Mark Story: Michigan State will beat Wichita State to win it all

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 16, 2014 

Breaking down the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket:

FINAL FOUR

Florida. I worry that Billy Donovan's gutty Gators lack the offensive explosiveness to make the Final Four — but I couldn't find anyone else in the South Region I liked better.

Michigan State. Tom Izzo's Spartans are finally healthy and looking to take the veteran coach back to the Final Four for the seventh time — but first since 2010.

Creighton. According to statistics guru Ken Pomeroy's ratings, the Bluejays and Doug McDermott are the best offensive team in the country — I'm guessing that can overcome their 126th-ranked defense.

Wichita State. I believe the unbeaten Shockers are for real, and the NCAA Tournament selection committee has set up a potential gauntlet of Kentucky, Louisville and Duke/Michigan that Wichita State will have to surmount to get to the Final Four to allow WSU to prove it.

CHAMPION

Michigan State over Wichita State. Tom Izzo will burnish his Hall of Fame credentials by winning a second NCAA title to go with MSU's 2000 national championship.

UPSET SPECIALS

No. 11 Dayton will win what will be an intrastate holy war for the Flyers over No. 6 Ohio State in the South.

No. 12 Harvard will win in the Big Dance for the second straight season by upsetting offensively challenged No. 5 Cincinnati in the East.

No. 12 Xavier will win a First Four game with North Carolina State, then beat No. 5 Saint Louis in the Midwest.

CINDERELLAS

No. 12 Stephen F. Austin will bounce Shaka Smart and No. 5 VCU in the South Region round of 64, then stun NCAA Tournament-challenged Steve Alford (one career trip to the round of 16) and No. 4 UCLA in the South to advance to the round of 16.

No. 9 Oklahoma State will give Travis Ford his second career NCAA Tournament victory by beating No. 8 Gonzaga, then Marcus Smart will lead the Cowboys to an upset of top-seeded Arizona in the round of 32.

KENTUCKY TEAMS

No. 8 Kentucky will beat No. 9 Kansas State, then fall to undefeated and No. 1 seed Wichita State in the Midwest Region round of 32.

No. 4 Louisville will beat No. 13 Manhattan (and ex-Rick Pitino player and assistant coach Steve Masiello) in the round of 64, then defeat No. 12 Xavier before falling to Wichita State in the Midwest Region round of 16.

No. 15 Eastern Kentucky will give No. 2 seed Kansas a scrap, but will ultimately fall victim to the Jayhawks' front-court size (even if the injured Joel Embiid is unable to play).

BRACKET BREAKDOWN

■ The Midwest Region features undefeated Wichita State, three of last season's Final Four in Louisville, Michigan and Wichita State, pre-season AP No. 1 Kentucky and the only active men's coach, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, with four NCAA titles on his résumé. It is far and away the toughest region.

■ The first-round matchup between No. 4 UCLA and No. 13 Tulsa in the South might be more interesting if the coaches, Steve Alford and Tulsa's Danny Manning, played one-on-one instead.

■ For EKU fans looking for reasons to hope against Kansas, two nuggets: 1.) In the past two NCAA tourneys, No. 15 seeds have three victories over No. 2s; 2.) last year, a Bluegrass State school, No. 16-seed Western Kentucky, gave then-top seeded KU a scare before falling 64-57.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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