The 2014 NCAA Men's Division-1 Basketball Tournament proper begins on Thursday, with 68 teams divided in to four regions, culminating in a knock-out competition with the final taking place on April 7. This outstanding college tournament is unofficially known as 'March Madness', and we've asked Nick Shiambouros to preview the leading contenders...
"The Gators are deserving favorites to win the competition. The overall number one seeds are led by Scottie Wilbekin, who is the best point guard in the country, in my opinion."
The Gators are deserving favourites to win the competition. The overall number one seeds are led by Scottie Wilbekin, who is the best point guard in the country, in my opinion. This team can do it all, but their main strength is defense. They have the ability to shut down most teams with their athleticism and energy. They are not very good at the free throw line, which is a slight concern. They are the team to beat.
The Wildcats are the number one seeds in the West Region, but it won't be easy with Wisconsin and Oklahoma in the same draw. They do have two outstanding players in Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, who have the ability to take over a game. Price on offer is a little thin.
Legendary coach Rick Petino has done a remarkable job with the Cardinals. The defending champions come in to this tournament in great form after some ups and downs this season. Point guard Russ Smith is the most effective player in the rotation. Louisville is in the Midwest Region, which has been dubbed the "Group of Death." This region includes Kentucky, Michigan and Wichita State. This team is capable but not for me at the price.
Michigan State 10.09/1
Veteran coach Tom Izzo has the Spartans peaking at the right time. They won the Big Ten tournament by thrashing rival Michigan 69-55 on Sunday. My main concern with this team is their inability to score from the perimeter. They are prone to long scoring droughts, which is troubling. They are priced appropriately.
The Wolverines won the Big Ten regular season and earned a number two seed in the East as a result. Coach John Beilein has done a super job with this team, which shot a very respectable 48 percent from the field this season. They also knocked down 76.3 percent of their free throws. This is a very well-run team. Realistically priced.
Wichita State 10.09/1
The Shockers enter the tournament as the only unbeaten team. They lost last year to eventual national champion Louisville in the Final Four. They may not have beaten much during the regular season, but I think they will make some noise in the competition. Not without a chance.
The Jayhawks come in to the tournament in poor form and plagued with injuries, notably Joel Embiid, who could miss the competition. Embiid is an imposing center with a bright future ahead of him, and he will be sorely missed. Not for me at the price.
The Cavaliers earned the number one seed in the East Region with a blend of unselfish play and outstanding defense. Look out for senior guard Joe Harris, who had a fantastic regular season. Price on offer is more than fair.
The Blue Devils will be making their 29th appearance in 30 years under coach Mike Krzyzewski. This is a remarkable record, but I think this team is vulnerable. They did not impress me in the ACC tournament finals, losing 72-63 to Virginia. Not for me at any price.
This is a solid team that has been relatively free of injury all year. The Badgers' starting five have been together all year and are well coached by Bo Ryan. Bench player Nigel Hayes has been invaluable for Wisconsin and averaged 8 points per game during the regular season. Lively outsiders.
The Bluejays, led by senior forward Doug McDermott, come into the competition with a record of 26-7. McDermott averaged an impressive 26.9 points per game during the regular season. They are talented but have a difficult draw. Hard to fancy.
The Orange come in to the competition in poor form, losing five of their past seven games. This is not ideal preparation for a team that has struggled offensively during the latter half of the season. Not for me.
Nick McMahon, James Bell and Tony Chennault comprise the backbone of this team. The Wildcats made the Final Four five years ago, and I think this team has a real chance of going deep in the competition. Very fair price.
The Wildcats have struggled to score points inside the paint all season. To make matters worse, they are only shooting 67.8% at the line. They are scheduled to meet Wichita State in the second round. Pass.
North Carolina 40.039/1
This team has lost their way recently, but they are more than capable if they can put it all together. Interior penetration is vital to their success. Outside chance.
Iowa State 40.039/1
This is a talented group that could surprise a few teams in the competition. They beat Kansas 94-83 in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament on Friday. Outside chance.
3pts Back Florida to win NCAAB Championship