As we head down the home stretch of the NCAA men’s basketball season and into late February, the wonders of March Madness awaits! Who will be the Cinderella team that stuns the world in the NCAA tournament with a deep run? Which strong teams right now will stutter down the stretch and fail to make an impact on this season? And most importantly, who will rise against all the odds and take the NCAA basketball national championship in 2014? Let’s discuss this last question right now with the 5 favorites at this point of the season:
Syracuse Orangemen – Ranked at the top of the polls for quite some time, the Orange is the only undefeated team from a major conference. It seems they were well prepared for their first foray into the ACC! They’ve handled everyone and always come out on top, including heavyweight teams Duke and North Carolina. While they have 4 very capable scoring threats including Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair, creating for a very balanced attack, their defense is among the nation’s best. Until they lose, they will be ranked number 1 and be the favorites heading into March. I like their chances!
Florida Gators – Although they have lost twice already this season, they have yet to lose in 2014, and both losses were closely contested against nationally ranked teams: Connecticut and Wisconsin. They also have a balanced attack led by Casey Prather and a strong defense highlighted by Patric Young. They have been beaten, but they have been dominating the SEC (including Kentucky) and are looking quite capable of going all the way!
Wichita State – Another undefeated program, this team feels unbeatable and are now ranked 3rd in the nation. While they’ve beaten a couple of SEC teams in Alabama and Tennessee, their schedule has been extremely soft. However, one must praise the fact that they are undefeated, no matter who they have or haven’t played. 27-0 is a massive accomplishment and guys like Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker can ball! But what happens when they play a major contender late in the tournament or even just another ranked team? I think they will be stopped at some point fairly early in the NCAA tournament.
Arizona Wildcats – One of the season’s early bloomers, Arizona was set to be the dominant team in the nation, led by Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon, and Brandon Ashley. Defensively, they are also a very stout team. However, after beginning the season with 21 straight wins they have now gone 2-2, and have lost to California and Arizona State, neither of which is ranked. While every team experiences some misfortune during a season, these losses have been embarrassing and suggest Arizona isn’t ready to win a championship. However, if they can right the ship and get going again, the Wildcats surely are a contender!
Duke Blue Devils – Though they have 5 losses on the season, the Blue Devils are always a force in the NCAA tournament. It is also worth mentioning that several of their losses have come at the hands of fellow contenders Arizona, Kansas, and Syracuse. Behind the soon-to-be-NBA star Jabari Parker, the team’s hopes rest on him and his team’s ability to hit 3-pointers. While such potent scoring can give the team a major lift, what will happen when those long shots don’t fall? While I do not foresee this Duke team winning the title, Parker is the type of player that can take over the tournament and lead his team to glory all by himself.
So who of these 5 contenders do I predict will win the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament? Until they are beaten, I have to go with Syracuse! Let’s go Orange!
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