2014 Bracket Challenge Second Chance
So, which team busted your bracket? Was it Dayton, North Dakota State or Mercer’s upset win over Duke? While most of the country’s brackets head to the shredder, FOX Sports wants to give you another shot to showcase your college basetball expertise.
The FOX Sports Bracket Challenge Second Chance is your shot at redemption. All you have to do is get a group together and make your picks before the Sweet 16 contests start on Thursday, March 28, 2013. Picks cannot be changed.
Whatifsports.com’s 2014 NCAA Tournament Predictions have been updated with the revised field, as our simulation engine "played" the remainder of the tournament 1,001 times to determine the new favorites to advance. If the engine’s insights aren’t enough, we offer a preview of the Sweet 16 below.
As boring as it felt penciling Florida in as your Final Four representative from the South Region, those odds are looking pretty good. However, the No. 4-seed UCLA Bruins won both tournament games by 17 points and are now riding a five-game winning streak. Among that stretch lay victims Stanford and Arizona from the Pac-12 tourney. The only common opponent between the Gators’ and Bruins’ schedule is Alabama. Florida was victorious twice against the Crimson Tide (68-62 and 78-69) and UCLA won by eight points back in late-December (75-67). UCLA averages 10 more points-per-game than Florida and also posts higher averages in rebounds, assists and field goal percentage per game. Then again, the Bruins did lose to a 10-win Washington State squad by 18 points a few weeks ago.
As for the mess on the bottom portion of the region, Dayton eked out wins over the Buckeyes and Syracuse and now face a fellow underdog in Stanford. The Cardinal also won two close games in the March Madness bracket. In the second round, Stanford defeated New Mexico and then won a nail-biter against the Joel Embiid-less Jayhawks. In the Sweet 16, this game has all the makings of a buzzer-beater classic. Either way, there will be a double-digit seed in the Elite Eight with its eyes on Arlington (Dallas), Texas.
The Connecticut Huskies aren’t gaining much of a following in Philadelphia. After downing St. Joseph’s in a second-round overtime win, the Huskies knocked another Philly school, the Villanova Wildcats, out of the Dance. With the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds advancing to the Sweet 16 in the East Region, the No. 7 Huskies appear to be the odd man out. However, their next opponent, Iowa State, is suddenly vulnerable due to an injury to sophomore forward Georges Niang. In the Cyclones’ second-round win over North Carolina Central, Niang posted 24 points, six rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes before suffering a broken bone in his right foot. Similar misfortune struck Iowa State’s third-round opponent, as North Carolina forward and double-digit scorer Brice Johnson was limited to just two minutes against the Cyclones due to a sprained ankle. The injury negated the Tar Heels’ advantage down low in Iowa State’s 85-83 victory.
Despite Niang’s injury, the Huskies don’t necessarily spell the end for Iowa State, as UConn may not possess the size to exploit his absence. In fact, 6’4" Cyclones point guard DeAndre Kane may tilt the height advantage in favor of Iowa State, as he’ll match up against diminutive UConn guards Ryan Boatright (6’0", 168 lbs.) and Shabazz Napier (6’1", 180 lbs.).
No. 1 seed Virginia’s 2013-14 campaign has been built on defense, and that’s continued into the postseason. The Cavaliers held Coastal Carolina and Memphis to 59 and 60 points, respectively. Now the stakes are raised though, as Michigan State awaits in the Sweet 16. Virginia has played just one game against a Big Ten team this season, resulting in a 48-38 loss to Wisconsin in Charlottesville. (Yes, that is a basketball score.) While the Virginia D will no doubt show up, the Cavaliers will need some competence on offense to stay with the higher-scoring Spartans.
Michigan State leaned on Adreian Payne’s career-high 41 points in its win over Delaware, and then enjoyed a 26-point performance from Branden Dawson two nights later against Harvard. Virginia no doubt has the horses to slow Michigan State, but the Spartans may have too much talent to be stopped.
The West Region left a chalky aftertaste with the exception of the nation’s most notable father-son tandem bowing out. The Creighton Bluejays exited stage right with understudy Baylor beating them down by 30 to star in the Sweet 16. Doug McDermott and the hot-shooting Bluejays weren’t able to crack Baylor’s zone and superior size.
Next up for Baylor is Wisconsin. Though the Badgers have the better seed, it’s anyone’s game to win. Wisconsin has suffered through slow starts in its first two tournament games, trailing 17-10 midway through the first half against American and down 12 at halftime against Oregon. A similar start against Baylor may prove insurmountable.
No. 1 seed Arizona looked the part in a dismantling of Gonzaga that should have renewed any wavering faith in the Wildcats following their shaky win over Weber State. Super frosh Aaron Gordon is averaging 17 points on 71.4 percent shooting in the tournament. The scoring column hasn’t been his only mark on the stat sheet though as he’s added 14 boards, nine assists, five blocks and four steals.
The Wildcats are familiar with their next opponent, having beaten San Diego State in November in the Aztecs’ home gym. Arizona’s Nick Johnson outplayed San Diego State’s Xavier Thames in the last go-around as Johnson scored 23 points on 8-15 shooting and limited Thames to 19 points on 5-16 shooting. Expect more of the same in the rematch as Arizona proves too much for the Aztecs to handle.
The first No. 1 seed has fallen. Wichita State lasted an impressive 35-straight games before its first and only loss to Kentucky. The Shockers weren’t the only team in the region to stumble earlier than expected. Coach K’s Blue Devils couldn’t even win one tournament game this year, as they were upset, yet again, by a member of the Atlantic Sun conference. Mercer won 26 games before the brackets were released, but were placed in the loaded Midwest. For the third-year-in-a-row, the Atlantic Sun provided chaos (Florida Gulf Coast in 2013, Lehigh in 2012). However, the fun ended abruptly when Tennessee dropped 83 points in a 20-point drumming of the Bears.
Louisville survived a scare against a Rick Pitino’s pupil Steve Masiello and then ousted St. Louis in the Round of 32. Now, the Cardinals face in-state rival Kentucky for the right to go to the Elite Eight. Earlier in the year, the Wildcats won 73-66 over Louisville in Rupp Arena. Kentucky’s Harrison twins scored 28 points combined in that contest. Against the Shockers, Aaron and Andrew scored 39.
The highest remaining seed in the Midwest, Michigan, did not mess around over the first weekend. The Wolverines rolled passed Wofford and Texas with little-to-no trouble. If Coach Beilein’s boys can outlast the Volunteers, it will be interesting to see if they draw the defending champs in a rematch of the 2013 NCAA Finals or they could get the 2012 NCAA champion, Kentucky. Just don’t look for the Volunteers – 17-point average margin of victory in tournament – to give the game away Friday night in Indianapolis.