The Washington Post

Florida will shine on in the NCAA tournament

The top-seeded Florida Gators have won 26 straight games, including an SEC title game victory over Kentucky. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

March Madness may produce big upsets, but titans ultimately will survive. And top-seeded Florida will beat Louisville for the NCAA championship.

A cliched pick? Who cares. A top four seed has won 25 straight NCAA titles. Long shots — like No. 11 George Mason in 2006 — reach the Final Four, but they don’t win it all. That’s why my Final Four picks are No. 4 seeds Louisville and Michigan State, along with No. 1 seeds Florida and Arizona.

How a team fared over its past 10 games is a big deal when picking the bracket. It’s all about momentum, which is why Syracuse gets no consideration after going from 25-0 to 27-5 in the last three weeks. There’s no regrouping in the NCAA tournament. It’s about entering full speed and accelerating even more.

That’s why Florida winning 26 straight is so important, especially taking the SEC tournament. The Gators could have blown off the league tournament to rest for the NCAAs, but instead they rolled through two rounds and then showed grit in the final against a surging Kentucky. That type of effort and mental toughness is what makes a champion.

Louisville will blow out Manhattan in the first round as a rebuke to the selection committee for making them a ridiculous fourth seed. The Midwest is the toughest bracket, and No. 1 Wichita State will lose in the second round to Kentucky, which will lose in the third round to Louisville, which will beat Michigan in the region final. Whew, that’s a murderer’s row of teams.

Taking on Arizona in the Final Four might be Louisville’s easiest game since the tournament opener. The Cardinals enter the tournament having won 12 of their past 13, so they can handle the bracket.

Michigan State joins Louisville as a disrespected four seed. The Spartans are a little remindful of Connecticut in 2011 — a good team that found itself while winning the Big East tournament. The Spartans finished the regular season 4-6, with several players ill or injured, before taking the Big Ten tournament. Now watch Michigan State beat Virginia in the East’s third round before falling to Florida in the Final Four.

Arizona gets a relatively easy bracket until potentially facing Wisconsin in the West regional final. The Wildcats opened 21-0 and were ranked No. 1 when they lost Brandon Ashley to a season-ending foot injury. Arizona finished 7-3 and lost the Pac-12 championship so maybe it’s a little more vulnerable than believed. Perhaps a second-round loss to Oklahoma State? This late-season stutter is the only reason not to pick the Wildcats to reach the finals.

Rick Snider has covered sports in Washington since 1978.



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