if there’s still time to force a turnover and go on a quick run.
11 Dayton Flyers (23-10, 10-6 A10)
First Two Rounds: 60-59 over 6 Ohio State, 55-53 over 3 Syracuse
Dayton has been the bell of the ball this year after coming in 6th in the A10 regular season and losing to St. Joe’s in the quarterfinals of the A10 Tournament. Dayton is the epitome of a mature, senior led squad rallying for a final push. Dayton is above average on offense, shooting 46.6% from the field, and have 4 players averaging at least .400 beyond the arc. Defensively, Dayton is solid at slowing down opposing offenses but they don’t try to force turnovers or make big blocks. Dayton isn’t great rebounding and can struggle at free throws, shooting only 68% on the season. In the clutch is when Dayton’s maturity really gives them the edge as Vee Sanford stepped up to sneak the win out against Ohio State and Devin Oliver made his free throws in the final minute to upset Syracuse. If Dayton can keep a game close into the final minutes, they’ve proven they have an edge in the closing moments.
10 Stanford Cardinal (23-12, 10-8 PAC-12)
First Two Rounds: 58-53 over 7 New Mexico, 60-57 over 2 Kansas
Stanford is another team that shoots the ball reasonably well, 46% from field, but isn’t spectacular anywhere else. Their defense is average and focuses on collecting rebounds over stopping the shot or forcing a turnover. Stanford’s offense averages 11 turnovers per game and have one of the worst assist/turnover ratios. Stanford finished the regular season 4th in the PAC-12 and lost in the semifinals of the PAC-12 Tournament to UCLA. The Cardinals showed that they can get hot against New Mexico and shot 53% from beyond the arc. Against Kansas, Stanford went 0-9 from three point range but got to the free throw line regularly as Kansas committed 22 personal fouls. Stanford is such an uneven team that their performance is a mystery until the after the game is played.
Prediction: Florida defeats UCLA as Florida’s defense contains UCLA and prevents any long runs. Dayton defeats Stanford in a close game as Dayton hits the go ahead shot in the final possession. Florida advances to the Final Four as Dayton’s Cinderella story ends against their first elite defensive opponent.
1 Virginia Cavaliers (30-6, 16-2 ACC)
First Two Rounds: 70-59 over Coastal Carolina, 78-60 over Memphis
Virginia rebounded from their loss to Maryland to win the ACC regular season and tournament titles. Virginia has the top defense in the country and smothers opposing offenses holding them to 55.5 points a game. Offensively, Virginia is average behind but very efficient and prefers to get a hold a lead early throughout the rest of the game. Virginia doesn’t go out of it’s way to force turnovers and prefers to play a half-court game throughout. Virginia has shot better than 80% at the free throw line in the tournament so far but has struggled collecting rebounds on both ends.
4 Michigan State Spartans (28-8, 12-6 Big Ten)
First Two Rounds: 93-78 over Delaware, 80-73 over Harvard
Michigan State finished 3rd in the Big Ten regular season but defeated Michigan for the Big Ten Tournament title. Michigan State is a balanced team that is capable of putting up a lot of points and playing strong defense but has been inconsistent at times doing both. On offense, Michigan State shoots 47.4% from the field and uses good ball movement averaging 17.1 assists a game. On defense, Michigan State limits second-chance points for their opponent with excellent rebounding and physical play around the rim. Michigan State has shot 40% from beyond the arc in the tournament so far but as only averaged 70% from the free throw line.
3 Iowa State Cyclones (28-7, 11-7 Big 12)
First Two Rounds: 93-75 over NCCU, 85-83 UNC
Iowa State finished 3rd in the Big 12 regular season but defeated Kansas for the Big 12 Tournament title. Iowa State is a team that wants to get into shootouts and is well equipped to out score any opponent. Defensively they focus on rebounding over forcing turnovers or limiting offenses and regularly out rebound their opponents. Iowa State is one of the best three point shooting teams in the country and attempt a lot of shots beyond the arc. North Carolina played Iowa State close in their Round of 32 game but Iowa State shot 46.2% from beyond the arc.
7 Connecticut Huskies (28-8, 12-6 AAC)
First Two Rounds: 89-81 over St. Joe’s, 77-65 over Villanova
Connecticut finished 3rd in the AAC and lost to Louisville in the AAC Tournament finals. Senior guard Shabazz Napier leads the Huskies with 17.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Outside of Napier, Connecticut is very average on offense but is an excellent free throw shooting team and has shown the ability to hit clutch shots beyond the arc. Defensively, Connecticut excels at limiting opportunities and stopping their opponent. They limit opponents to 63.7 points and get 6.2 blocked shots per game.
Prediction: Michigan State out rebounds Virginia and hits just enough shots to win a low scoring game. Iowa State exposes Connecticut’s perimeter defense and wins by double digits. In a shootout, Iowa State defeats Michigan State as the Spartans look tired after Virginia.
1 Arizona Wildcats (32-4, 15-3 PAC-12)
First Two Rounds: 68-59 over Weber State, 84-61 over Gonzaga
Arizona won the PAC-12 regular season title but lost to UCLA in the PAC-12 Tournament championship. Arizona’s defense is what makes them elite as they hold teams to only 58.3 points per game. Arizona is also excellent rebounding on both ends of the court which allows them to score on second-chance points and limits their opponents opportunities. Arizona’s offensive attack is well balanced between attacking the paint and shooting beyond the arc. Arizona is a deep team but can struggle with fouls and their own free throw shooting late in games.
4 San Diego State Aztecs (31-4, 16-2 MW)
First Two Rounds: 73-69 over New Mexico State, 63-44 North Dakota State
San Diego State won the Mountain West conference regular season title but lost to New Mexico in the MWC Tournament title game. San Diego State is a defense-first team that manages to both limit opponent opportunities and force turnovers. Offensively, San Diego State relies on second-chance points from rebounds to make up for shooting on 43.7% from the field. Free throw shooting is a strength for San Diego State and they prefer to keep a game close and win it with free throws at the end. San Diego State’s perimeter defense is very good but their lack of depth can hurt them late in games.
6 Baylor Bears (26-11, 9-9 Big 12)
First Two Rounds: 74-60 over Nebraska, 85-55 over Creighton
Baylor came in 6th in the Big 12 regular season but lost in the Big 12 Tournament Championship Game to Iowa State. Baylor is a momentum driven team and have been subject to the highs and lows during season. Baylor is a better offensive team and does a good job on the offensive glass. Defensively Baylor can struggle against good shooting teams. Cold Baylor was bailed out in a sluggish game against Nebraska when the Cornhuskers committed 31 personal fouls and Baylor took 48 free throws. Hot Baylor dominated Creighton from the start and shot 63.8% from the field, including 61.1% shooting from beyond the arc.
2 Wisconsin Badgers (28-7, 12-6 Big Ten)
First Two Rounds: 75-35 over American, 85-77 over Oregon
Wisconsin was 2nd in the Big Ten regular season and lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Wisconsin has flashed ability to hold opponents to under 60 points and to score 80 points but usually not in the same game. They are a mentally tough team that knows what they need to do to win but isn’t elite in any facet of the game. Wisconsin is best at limiting opportunities for their opponent but is an average rebounding team and they don’t force turnovers. Offensively, Wisconsin is above average shooting from the field but are below average in assist to turnover ratio and bad on offensive rebounds. Wisconsin easily outclassed AQ-bid American and proved they are better than their statistics against Oregon.
Prediction: Arizona muscles out a competitive San Diego State team. Wisconsin exposes Baylor as all flash and no substance. Arizona defeats Wisconsin easily.
8 Kentucky Wildcats (26-10, 12-6 SEC)
First Two Rounds: 56-49 over Kansas State, 78-76 over Wichita State
Kentucky was the runner in the SEC regular season and tournament titles to Florida. Kentucky is one of the best rebounding teams in the country on both ends of the court. The young team lacks great ball handling and are streaky shooting both from the field and at the free throw line. Defensively, Kentucky does not try to force turnovers but excel at blocking shots and grabbing defensive rebounds. They are better defending the paint than the perimeter as well. Kentucky played an impressive game offensively to knock out 1-seed Wichita State behind 54% shooting from field.
4 Louisville Cardinals (31-5, 15-3 AAC)
First Two Rounds: 71-64 over Manhattan, 66-51 over Saint Louis
Louisville shared the AAC regular season title with Cincinnati but won the AAC Tournament outright. Louisville is perhaps the most balanced team in the tournament and ranked in the top 10 in both offense and defense for most of the season. All 5 of their losses this season were against ranked teams in the regular season. Offensively, Louisville likes to attack the paint or take short range jumpers. They have good ball handling and limit their own turnovers while grabbing their own rebounds. Their three-point shooting is only average at times. Defensively, Louisville is very patient and simultaneously limits their opponents shot selection while forcing the 2nd most turnovers in the country. Louisville also may have the best perimeter defense in the country and can force opponent shooters off their marks and contest their shots.
11 Tennessee Volunteers (24-12, 11-7 SEC)
First Two Rounds: 86-67 over UMass, 83-63 over Mercer
Tennessee finished 4th in the SEC regular season and lost to Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinals. As one of the last at-large bids, Tennessee played Iowa in a play-in game to earn their spot in the Round of 64. Tennessee is a big physical team that uses their strength in the paint on both ends of the court. Their a below-average shooting team, especially from outside of the paint and beyond the arc. Defensively, Tennessee uses their big bodies to limit scoring opportunities for the opposing offense and fight for rebounds. Tennessee is at their best when they can force fouls from their opponent and rely on their excellent free throw shooting to close out games.
2 Michigan Wolverines (27-8, 15-3 Big Ten)
First Two Rounds: 57-40 over Wofford, 79-65 over Texas
Michigan won the Big Ten regular season title but lost to Michigan State in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan is an excellent shooting team averaging over 48% from field with one of the country’s most effective three point game. Michigan also doesn’t turn the ball over and will wait for their best shot with a patient offense. Defensively, Michigan doesn’t bring a lot of flash but they guard the perimeter well and force opponents to try and keep up with them by attacking the paint.
Prediction: Louisville thanks Kentucky for taking out Wichita State by sending them home one round later. In finesse against strength, Michigan out shoots Tennessee and wins the free throw game. Louisville keeps up with Michigan offensively and they squeak by to advance to the Final Four.