2014 NCAA Tournament Preview

By DeMarco Williams

Jabari Parker, Duke’s sensational freshman, may not be the most athletic player in the country, but he’s certainly the best player in the land. And while many hoops fans will agree with that statement in March —it’s funny how a 20-point average in February contests can have that effect on folks— we’ve been screaming his praises since November. But for Duke to outmaneuver the 19 other teams listed in this NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament preview, the Blue Devils are going to need more than a few double-doubles from Parker; they’re going to have to have Rodney Hood, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon give folks absolute hell for the next month or so, too. Hope your favorite teams are praying for mercy.

Fearsome Four

Duke
Though we could go on and on about Parker and Hood (16 points, four assists per night), it’s the improvement in Sulaimon’s game (zero games over 30 minutes in December; five in February) that has us thinking these Devils will dance well into the night.

Syracuse

While the Orange aren’t exactly coming into March on the highest of notes (back-to-back loses to underwhelming Boston College and overpowering Duke), the last time we looked, the team still had two of the land’s most fearless scorers (C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis) and one of its best big-game coaches (Jim Boeheim).

Florida
At press time, the Gators were on a school-record 19-game win streak. Looking at the roster made of brute strength (Patric Young), savvy scoring (Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather) and freakish athleticism (Chris Walker) and you’re inclined to think they’ll keep up the winning way into early April.

Arizona
If it weren’t Syracuse at the top of the collegiate pile most of the year, it was this group of ferocious felines. Wildcat studs Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon would have received Jabari Parker-like headlines had they played on the East Coast; they’ll happily settle for beating him in the Final Four.

Sensible Sixteen

Wichita State
We like Cleanthony Early’s game as much as you do, but we can’t just ignore the fact that the Shockers haven’t exactly looked like world beaters against, umm, questionable opponents like the Loyola Ramblers and Evansville Aces.

Michigan State

Too many times this season we’ve seen this Garry Harris-led squad look tired —or worse, unenthused— to be considered a serious title threat beyond the tournament’s first weekend.

Kansas
One of the country’s highest-scoring teams (79.6 points per), the Jayhawks have the talent (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid) to reach Dallas, but we worry about their tenacity way too much.

Michigan
With wins over Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State since New Year’s Day, the Caris LaVert-anchored Wolverines are sharpening their claws at just the right time.

San Diego State
Another sleeper from the West Coast for now; but after a SportsCenter-quality showings from Xavier Thames and Co. in the early rounds, that won’t be the case very long.

Cincinnati
If Sean Kilpatrick (20.5 ppg) had more help —in a late February game vs. Louisville, Kilpatrick dazzled with 28 while no other player had over eight— these Bearcats might have some real bite.

North Carolina
We are in awe of the turnaround that James Michael McAdoo, Marcus Paige and the others have made, but we also wonder how much magic these Tar Heels have left in them.

Villanova
You won’t find a guy in the country who works harder than Ryan Arcidiacono. For these Wildcats to get past the Sweet Sixteen, though, he’s going to need the whole roster to put in some overtime hours.

Louisville
Saying that the defending champion Cardinals have repeat on their minds isn’t such a reach when you realize that sophomore sensation Montrezl Harrell has a wingspan and hops that have NBA scouts drooling over their clipboards.

Creighton
Will Doug McDermott be the next Larry Bird or Adam Morrison? Honestly, Bluejays Nation won’t care much if the prolific scorer (nine games over 30 points) can lead Creighton to the Final Four.

Virginia
We’d be mildly shocked if these overachieving Cavaliers got farther than the tourney’s first weekend. We’d be absolutely floored if Tony Bennett didn’t win ACC coach of the year in a landslide.

Kentucky
The most gifted team in the nation (four players average over 11 ppg) is also its most vexing, not knowing if it wants to be the eighth-best team in the SEC or an Elite Eight contender.

Connecticut
Though the Huskies are sparked by do-everything guard Shabazz Napier, you have to give credit to Kevin Ollie for stepping into Jim Calhoun’s massive coaching shoes and not tripping over himself.

Memphis
These Tigers have experience (scoring leader Joe Jackson is a senior) and impressive wins (Louisville and Gonzaga). All they need now are a couple of tournament foes to cower at all the team speed.

Southern Methodist
Legendary coach Larry Brown is changing the culture in Dallas, one gutsy, hard-fought, four-point win at a time. These Mustangs are one year away from cutting loose on the country.

Ohio State
If OSU can’t get a couple of folks to play with the same now-or-never mindset as senior guard Aaron Craft (eight games with over three steals since January), we don’t see the Buckeyes making it past the third round.

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