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Eight teams that can win it all in 2014

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1. Florida Gators: Since February, Florida has largely been considered to be the best team in the country, and it showed on Selection Sunday when the committee awarded the Gators the No. 1 overall seed, playing in the South Region. They haven’t lost since Thanksgiving, they stormed through the SEC regular season and won the SEC tournament despite having absolutely nothing to play for. They can play about 17 different defenses at an elite level, and while they don’t have an NBA caliber superstar offensively, there is no weakness in their array of weaponry on that end and Scottie Wilbekin has done wonders to become the closer they need. They’re matchup proof and still got a friendly draw.

2. Michigan State Spartans: We’ve been saying it all season: if Sparty gets healthy, they’re a favorite to win the national title. It took a lot longer than expected, but Michigan State worked over a pair of No. 2 seeds in Wisconsin and Michigan en route to the Big Ten tournament title. I think they’re healthy, and as the No. 4 seed in the East Region that features Virginia and Villanova as the No. 1 and No. 2, that’s a scary thought.

MORE: Did Virginia deserve to get the fourth No. 1 seed?

3. Louisville Cardinals: The biggest argument that everyone seems to have with the bracket that was released was where Louisville was seeded. And while it’s true that there probably aren’t five teams in the country that are better than the Cardinals at this point, before whining about getting a No. 4 seed in the Midwest, remember this: If chalk holds, they only need to beat Manhattan, Saint Louis and Wichita State to get to the Elite 8.

4. Arizona Wildcats: As weird as it sounds, the biggest obstacle between Arizona, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, and the Final Four is a potential Round of 32 matchup with No. 9 seed Oklahoma State. Get past that, and the top four seeds in the region are Wisconsin, Creighton and San Diego State, and that’s before you consider the fact that the Wildcats have been streaking over the course of the past four weeks.

5. Kansas Jayhawks: Clearly, this is all going to depend on whether or not the Jayhawks can get Joel Embiid back by the Sweet 16. That may end up being a moot point, as Kansas, the No. 2 seed in the South, could end up playing New Mexico in the Round of 32. That wouldn’t be a favorable matchup, but the bottom line is that when they’re at 100%, Kansas is arguably the most talented team in the country. They’re the best team that isn’t a favorite.

MORE: TV schedule and announcer pairings for the first weekend

6. Iowa State Cyclones: I love this Iowa State team, and I think they ended up getting a beneficial bracket as the No. 3 seed in the East. They matchup well with both No. 6 North Carolina and No. 11 Providence, they should be favored in any potential Sweet 16 matchup, including No. 2 Villanova. The problem? I’m not sure that they can get past a potential matchup with Michigan State in the Elite 8.

7. Michigan Wolverines: I love Nik Stauskas. I love Caris LeVert. I think Derrick Walton and Glenn Robinson III are playing well of late, and I’m intrigued by the idea that Mitch McGary could end up back with the team at some point. They can put up points with anyone in the country. But can they get enough stops? The good news is that the No. 2 seed in the Midwest could end up unchallenged until the Elite 8.

8. Wichita State Shockers: The committee just didn’t feel like doing Wichita State any favors. The No. 1 seed in the Midwest, they’ll have to face either Kentucky or Kansas State in St. Louis in the Round of 32. Make it out of that meat-grinder and they could end up getting rewarded with a game against Louisville in the Sweet 16. This is a very good basketball team that unfortunately got what pretty much amounts to a worst-case scenario with their draw.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.