SEC Kentucky Florida Basketball

Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin grabs his championship shirt after the Gators defeated Kentucky for the Southeastern Conference tournament championship Sunday. The Gators are the consensus choice by the KDH sports staff to win the national championship.

Curtis Compton | Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gators have total package

The odds are unbelievable. 

The chance someone has of picking a perfect bracket is 9.2 quintillion to 1. And for people like me who can’t comprehend numbers that big, a quintillion is 1 million times 1 trillion.

To put it mildly, it isn’t happening.

Nevertheless, on Thursday morning, countless college basketball fans will be confident they defied the odds, and I’ll be one of them.

Florida is my pick to win it all. Outside of undefeated Wichita State, it is difficult to find a team that has put together a more complete season than the Gators.

Winners of 26 consecutive games, including victories against four teams ranked in the top 25 during the span, Florida has the total package. Senior forward Casey Prather can fill up a stat sheet in a hurry, while his teammates are almost as equally versatile, allowing for the Gators to exploit almost any matchup on the court.

But head coach Billy Donovan is the main reason I favor Florida.

Lots of teams are talented, but coaching makes all the difference. Established veterans typically guide their teams to tournament championships with Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Bill Self each winning a title since 2008.

Before that, Donovan won it all. Twice … in consecutive seasons.

I just can’t bet against talented players being led by a battle-tested, proven coach.

My prediction is Florida will beat Michigan State to reach the title game against Louisville.

Meanwhile, no tournament is complete without a Cinderella. Mine is San Diego State with the Aztecs reaching the Final Four.

So, while I know the odds are improbable, I’m confident I made all the right picks for now, but if history is any indication, I’ll feel completely different around 7 p.m. Thursday evening, when I’m ripping up my bracket in frustration.

— Clay Whittington

Near-perfect Florida the best

Florida or Louisville? 

I made up my mind in the final seconds of the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game.

Here was Florida, the No. 1 team in the nation, leading by one, bricking free throws and struggling to put away Kentucky.

The Wildcats had one more chance with about 20 seconds remaining.

I didn’t know who was going to win, but I was certain of one thing: Kentucky was not going to get a good shot.

I was wrong. The Wildcats didn’t get off any shot.

Kentucky freshman James Young, the Wildcats’ top offensive player, took the ball on the right wing. He drove left toward the lane. Florida’s Michael Frazier II was right on him. So well, in fact, that Young had to work harder and harder trying to get leverage until he finally slipped and face-planted on the floor.

Game over.

That’s the kind of lockdown defense that wins a national title.

But there are other reasons to love the Gators. Florida has depth, talent and four senior starters. And those starters are hungry. They’ve been within one win of the Final Four the last three years.

Coaching? Got that, too. Billy Donovan has a pair of titles and a ridiculous 31-11 record in the Big Dance.

As for the Gators’ two losses? One was a six-point setback at No. 12 Wisconsin while point guard Scottie Wilbekin was suspended for violating team rules. The other was a one-point loss at No. 18 UConn when Wilbekin injured an ankle.

Florida is that close to being perfect.

FINAL FOUR: Florida, Louisville, Michigan State, Arizona.

— Mark W. Miller

Spartans peaking at right time

I’ve paid the least amount of attention to this college basketball season of any I can remember in the past 12 years. 

What can I say?

As a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate, the announcement that potential first-round talent P.J. Hairston wasn’t going to be reinstated this season, followed by a 4-5 stretch by the Heels that included a 1-4 start in conference play, caused my interest to wane.

It hasn’t helped that Duke has been a perennial top-10 team this season either.

I can count on one hand how many games I’ve watched from start to finish this season.

But when it comes to picking a winner from the field of 68, I believe ignorance is bliss.

Which is why I have no issue hopping on the already full bandwagon behind Michigan State.

If you recall the Louisville bandwagon was also filling up this time last year, which is why I’m not scared of the sexy pick.

Once the No. 1 team in the nation — before losing to North Carolina coincidentally — Michigan State is peaking at the right time, as evidenced by its demolition of the Big Ten Tournament, where the Spartans’ average margin of victory was 12.7 points per game.

That isn’t a coincidence either as Michigan State is finally healthy after playing just five conference games with its full allotment of players.

This is normally the type of team I avoid, as I prefer to zig when everyone else zags when it comes to picking a NCAA champion. But I don’t know any better this season. And I’m likely better off that way anyway.

— Jordan Mason

Pitino does it again

This year’s tourney is so wide open one must look at the BCT — the Best Coach Theory — in picking a champ. The team with the best head coach will win the 2014 tourney. 

But, first, here’s your Final Four.

Aaron Craft will finish out his sensational college career with a dance at AT&T Stadium. He’ll lead Ohio State, a No. 6 seed, past Dayton. Then he’ll guide the Bucks to three straight upsets: over Syracuse, Kansas and Florida.

The second No. 6 that makes it to Dallas is North Carolina. It’s no easy ride for the Heels but they’ll get by Providence and then knock off Iowa State. Villanova-UNC will be a dogfight but the Heels prevail.

That third spot in the Final Four will be earned by Doug McDermott and his No. 3 seed Creighton Bluejays.

Rick Pitino’s resume speaks for itself. The man is the best floor-coach in college basketball. The BCT theory says Louisville will get past Manhattan, Saint Louis and Wichita State. Then the Cards beat Duke.

Of course many would argue that Coach K is every bit the floor general that Pitino is. Fair enough. But when two coaches are this outstanding you go with the team that has the best senior — and that’s Russ-diculous.

So in the Final Four, there won’t be any No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. Instead we’ll have a 3, 4, 6 and 6. And then it comes down to the BCT.

Pitino does it again.

— Allan Mandell

Gators chomp through field

I didn’t get into journalism because I was good at math so pardon me if I enter Thursday’s first full day of the NCAA Tournament thinking that this is the year it happens. 

This is the year I get the Final Four right.

I’ve been filling out these brackets every year since I was like 10 and most years have fallen short.

But my 2014 bracket has some surprises, some chalk and an unexpected run by a Big 12 team we all left for dead about a month ago.

Before I touch on the in-state schools, let me tell you about my Final Four.

I have Florida beating Michigan State and Arizona downing Louisville. The Gators chomp their way to a national title over the Wildcats.

The Baylor Bears are on fire and will use the momentum and a good home crowd to beat Nebraska and Creighton in the first two rounds before losing to Duke in the Sweet 16.

The Texas Longhorns are playing with house money after a lot of people, including this 2009 Texas Ex, thought the team would win 10, maybe 15 games a few months ago. But the Longhorns have played their way through a tough conference schedule, will win the Steve Patterson Basketball Invitational against Arizona State, leave Michigan seeing blue and give Duke a good game.

I thought about picking Texas to beat Duke, but that matchup has never worked out for those in burnt orange.

The Shockers will be the first No. 1 seed out when Kentucky bests them in the second round.

— Albert Alvarado

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