A narrative has emerged regarding the 2014 NCAA tournament: Michigan State is the favorite. Despite being a No. 4 seed, the Big Ten champs are the trendy pick for the national title, and the MSU buzz has suddenly left a host of quality teams lying in the weeds.
The Spartans would likely have to topple No. 1 Virginia in the Sweet 16, but they will make it past that round. I have Michigan State in the final eight along with No. 1 seeds Florida and Arizona, but here are the other five teams who will win their first three games of the tournament.
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The Best Teams Are Overlooked in the Midwest
In a bracket with Duke and the low-seeded Louisville Cardinals, a one-two matchup is somewhat surprising. The LVH Superbook has Louisville as a 5-4 favorite to win the region and the Blue Devils at 3-1, via Case Keefer of the Las Vegas Sun.
No. 1 Wichita State (sorry, Louisville) and No. 2 Michigan (sorry, Coach K) will make the Elite Eight from the Midwest despite their 4-1 odds. Both the Shockers and Wolverines are stout teams that proved their quality during the season, and it would be foolish to count them out just because Barack Obama picked Louisville.
The top of this region is a gauntlet, to be sure, but Michigan in the Elite Eight is like the sun rising: You just expect it. Wichita State has not lost a single game all season.
No. 3 Creighton
I have three words for you regarding Creighton. Well, actually two hyphenated words and one regular word: three-point shooting. Led by Doug McDermott, the Bluejays had the best shooting percentage from downtown during the season at a staggering 42 percent. Grant Gibbs and Ethan Wragge contributed to the sterling percentage as well.
McDermott lit things up at the Big East conference tourney and took Big East Player of the Year honors. He spoke about being locked in after dropping 35 points in a win over DePaul, per Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News: “It’s one of those feelings where you feel like you have all the energy and confidence in the world. It’s a feeling that is the best.”
I have Oregon beating Wisconsin in the round of 32, so the Jays down the Ducks to reach the Elite Eight.
No. 3 Iowa State
As with Creighton, I do not have this three having to play the No. 2 in the Sweet 16. The Cyclones will emerge from the bottom of the East Region by beating Connecticut and will face Michigan State in the Elite Eight.
Iowa State ranks first in the nation in assists and sixth in points per game. Led by the formidable averages of Melvin Ejim, 18.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, the Cyclones rebound well for a small team. They can outscore any team in the nation, but they will need their best defensive effort to get by Michigan State.
Iowa State bookended the season with wins over Michigan in November and against Kansas in the conference tournament. After capturing their first Big 12 tournament title since 2000, the Cyclones bring a sweeping momentum behind them.
No. 6 Ohio State
New Mexico has gotten some sleeper buzz as a seven, but don’t forget about the Buckeyes in the South Region. They are stocked with defensive dynamos and can trouble teams that like to run and shoot by clogging things up.
OSU allows just 59.8 points per game, good for 12th in the country. They knocked off a list of top teams including Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and, most recently, Michigan State on March 9. With LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith and Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes have more than enough scoring to get by with their defense.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, Florida potentially awaits in the Elite Eight.