March Madness 2014: Projections for Bubble Teams Who Will Surprise as Sleepers

Sean HojnackiFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2014

LINCOLN, NE - MARCH 9: David Rivers #2 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers fights off Bronson Koenig #24 and Josh Gasser #21 of the Wisconsin Badgers during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on March 9, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Selection Sunday decides all fates as the bubble bursts into a sticky mess like chewing gum on a goatee. Many will be frozen out, but a few bubble teams have the chops to pull off a thrilling upset or two. Here are four squads to watch, and once they sneak into the field for the NCAA tournament, this quartet is set to play spoiler.



Nebraska proved its chops in a very tough conference and came on like gangbusters after Jan. 20, ripping off an 11-3 streak that included wins over ranked teams in Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. 

The Cornhuskers are led by a pair of talented tweeners in sophomores Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. Each fits at the 2 or the 3 and averages at least five rebounds per game, and they have the range to step out to hit the three as well. There is also 6'10" forward Walter Pitchford, who averages 9.4 points per game and leads the team in three-point shooting at 41.7 percent. 

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Nebraska takes care of business with defense, as they average just 67 points per game, good for 272nd in the nation. When they hold opponents under 60 points, they are extremely tough to beat, so don't be shocked if these guys dance into the Sweet 16.


Saint Joseph's

After a bumpy start to the year, the Hawks won 17 of the next 20 games. Then they closed the year with a pair of shameful losses to George Washington and La Salle. During the stretch of success, they beat a couple of top-25 teams and went 2-1 against teams ranked between 26th and 50th.

The Hawks notched an inspiring win against UMass, and their shooting efficiency will help them knock off a favorite in the first game. St. Joe's shoots 47 percent as a team, and that kind of output will stun the poor unfortunates who draw them in the round of 64.



Since January ended with a four-game skid, the Flyers have soared to nine wins in 10 games. They downed No. 11 Gonzaga in late November, and then shocked No. 17 Saint Louis with a 72-67 road win on March 5. That came on the heels of a victory against Massachusetts.

As senior forward Devin Oliver phrased it after the March 8 victory over the Richmond Spiders (per Joe Reedy of Fox Sports Ohio): "When people stepped on us and counted us out we just kept pushing. It comes down to proving to ourselves we can get it done."  Oliver leads the team in rebounds (7.4 per game) and assists (2.4 per game), while his average of a dozen points a night has him just behind Jordan Sibert.

Scott Kane/Associated Press

Asked about playing in the NCAA tournament, Oliver conveyed his enthusiasm, though he may have missed the point of a college education: "That would mean everything. That is what you come to college for. It's been an up and down three years but you have to live in the present and continue to fight."

They've proven they can beat top teams, and you can expect them to get at least one big win in the tournament.



Like Nebraska, the Golden Gophers play in the toughest conference in college basketball. Big Ten opponents were not kind to them, as they went just 8-10, but add in their 11-2 nonconference record and you realize this team is not to be trifled with. 

Minnesota beat Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa this season, and Michigan State needed overtime to escape with a home victory on Jan. 11. The Gophers have played inconsistently and limped to the end of the regular season, but those big in-conference victories prove they are very capable of upsetting a foe in the tournament.