March 19, 2014

Express-Star Sports' bracket predictions

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


It seems in an age where information about the 68 teams competing in this year's NCAA basketball tournament couldn't be any easier to obtain, the process of dissecting it and choosing a winner couldn't be any more difficult.

Perhaps it is this influx of information that causes some of the best minds in the game and top odds makers to over think their predictions. LVH Superbook, the Vegas-based odds makers, gives at least a three percent chance no fewer than eight teams in the South Region alone to win the tournament.

Despite this, we all press on with our fortune-telling abilities.

The Locals:

Oklahoma State- Third Round loss to Arizona

The Cowboys will come up against a Gonzaga team they haven't beat in five attempts, but the sixth will be lucky. This is not the same Bulldogs team that beat them last year, and I think OSU will be a team out to prove something in this tournament after a somewhat disappointing regular season.

But there's only so much you can prove against a top seed. That regular season landed the Cowboys an unfortunate ninth seed, which means a loss to tournament favorites is in the cards when March 23 rolls around.

Oklahoma- Sweet 16 loss to Arizona

This is where Lon Kruger's work will be judged the most. The Sooners' head coach has been to the big dance 15 times previous to his appointment in Norman, and that experience will show in the opening rounds.

OU will have an easy time dispatching of North Dakota State, and I think a surprisingly comfortable win over fourth seed San Diego State, whose strength of schedule brings their ranking into question. And while they may be enemies on any other sports outing, here the Sooners and Cowboys will find a common enemy: top-seed Arizona.



Arizona State over Texas, First round

Yes, the Longhorns have battled their way into a solid position in a pretty stacked Big 12 and squeezed out some Top 25 rankings throughout this season. But I see Texas' youth and inexperience showing in the first round when faced with a stronger Sun Devil's team than their tenth seed suggests. This should not discourage Texas fans heavily, but if any of the top 10 seeds has to fall early, it'll be UT. 

Tennesee over UMass, First round

Despite having to play their way in, I think the Vols are a little underrated. This is a team that beat Virginia in December, lost by eight to Kentucky, and has been through three meetings with Florida (all losses, though.) Jordan McRae is a phenomenal player who I think will make this team better. A meeting with Duke beckons.

More importantly I think Massachusetts is over rated. They lost to George Washington in the Atlantic 10 tournament, and Florida State, Saint Joseph's, and Dayton in the regular season. I know East Coast basketball is great and all, but not that great. 

Kentucky over Wichita State, Second Round; and later Louisville, Sweet 16

Yes I know they're undefeated and yes I know they stormed to the Final Four last year with everyone in America cheering for their new little guy. But, this season won't be so smooth. That terrible strength of schedule has to come back to bite them sometime, and it'll come against Kentucky in the second round.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, played Florida well in the SEC title game, up until the end. They are young, passionate, excited and ready to maintain Kentucky's good name at this level. It's all the makings of an underrated team ready to pounce.

I also have Kentucky edging Louisville in the Sweet 16, where Rick Pitino's overconfidence will result in a loss to his former employer in rather dramatic fashion.

Iowa State over Villanova, Sweet 16

It's been a strange season for the Cyclones, but it's all about to pay off. A schedule that includes wins over Iowa, Baylor (twice), Oklahoma, Oklahoma State (twice), Texas, and Michigan has handed them a three seed. Villanova, meanwhile, faced an early exit from the Big East tournament against Seton Hall. That will have hurt their psyche. They'll get some swagger back after beating UConn, but haunting memories will resurface when they fall early to a Big 12-champion Iowa State.

Duke over Michigan, Sweet 16

Both lost in their respective conference finals, so redemption is on the line for these teams in the national tournament. The Wolverines have a 10-point loss to Duke on Dec. 3 hanging over them, along with a B1G Conference final loss to Michigan State. 

The Blue Devils are a slightly better three-point shooting team and just manage to outbound Michigan. In the tournament, such slight margins become crevices.


Final Four and Champion:

When the dust settles, Florida-Virginia and Arizona-Duke will be the mouthwatering match-ups left for us to savor. It's so difficult for me to choose between the Gators and the Cavs, two teams that have shown prowess under pressure and defend solidly. With an ace point guard in Scottie Wilbekin leading the way, Florida prevails, but only just.

The Arizona win over Duke will be much more straightforward. At this stage the Blue Devils' reliance on Jabari Parker will be exposed as the Wildcats head to their first final since 2001.

At this stage you'd do just as well to flip a coin in deciding the winner. Two number one seeds, two favorites with solid tournament history; it really is a toss up. The Gators have been on a late tear while Arizona has maintained a fine season with just a few blips. Arizona averages more rebounds per game, more assists per game, and slightly less turnovers per game. The Wildcats will avenge a Pac-12 final loss to UCLA with a national title.