Accurate predictions for the NCAA tournament are a fickle thing, as there is no true definition of a "sleeper" or "Cinderella," but only loosely-based descriptions that seem to fit the media's mold when convenient.
The 2014 tournament is as complex as ever, and fans are on the cusp of finally being able to fill out those brackets in pursuit of glory.
It is one thing to actually identify a sleeper, but it takes a special kind of eye to properly peg the ones that will actually do something when push comes to shove. A few teams display the necessary traits and trends that fans should feel comfortable throwing money down on when filling out a bracket.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (19-11)
What's that? The No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament cannot be a sleeper?
Sure it can. How many fans expect the Cornhuskers to win that tournament? How many think Tim Miles' team can win multiple games in the NCAA tournament?
The Cornhuskers are historically inept. They have not won a regular-season title since 1950 and have not appeared in the Big Dance since 1998, so anyone looking to count on them in a bracket is taking a significant risk with it being a wild unknown how the team will respond under the pressure.
That said, the team's recent track record—certainly under the radar—is quite impressive and hints at a defense that can make some noise in the NCAA tournament.
The Cornhuskers bucked history and beat Indiana on the road by 10 on March 5, and then upset then-ranked No. 9 Wisconsin 77-68. As long as they can move past the Ohio State Buckeyes in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, the Cornhuskers are a lock to go dancing—where they will make some serious noise thanks to a dominant defense and stellar work on the boards.
Harvard Crimson (26-4)
It's hard to take any team from the Ivy League seriously when it comes time to go dancing.
Well, until now.
Perhaps the national consciousness has not been made aware of the fact yet, but the Harvard Crimson are no joke and were the first team in 2014 to guarantee themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Perhaps the national consciousness is quick to forget, as is the case every year with the "Oh, that was a nice run" team before they vanish, that this is largely the same Crimson squad that was a No. 14 seed a year ago and upset New Mexico in the opening round.
This veteran group, which is one of the nation's best from long range, includes stellar names such as Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders, Kyle Casey and Steve Moundou-Missi—each of which can carry the team when necessary.
CBS Sports' Matt Norlander puts it best, as he points out that plenty were ready to give the Crimson a national raking early in the season:
Like Cornell's 2010 team that made the Sweet 16, this Harvard group had high expectations entering this season. While expecting any Ivy group to win two in the NCAAs is lofty, at the very least this team was seen as top 25-caliber in the eyes of some back in the preseason. The group's not been totally dominant, but how about this: It's now one win away -- a road game against Brown on Saturday night -- from besting the 2012 and 2013 Ivy campaigns, which featured two and three losses, respectively.
Harvard did win that game against Brown—98-93 in overtime—and is set to become one of the teams to watch in the opening round of the tournament.
Clemson Tigers (20-11)
The Clemson Tigers had a spot in the NCAA tournament all but assured before they went out and got knocked off by Pittsburgh to end the regular season.
Now, things are a bit hectic.
Alas, Brad Brownell's team is more than accustomed to close games, as he told the media recently, via Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier:
We've finished a bunch of these types of games all year. We've had to make free throws and made them, we've had to get a stop and gotten them, had to get the inbounds and gotten it, had to get it in through the trap. We've done that half a dozen times this year successfully in one way or another.
Remember, for all of the Tigers' faults, they do have a win over Duke to their resume and are led by the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in K.J. McDaniels. They started things the right way in the ACC tournament by coming from behind to upend Georgia Tech—in overtime.
Teams with experience in dire situations can handle the pressure of the tournament better, so it would be unwise to bet against the Tigers.