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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.

Wichita State’s 0-3 week makes chances for at-large bid small

Fred VanVleet
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We’ve reached the nightmare scenario for Wichita State.

Having entered the season as the overwhelming favorite in the Missouri Valley, a top 15 team and a legitimate threat to reach a Final Four, after two weeks, the Shockers are in serious danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament altogether.

That’s not hyperbole, either.

Wichita State fell to 2-4 on the year after getting mollywhopped by Iowa in the 7th-place game of the Advocare Invitational. They ended up in the 7th-place game because they lost to USC and Alabama in the opening two rounds. The Hawkeyes look like the might be able to eke out an at-large berth if things fall the right way for them, but USC and Alabama are projected to finish at or near the bottom of their respective conferences. Even Iowa would do well to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.

Individually, none of those three losses are particularly terrible, and that’s before you factor in that all-american point guard Fred VanVleet sat out the trip to Orlando with a bad hamstring. They were also without back up point guard Landry Shamet in the tournament and it’s unknown when they’ll actually get Anton Grady back to full stretch. That matters to the NCAA tournament selection committee. They’ll factor it in when they determine where the Shockers will be seeded, or if they will even get an invite.

But throw in the loss at Tulsa from the first week of the season, and the Shockers are now 2-4 on the season.

And unlike the rest of the preseason top 25 — unlike the rest of the nation’s high-major programs — Wichita State won’t have a chance to load up on quality wins during league play. The Valley is better than we probably realized (more on that in a second), but it’s not like there are going to be a myriad of top 50 wins for the taking.

Look at Georgetown, for example. They Hoyas went 1-3 in the first week of the season, a stretch that included a home loss to Radford. But they also play in a conference where they’ll get home-and-homes against the likes of Villanova, Butler and Xavier.

The Shockers need to do their damage during the non-conference. They need to get the bulk of their resume put together before Valley play starts. Assuming they do win the rest of their non-league games, we’re not exactly looking at a daunting profile, either. The Shockers still have to visit Saint Louis and Seton Hall and host UNLV, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico State. UNLV and Utah should look like quality wins on Selection Sunday, but the rest of them?

Wichita State is putting themselves in a position where they may end up needing to win the Missouri Valley tournament just to get into the Big Dance, and the problem is that the Valley looks like it is really going to be tough this season. Northern Iowa notched a win over North Carolina already this year. Illinois State gave Maryland a fight and entered the season as a favorite to upset the Shockers. Evansville has two of the league’s five best players in D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius.

They’re not waltzing through that conference by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s not exactly what VanVleet and Ron Baker had in mind when they decided to return to Wichita for one final season.

Carter leads No. 2 Maryland past Cleveland State, 80-63

Melo Trimble
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) Robert Carter had 17 points and eight rebounds to help No. 2 Maryland beat Cleveland State 80-63 on Saturday night.

Jared Nickens added 16 points, and freshman Diamond Stone had a season-high 15 points for Maryland (6-0), set for a showdown with No. 9 North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

Demonte Flannigan scored 11 of his 20 points in the first half, and Rob Edwards added 14 points for Cleveland State (2-4), which was 3 of 12 (25 percent) from 3-point range. Vinny Zollo went 5 of 7 from the field and had 11 points for the Vikings.

Maryland led by just four at the break and took control by increasing the pressure to open the second half. A dunk by Stone capped an 8-0 run and the Terrapins led 45-33 with 17:06 left.

From there, the Terps used their size and depth to wear down the Vikings, who could not get closer than nine points the rest of the way. Nickens and Jake Layman hit 3-pointers and Maryland opened a 64-49 lead with 7:43 remaining.

The 6-foot-7 Flannagan picked up his fourth foul with just under 10 minutes left, hampering the Vikings at both ends of the court. A putback by Nickens and a pair of free throws boosted Terrapins’ margin to 70-53 with 5:18 left and they were never threatened the rest of the way.

Maryland was 15 of 18 from the free-throw line and had a 27-22 rebounding edge.

Maryland could not shake Cleveland State in the opening half and a jumper by Kenny Carpenter gave the Vikings their first lead, 25-24, with 8:03 left. Nickens responded with three straight 3-pointers that helped the Terps take a 37-33 lead at halftime

Maryland shot 14 of 23 (60.9 percent) in the opening half.


Cleveland State: The Vikings also lost their only other matchup against the Terrapins, 95-84, on Dec. 5 1984. … Maryland was Cleveland State highest-ranked opponent since Nov. 26, 1999, when it lost to No. 1 Cincinnati, 90-56.

Maryland: The Terrapins won their 29th consecutive game at home against an unranked team. … Maryland extended its winning streak in November to 16 games, having not lost since Nov. 17, 2013, against Oregon State (90-83).


Cleveland State is at Toledo on Wednesday night.

Maryland plays at No. 9 North Carolina on Tuesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.