There are Cinderella teams, and then there are sleepers. A Cinderella is a lower-seeded team that comes out of nowhere and pulls off a few upsets on its way to a Sweet 16 or even Elite 8 berth.
A sleeper is a team that people aren't necessarily paying much attention to, but has the talent to potentially advance all the way to the Final Four if they get hot.
Now, this year it is pretty hard to label any of the 5-seeds or better as a sleeper, since there is so much parity at the top of college basketball. After all, will you really be all that shocked if VCU or Wisconsin makes the Final Four?
So for the purposes of this article, I decided to identify the most dangerous sleepers from each region that are a 6-seed or lower. These teams may have earned a lower seed because they played inconsistently throughout the year or are a mid-major, but each is capable of going on a shocking run throughout the tournament.
The Bluejays can flat out score the rock, and have a legitimate star in forward Doug McDermott (23.4 points per game). Creighton finished 24th in the nation in scoring (75.4 points per game), fifth in assists per game (17.2), first in field-goal percentage (.508) and sixth in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
Yes, Creighton's road is brutal. An opening-round game against Cincinnati poses a challenge, and 2-seed Duke will likely be waiting for them if they survive the Bearcats. But Cincinnati is prone to tough stretches of offensive ineptitude, while Creighton may simply be able to beat Duke in a shootout.
Truthfully, the Midwest is so loaded with top teams—Louisville, Duke, Michigan State and Saint Louis are all legitimate Final Four threats—that's it's hard to imagine many upstarts reaching the Sweet 16. But if there is one upstart from this region I like, it's the one that has McDermott leading the way.
Don't sleep on Creighton.
I believe the West is really wide open. Gonzaga is likely the most vulnerable 1-seed in the tournament, while Ohio State, New Mexico and Wisconsin are all possibilities to win the region.
So could a team like Belmont really make a run to the Final Four?
It's certainly a possibility, though Belmont would likely be pretty happy with a trip to the Sweet 16. I think Arizona is primed for an upset, especially against a Belmont team that scores 77.2 points per game (15th in the nation) and shoots 37.9 percent from beyond the arc (39th in the country).
It's not crazy to think that Belmont could get past Arizona and New Mexico, and that's the primary reason I put them in this slot over Iowa State, who I don't think will match up well against Ohio State's stingy perimeter defense if those teams meet in the Round of 32.
I still think Ohio State, New Mexico and Wisconsin are the teams most likely to reach the Final Four in this region, but if there is a surprise team out of the West, I believe it will be Belmont.
The Wildcats have beaten Louisville, Marquette, Georgetown and Syracuse this season. They are led by three solid players in JayVaughn Pinkston, Ryan Arcidiacono and Mouphtaou Yarou. Nova plays like a blur, creating points in transition, pressuring teams by pressing after scoring a bucket and getting to the free-throw line more than any other team in the nation.
A first-round matchup against North Carolina is dangerous for the Wildcats, and Nova may not survive the Tar Heels. But if they do, a Kansas team without a true point guard would be ripe for an upset against Nova's press. From there, anything would be possible in the wide open South for the Wildcats.
Villanova is the classic "can beat anyone and lose to anyone, too" team in this tournament because they are young, turn the ball over and have been generally inconsistent throughout the year. But they did beat three teams ranked in the top five this year, so they are more than capable of ruining your bracket.
East: NC State
For NC State to make any noise in this tournament, the Wolfpack will have to start the tournament with a tough test against Temple and then likely face the team I believe will win the entire tournament, Indiana.
But if NC State survives that gauntlet—and they are talented enough to do so, trust me—don't be shocked to see the Wolfpack end up in the Final Four.
The Wolfpack have five starters that all average double-digit points per game and have five NBA prospects on the roster, led by double-double machine Richard Howell, leading scorer C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown.
They won't beat you with defense, but after scoring 77.5 points per game (13th in nation) and with the 10th best offensive efficiency in the country according to KenPom, the Wolfpack are capable of simply out-scoring any team in the country.
A potential game against Indiana in the Round of 32 could be one of the most exciting games of the tournament. If NC State can tighten up defensively and play more consistently in the tourney than they did during the regular season, look out.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are busting brackets and beating the buzzer all week long.
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