The 2014 NCAA Tournament has just 16 Sweet 16 teams left, battling for the outright National Championship.
Gone from the mix are teams like Duke, Kansas, Wichita State, St. Louis, Syracuse and Ohio State.
Still alive and in contention are just three double digit seeds (No. 11 Dayton, No. 10 Stanford and No. 11 Tennessee) while all but one No. 1 seed (Wichita State, eliminated by Kentucky) will play for a chance to arrive at the Elite 8.
Of those teams left, there’s a handful who pundits hold out very realistic chances for when looking at the National Championship.
Overall No.1 seeded Florida continues to be the consensus.
While through the first two rounds, their modest scoring of just 64.5 points per game is hardly impressive.
Defensively, they excelled – managing to hold 16th seeded Albany to 55 points in their first round win and ninth seeded Pittsburgh, who throttled Colorado in their opener, to just 45 in the round of 32.
Without a question, the most intimidating defensive draw remaining in the bracket.
Arizona’s offense also sputtered in the opening round as they were tested to the brink by No. 16 seed, Weber State. After recovering to dismiss Gonzaga by 17 in round two, they’ll face off against 31-4 San Diego State who survived their opener against New Mexico State before getting rid of North Dakota State by 19 in their second game of the tourney.
With one of the most potent and athletic offenses in the country, they remain a solid second behind Florida in the odds to take the championship trophy home.
The top seed in the midwest is gone which leaves second seeded Michigan and fourth seeded Louisville as the powers at be, there.
Nobody seems to be convinced Kentucky is for real yet, but their two close games against Kansas State and then Wichita show their composure has been tested. I still like Rick Pitino’s Cardinals coming out of that bracket at the four seed, though Michigan, who continues to play well, could press them with a hot start from the outside in the regional finals.
The most intriguing of the match-ups in the Sweet 16 has to be Michigan State vs. Virginia.
Old School vs. New School, who likes to coach Old School.
The battle of Tom Izzo vs. Tony Bennett will be the game inside the game. Both with athletic defenses and each with offensive trump cards over the other.
No doubt, the battle inside will be won by Michigan State who’s managed to out-rebound just about everyone they’ve matched up with this season, thus far.
Virginia’s depth and ability to play disciplined in the half-court sets will help them limit State’s offensive possessions and keep the game low scoring.
Now to the match-up everyone in Wisconsin is talking about – Baylor vs. Wisconsin.
The line on the game shows UW remains a 3.5 point favorite, though just about anyone in tune with the program knows we probably are more of a 1 point, if that.
Wisconsin has a reputation of seemingly limiting their opponents to whatever they give them. This team, however, is not a traditional Wisconsin defense. That is what scares Badgers fans most.
In order for Bo Ryan’s team to move into the Elite 8, there are couple things it needs to do and do well.
First, they need to not turn the ball over. History shows that giving your opponent extra offensive possessions when you yourself couldn’t execute, is not good. Keep turnovers to under 8 and things will be close.
Second, Wisconsin needs Frank Kaminsky on the floor, not the bench. The five-spot is probably their least deep position, and if Evan Anderson is relegated to duty, it’s not good for Wisconsin.
Third, UW needs to shoot a high percentage from behind the three-point arc and has to get open looks to do so. We arent gifted enough physically on the wings to simply rise up and shoot over defenders. And facing one of the longest defenses in the tourney, it won’t make things easier.
Lastly, we need to score from the free throw line. Getting to the line does a number of things. It keeps their offense out of sink and keeps ours scoring. A point here and a point there will add up, sooner than later. If Bucky can continue its fad of making more free throws than Baylor attempts, it plays in our favor.