[PREVIEW]: 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

In honor of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Sports Editor Stephen Czarda and Online Sports Editor Kristi Anable sat down to discuss this year’s bracket and notables about highlight teams. Anable covered men’s basketball beat this season and Czarda joined her for the stretch-run: 

Kristi: What are your initial thoughts about this year’s bracket?

Stephen: Just as we saw through the course of this year’s action, the tournament is wide open and it’s a crapshoot as to who will be cutting down the nets. There is no 2012 University of Kentucky where the unibrowed Anthony Davis and gang were the clear-cut favorites. While Louisville has a great chance of being the first back-to-back champions since the University of Florida in the mid-2000’s, there region is just as bad as Team USA’s “group of death” in this year’s World Cup. You’ve got Wayman Tisdale Award winner Jabari Parker and Duke, the first undefeated team in the field in Wichita State since UNLV and a Michigan squad they faced in the championship game last season. Conversely, I think the East, led by No. 1 seed Virginia, is the easiest region of the four.

Kristi: Which Atlantic 10 team do you see making the deepest run in the tournament? Which will have the toughest time?

Stephen: It’s tough not to say VCU at this point of the year. I realize that Stephen F. Austin is a sexy upset pick at the moment and riding a ridiculous 28-game winning streak, but between the HAVOC defense and a ridiculous rebounds per game difference, I think the Lumberjacks will simply be overwhelmed my Mason’s Commonwealth counterpart. Now for the team at will struggle—St. Joseph’s. Did they just win the A-10? Yes. Are they 12-4 in their last 16 games? Yes. Will they beat Connecticut like Mason in 2006? Absolutely not. Maybe there was an old Big East supporter in the selection committee this year, because the American Athletic Conference got gypped in seeding and appearance (SMU). Connecticut is easily the best seven seed in this year’s field. Five of the Huskies’ seven conference losses came against Louisville and SMU. They were 12-2 against the rest of their AAC foes. The same AAC that had as many as five teams ranked a few weeks back. Have I mentioned Shabazz Napier yet?

Kristi: Some say this is the weakest foursome of No. 1 seeds in quite some time. How will each fare?

Stephen: Is it just me or is Florida the most underrated No. 1 overall seed ever? Seriously, how many people know that the Gators were the first team to go undefeated in conference play in one of the big conferences since 1976? Their biggest test in the South will come next weekend against either VCU or the Pac 12 champion UCLA Bruins, because I don’t see Kansas making it very far this season. Bill Self is due for another tournament letdown.  Arizona is such a tricky team to predict right now. While they did win 21 games in a row to start the season, they faded somewhat down the stretch. I’d love to see a matchup between Zona’s Aaron Gordon and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. Undefeated Wichita State is in the prove-me spot entering action. If you go off top seeds advancing, the Shockers could faceoff with Kentucky, Louisville, Duke and Michigan. Thanks for the regular season memories, because there will be no place like Kansas for the Shockers.  As mentioned, Virginia’s region may very well be the easiest and the Cavaliers, who boast a senior-laden squad, feature the nation’s top defense. How does the rest of the 15 teams in the East stack up offensively? Outside of Iowa State (82.9 points per game, sixth best offensive efficiency in the land according to KenPom.com), none are very strong on offense. In fact, seven of them rank outside the top-100 in scoring.

Kristi: Ever since George Mason’s magical run in 2006, it seems there’s always a March darling making a surprisingly deep run through the field. Who do you think will be that time this year?

Stephen: I’m going to throw a school out there that almost no one is talking about: Western Michigan. The No. 14 in the South, the Broncos face a Syracuse squad that has been on a stark decline since ranking No. 1 in the nation for awhile. While Western Michigan did not give the best showing at the Patriot Center last season, they have the MAC’s top scorer in David Brown (19.4 PPG) and Shayne Whittington (6-11, 245 pounds)  could give the Orange bigs fits. He has recorded at least 12 rebounds in 15 games this season.

Check out our brackets: