NCAA Tournament 2013: Sleeper Teams to Watch in Each Region

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NCAA Tournament 2013: Sleeper Teams to Watch in Each Region
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The NCAA selection committee released its field of 68, ending months of rampant speculation.

But we can't stop now, no sir. The speculation must carry on, and carry on it will in the form of predictions.

Our task here is to identify the teams seeded seventh or lower that could spring a surprise or two when the round of 64 begins on Thursday. We start our search in the loaded Midwest Region.

 

Midwest Region

Oregon (12)

I'm shocked to see the Oregon Ducks this low, especially after they dispatched UCLA in the Pac-12 title game. Apparently, I'm not the only one.

The Ducks went through a bit of a mid-to-late-season slide, but a good portion of that was without freshman point guard Dominic Artis in the lineup. And even if Oregon's offense isn't clicking, Dana Altman's team can keep things competitive with its D.

Arsalan Kazemi is one of the nation's best rebounders, and the Ducks rank among the nation's top 100 in effective field-goal percentage against, turnover percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and opponent free throws as a percentage of total attempts.

Of Oregon's eight losses this season, only three came by more than 10 points.

 

Middle Tennessee State (11)

Middle Tennessee's toughest game might be its first, but if the Blue Raiders can sneak by St. Mary's and Matthew Dellavedova in the play-in game, the draw sets up nicely for Kermit Davis' team.

Middle Tennessee excels on defense, particularly as it applies to forcing turnovers. The Blue Raiders have nine players averaging more than 10 minutes a contest, and they use that depth to harass opposing ball-handlers.

Memphis, MTSU's potential round of 64 opponent, has been turnover prone. To a lesser extent, so too has Michigan State, the No. 3 seed in Middle Tennessee's four-team bubble.

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

 

South Region

Minnesota (11)

Tubby Smith's Golden Gophers have been a portrait in underachievement all year, but they get new life with this tournament draw.

Opening-round foe UCLA just lost second-leading scorer Jordan Adams to a season-ending foot injury. And even if Adams had been healthy, Minnesota's dominant offensive rebounding was going to cause trouble for a Bruins team that struggles on the glass.

After that, Florida is the likely opponent. The Gators are a fantastic all-around team and could well run the Gophers off the court if they can create a bit of defensive pressure.

But if Minnesota withstands the heat early, Billy Donovan's team has proven itself vulnerable in close games.

 

San Diego State (7)

This pick is more about my lack of confidence in Georgetown than anything specific to San Diego State. Although it should be mentioned that the Aztecs are an excellent defensive team that can flat-out shut opponents down in the painted area.

Georgetown can, too, but the Hoyas are one-dimensional on offense. That one dimension is star forward Otto Porter Jr. When he isn't effective, neither is this team.

San Diego State can counter with an NBA-bound talent of its own in Jamaal Franklin, and should give John Thompson III's team all kinds of headaches if these two clash in the round of 32.

 

East Region

Bucknell (11)

If you aren't hip to Bucknell center Mike Muscala yet, it's time to get acquainted.

The 6'11" Minnesotan has been one of the Patriot League's top players three years running, flashing an inside-out game that has pro scouts taking note. Muscala's no slouch on D, either, keying one of the nation's best field-goal defenses.

The Bison will see Butler in the opening round, a team that, while experienced and well coached, has looked vulnerable at times during its first (and perhaps only) year in the Atlantic 10.

Both teams play a conservative defensive style, meaning this game should be relatively turnover-free with Muscala getting plenty of touches. When he does, expect Butler's 6'11" center Andrew Smith to play the Bucknell star straight up.

It'll be a challenge for Muscala, but he's had big games in the past against the likes of Missouri and New Mexico State. And if the Bison win that matchup, they've got a fantastic chance to win the game.

 

Davidson (14)

I like Marquette, I really do. But it's always tough to trust teams that live and die with the free throw, especially in a one-and-done tournament where whistles are hard to come by.

The Golden Eagles do a lot of damage on the inside and at the charity stripe, but if Davidson can keep Buzz Williams' team off the line, the Wildcats have the offensive punch necessary to spring an upset.

Bob McKillop's team shoots an excellent percentage from three (unlike Marquette), and is plenty willing to let it fly. If the shots are falling on Thursday, Davidson will make things interesting.

 

West Region

Pittsburgh (8)

Pitt is deep and balanced, with the kind of frontcourt depth that could give Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk fits if the Panthers and Bulldogs meet in Round 3.

Jamie Dixon's team was competitive in just about every game it played this season, with the possible exception of a 13-point road loss to Marquette. And while the Panthers aren't much for style points, they rebound well, make sound decisions in the half court, and have a senior guard in Tray Woodall who can steady the ship in big moments.

Gonzaga will have its hands full, and so will Kansas State or Wisconsin if either of those two make it to the Sweet 16.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

 

Iowa State (10)

Goodness gracious can Iowa State shoot.

Cut from the same cloth as their head coach, former NBA sniper Fred Hoiberg, the Cyclones shoot a higher percentage of their attempts from three than all but eight other Division I teams. Of the 68 squads in the tournament field, no one shoots more frequently from beyond.

And Iowa State connects more often than most, led by Tyrus McGee (45.7 percent), Georges Niang (38.9 percent) and Chris Babb (37.8 percent).

Naturally ISU has weaknesses, particularly on the defensive end.

But when this team is finding net, those deficiencies turn into minor inconveniences.

 

Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of KenPom.com.

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