It's easy to pick the No. 1 overall seed to win the national championship, especially when that seed hasn't lost since December, ran the table in conference play and just capped a league tournament run with a thrilling win.
The Florida Gators won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007 and it looks like they will add another banner to the rafters in the O'Connell Center.
Earlier in the year when Florida was battling injuries and suspensions, some thought that the Gators would struggle. They persevered, won and even more frighteningly, got healthy. They lost on Dec. 2 at UConn on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater and haven't fallen since. They've beaten Kansas and Memphis. They beat Kentucky three times. They swept Tennessee.
The Gators won't blow you away in any one particular area. Instead, they are very good in every aspect of the game. Their scoring is spread out. They play very good defense. They know how to close out tight games. They're coached by a guy who has been to three Final Fours and won two of them.
Though the road won't be easy, it will be the Gators hoisting the trophy on a Monday night in Dallas.
The first potential roadblock for Florida on its way to the Final Four could come in the Sweet 16 with a potential matchup against VCU. The Rams lost on Sunday in a hard-fought Atlantic 10 title game, but their havoc defense is enough to give anyone fits.
Of course, that's assuming VCU gets by UCLA. The Bruins just knocked off No. 1 seed Arizona in the Pac-12 title game and have proven they can beat just about anyone in the country.
The bottom half of the South Region is where things can get a little weird. Syracuse and Ohio State both struggled down the stretch, but Syracuse has looked downright awful at times. I have Ohio State moving to the Sweet 16, but no matter which team it is, the ride will end there. No, not because Kansas is on a collision course with Florida for an Elite Eight matchup (though that would be fun), but because Cameron Bairstow is about to become a household name, lighting up the Jayhawks in the third round en route to the tournament's second weekend.
The Lobos' Cinderella rampage will clear the way for the Gators to come out of the South.
Virginia and Villanova are both very good teams who had great arguments to be a No. 1 seed. But neither team will advance to Dallas, because Michigan State is an experienced team coming off two huge wins in the Big Ten Tournament. Tom Izzo has never had a four-year class that did not reach the Final Four, and Keith Appling and Adreian Payne's group will not be the first. They're starting to gain confidence after a rough stretch to end the year, and Izzo knows how to close out big games.
Iowa State could pose the biggest challenge to Michigan State. The third-seeded Cyclones, led by Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, are one of the best scoring teams in the nation. They put up 83 points per game, lead the nation in assists and are fresh off a conference title of their own. They have the firepower to outlast Ryan Arcidiacono, James Bell and Villanova, and might even be able to disrupt the Spartans' path to Dallas.
The toughest game for Arizona on its road to the Final Four might come in the third round against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys' season has been well-documented: high expectations, puzzling disappointment, a Marcus Smart suspension and a sudden turnaround. All that has resulted in Oklahoma State getting a seed not indicative of its talent. Ultimately though, the Wildcats might have too much for the Cowboys to handle. They may not have an answer for Aaron Gordon inside. Gordon leads the team in rebounding and has helped pick up the scoring slack since Brandon Ashley went down with a season-ending injury.
The West is also home to my 2014 Cinderella story. North Dakota State leads the nation in field goal percentage and has proven it can keep up with the big-name schools. Oklahoma lost its first conference tournament game, which usually isn't a good omen going into the NCAA Tournament. Plus, you know, the whole 5-12 thing.
On the lower half, I'm banking on Doug McDermott doing more of what he did this week in the Big East Tournament and powering the Bluejays into the Elite Eight. When Creighton is playing well, it can beat absolutely anyone. That title game loss to Providence says more about the Friars than it does the Bluejays. McDermott is the best player in the nation and is surrounded by underrated talent in Ethan Wragge, Austin Chatman and Grant Gibbs.
I've been saying all year that Wichita State is a legit team that can make a run at the Final Four. Unfortunately, I can't back that up by picking it to advance to Dallas. This has nothing to do with the Shockers; rather it has everything to do with No. 4 seed Louisville. The vastly underseeded Cardinals are playing as well as anyone in the country. They blew out their first two opponents in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, then beat UConn in a final that wasn't as close as the 10-point margin indicated. Montrezl Harrell is the most improved big man in the country from a year ago, making up for the loss of Gorgui Dieng from last year's championship team. Meanwhile, Russ Smith has lived up to his Russdiculous name. He dropped 42 on Houston in the second round of the conference tournament.
A potential matchup between Duke and UMass could be a fun third-round game in the bottom portion of the bracket. Quinn Cook and Chaz Williams will likely each put on a show, but the Minutemen do not have an answer for Jabari Parker.
Once Michigan takes care of the Blue Devils, the Wolverines will have a chance at revenge in the Elite Eight against the same Cardinals team that beat them for the championship last year. It's a game that the Big Ten champs can win, but even Nik Stauskas can't shoot the lights out on the Cardinals' Final Four run.