March Madness 2014: Highlighting Favorites, Sleepers and Bubble Teams of Bracket

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2014

GAINESVILLE, FL - MARCH 08: Casey Prather #24, Patric Young #4, Scottie Wilbekin #5 and Will Yeguete #15 of the Florida Gators gather on the court after the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on March 8, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Selection Sunday is upon us.

This year's field for the 2014 NCAA tournament seems much more open than it has been over the last few years. Even the best teams in the country have major flaws that could upend their title hopes, while teams that project to be No. 5 seeds and below have legitimate hopes of going all the way.

Bleacher Report

It's great for college basketball fans, but terrible for those trying to collect the $1 billion bounty offered to whomever has the perfect bracket.

Looking ahead to the NCAA tournament, here's a brief picture of what may come in terms of favorites, sleepers and bubble teams.


Florida Gators

GAINESVILLE, FL - MARCH 08: Scottie Wilbekin #5 of the Florida Gators holds up a piece of the net after the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on March 8, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators were 18-0 in the SEC Con
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The Florida Gators ended the season on a 23-game winning streak, following an 84-65 drubbing of the Kentucky Wildcats in Gainesville. The two teams had stayed relatively close when they met in Lexington, but Florida dominated the rematch from start to finish.

Billy Donovan has his team playing its best basketball of the season at the exact right time. The Gators have one of the best defenses in the country. The senior core of Wil Yeguete, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin will also prove invaluable in late-game scenarios.

Three years on a row, Florida has lost in the regional final. The players will have learned from those disappointments and should be looking to set the record straight this year.

Arizona Wildcats

EUGENE, OR - MARCH 8:  Nick Johnson #13 of the Arizona Wildcats is greeted at the bench during the first half of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Matthew Knight Arena on March 8, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

It says a lot about the Arizona Wildcats that the injury to Brandon Ashley has done nothing to dent their hopes of winning a national championship, per ESPN's Andy Katz:

As's Jon Rothstein pointed out, Gabe York stepped right into Ashley's role as the three-point specialist:

What can't be denied, though, is that the Wildcats will sink or swim depending on how Nick Johnson performs. The Pac-12 Player of the Year scored a combined 29 points in Arizona's three losses. Even worse, those 12 points came on 10-for-46 shooting.

If Johnson is invisible, it heaps more pressure on younger players like York, Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, and that could prove a a troubling trend in the tournament.


Kentucky Wildcats

COLUMBIA, SC - MARCH 01: Julius Randle #30 tries to calm Head Coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats following a technical foul on Calipari during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena on March 1, 2014 in Columbia, S
Lance King/Getty Images

The Wildcats have proven before that a team loaded with freshmen can win a national title. The difference between now and 2012 is that John Calipari lacks a transcendent player like Anthony Davis, so the two cases aren't exactly similar.

Kentucky finished with a three-game losing streak to end the regular season, capped off with a 19-point loss to Florida. That defeat wasn't as galling as the ones to South Carolina and Arkansas, though, and show that when the Wildcats are off, they're really off.

But Calipari has been to the mountaintop before, and he has a lot of talent at his disposal. If everything can click for UK, it could make a deep run in the tournament.

Baylor Bears

WACO, TX - JANUARY 11: Kenny Chery #1 of the Baylor Bears drives to the basket past Christian Gore #13 of the TCU Horned Frogs on January 11, 2014 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Not so long ago, the Baylor Bears looked like they were a bubble team at best. On Jan. 28, they were 13-7, fresh off a five-game winning streak. Since then, they've won eight of 11, including victories over Iowa State and Kansas State to end the regular season.

Chris Johnson of One and One traces the origins of Baylor's second-half turnaround to the return and re-emergence of Kenny Chery:

Since Chery returned to the starting lineup for the Bears win over TCU on February 12, Baylor has won seven of eight games. During that stretch, Chery has averaged 15.9 points and posted an offensive rating of 121.5. “At the end of the day, we need him,” Drew said. “He is a very good player and he runs the team.” Not to be overlooked: senior forward Cory Jefferson scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Iowa State and 16 on 6-of-11 against Kansas State.

The Bears aren't a title contender, but don't count them out for the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, by which time they could've pulled off one or two major upsets.

Bubble Teams

Colorado Buffaloes

February 13, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Colorado Buffaloes forward Josh Scott (40) moves to the basket against UCLA Bruins forward David Wear (12) during the second half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona's upset at the hands of Oregon was about the worst thing that could've happened for Colorado. That victory locked the Ducks into the Big Dance, while the Buffaloes' remain firmly on the bubble.

Colorado should be in. It ranks 31st in RPI and has played the 12th-toughest schedule in the country, according to

Losing three out of four in the regular season may have planted enough doubt in the selection committee's mind, though. A defeat to Arizona you can take, but falling to Utah and California don't look good, especially when your NCAA tournament future is up in the air.

We'll see if No. 8 Colorado solidifies their seeding with a win over No. 9 Pittsburgh. 

Tennessee Volunteers

Mar 1, 2014; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Jordan McRae (52) brings the ball up court against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Volunteers must have known they still have work to do when the took on Missouri last Saturday. A 72-45 win over the Tigers looks impressive, even if they've fallen off in conference play.

What's working in Tennessee's favor is its ranking of 46th in the RPI and the 15th-toughest schedule in the country, according to

What's working against the Volunteers is that they haven't had a signature win since they entered SEC play. They lost twice to Florida and once to Kentucky. Beating teams like Georgia, Arkansas and LSU is good, but none of those three is likely to be a tournament team.

Tennessee has been given a 11-seed and will be forced to take on fellow No. 11 seed Iowa in a play-in game in Dayton. 


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