The most remarkable element of the NCAA tournament is its ability to spawn the Cinderella stories that we all love. Wichita State, VCU, Butler, George Mason. That's why so many watch. We await the upsets.
But the reality is that the blue-chippers have owned this tournament for decades. And it's likely that the 2014 installment of the Big Dance will follow the same script. We might see a few upsets, but there's a short list of teams that actually have the tools to win this thing.
Here they are, listed alphabetically:
When Brandon Ashley suffered a season-ending foot injury in a loss at Cal on Feb. 1, Arizona lost a player who stretches the floor in ways that few can. The Wildcats also lost a key defender. But they're still No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy, entering the Big Dance. The reconfigured Wildcats, who demand more significant roles for Gabe York and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, are still national-title good. They're backed by a pair of veteran guards, Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell, in a tourney with a history of experienced backcourts that led their programs to the championship. Plus, Aaron Gordon is a problem for any opponent. Yes, the Wildcats can win it all.
What if we haven't seen the best Doug McDermott yet? Crazy but possible. This is the eventual Wooden Award winner's final moment at the collegiate level. In a few months, he'll be an NBA wing for a smart pro team. But right now, he's the best player in the college game. He's already achieved a variety of feats, including 3,000-plus career points. But he might not be done. On their best days, McDermott and Creighton beat Villanova, a 2-seed, by 49 points combined in two games. When the Bluejays get hot, the nets catch fire. It's not just McDermott. It's Ethan Wragge, Grant Gibbs and a bunch of glue guys who back the senior superstar like Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland backed Beyonce in Destiny's Child. Now, you won't find a team that won a national title ranked 127th in adjusted defensive efficiency (Ken Pomeroy). But you also won't find many teams that have had a better offensive performer and squad, either. Creighton has the weapons to win it all.
Veterans at every position? Yep. A coach who already has a pair of national championships? Sure. A squad that hasn't lost since Dec. 2? Check. It's easy to see why Florida is the favorite in Vegas to win the national championship. With Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and a fleet of solid contributors next to them, the Gators are clearly contenders. With their scrappy defense, they force turnovers on 22 percent of their opponents' possessions, 14th nationally, per Ken Pomeroy. But their greatest asset has been their ability to maneuver through tough stretches that they'll certainly encounter during the postseason. They don't panic. They just play through it. The last team that had their level of late-game poise was Louisville. And we all know what the Cardinals did last year.