The 2014 NCAA men's basketball tournament is quickly approaching. With Selection Sunday set to take place on March 16th, the field of 68 teams will soon come to fruition. Each year, certain teams steal the national spotlight; however, there will always be some under-the-radar teams destined to turn some heads.
These are the teams that can cause March Madness bracket owners fits as the tournament gets underway. Knowing which teams have a great chance of pulling an upset is a crucial element of producing a stellar bracket.
Let's take a closer look at a few potential Cinderella teams that could make some noise once the first round of the tournament gets underway on March 18th.
George Washington Colonials
Currently sitting sixth in the Atlantic 10 Conference, George Washington hasn't been putting up gaudy numbers this season, but they have been solid.
The team's 20-7 record includes a big win against No. 20 Creighton and close losses against No. 25 Marquette and, most recently, No. 10 St. Louis.
The Colonials may only be ranked 96th in points per game, averaging 74, but their defense has been stout, ranking 76th in the nation while giving up an average of 66.4 points per game.
What makes George Washington a team to watch for is the fact that each starter must be accounted for—they don't simply have just one key player to defend against.
Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood could become major factors in the tournament.
Isaiah Armwood should never pay for a meal in DC again. Did a great job on VCU's Treveon Graham last night. Finished with 11, 14, 3 blks.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 15, 2014
Creek is streaky from downtown, but can light up the scoreboard if he gets it going. He is currently shooting .382 from three-point range. Armwood is dominant in the paint on both sides of the ball. He leads the team with an impressive 230 rebounds and 48 blocks this season.
Head coach Mike Lonergan spoke of the team's diversity and chemistry during an interview with Gene Wang of The Washington Post:
We've got really good chemistry, and chemistry means a lot. I think it makes it easier for the international kids that we have six countries [including the United States] represented. I mean, D.C. is diverse. The country's diverse, and our campus is diverse.
Those traits will continue to mean a lot as this team heads into the tournament.
The Mercer Bears are sitting first in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 22-7 record. Although they haven't had a brutal schedule this year, this is still a team that could surprise when the NCAA tournament rolls around.
Of their seven losses, a few close contests against Texas and Oklahoma showed that the Bears can hang with some of the more highly regarded college clubs.
Within its own conference; however, Mercer has been blowing away its competition.
Offensively, this is a team that can get on a hot streak and maintain it throughout a game. Ranked 22nd in the country with an average of 80.0 points per game and seventh in the nation in assists per game with 17, these players certainly have built a solid chemistry.
Mercer is one of just 7 schools to start three 1,000 point scorers (Jakob Gollon, Langston Hall, Bud Thomas). Thomas crested mark last game.— CollegeHoops Journal (@CHJournal) February 21, 2014
The Bears offense features two solid three-point shooters in Langston Hall and Bud Thomas. Hall is shooting .410 from behind the arc, and Thomas is not far behind with .399.
Scoring on the perimeter is a big part of this offense, although the Bears can get it done in the paint as well. Big man Daniel Coursey has been a rebounding machine this year with a total of 192. He is also a nightmare of defense and has totaled 56 blocks on the season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Despite Minnesota's 17-11 record and seventh-place standing in the Big Ten Conference, this is still a team that could surprise by tournament time. The Golden Gophers have had a rough schedule this season, but have stepped up in a big way at times.
Minnesota has played seven ranked opponents this year, but came away with two impressive wins, beating No. 11 Ohio State and blowing out No. 9 Wisconsin by a score of 81-68. They also took No. 5 Michigan State to overtime earlier this season.
Two top-11 wins is something that should not be overlooked here. Minnesota proved that they can compete with some of the best teams in the country, and that's a huge part of instilling confidence and creating success in the tournament.
This team has not been lighting up scoreboards this year, but they have a solid mix of perimeter shooting and big bodies in the paint that will allow them to stay competitive in March.
Andre Hollins and Malik Smith have dominated the perimeter this season, shooting .380 and .363 from downtown, respectively. On the inside, Austin Hollins and Elliott Eliason continue to use their size to their advantage. Hollins has accrued 163 rebounds this year while Eliason had snatched 203.
This team thrives off turnovers and has three double-digit scorers who can make them count.
All team records and statistics are accurate as of Feb. 24th.