The two main factors when it comes to filling out a successful NCAA tournament bracket are correctly forecasting which teams will reach the Final Four and striking gold with at least one bracket-busting team. The latter is where a lot of ground can be made up.
Things could be a little more difficult in 2014. Since there's a lack of truly dominant teams heading into the Big Dance, there are more potential avenues for Cinderella teams to emerge, which makes for a larger group of teams to separate into contender and pretender categories.
All told, it could make for one hectic version of March Madness. Let's check out the complete bracket and then examine a trio of teams capable of making deep runs despite middling seeding.
All Your Bracket Essentials
Gonzaga is one of those mystery teams. The Bulldogs have a terrific record, they won the West Coast Conference's regular and postseason titles and have good depth. Yet, they haven't been tested too frequently, losing their only game against a ranked foe by six points on the road against Memphis.
They should be riding a wave of confidence after winning their final five games heading into the Big Dance. They finished up their run by winning the conference championship, which head coach Mark Few was extremely pleased about, as noted by The Associated Press (via GoZags.com):
It never gets old. Never gets old. It's obviously something we start talking about it and prepare for way back in the summer. For these guys to step up and make it happen, not only in the regular season but to win here and not share, is just an awesome, awesome accomplishment.
The Bulldogs feature four players who average in double figures and two of them (Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski) shoot nearly 60 percent from the floor. That type of balanced scoring, paired with an efficient defense, could very well lead to a long March Madness stay for the Zags.
Pittsburgh wrapped up the regular season with eight losses. That doesn't exactly scream elite team considering the top-ranked squads lost two or three, or none in Wichita State's case, but only one of the Panthers' losses was by more than seven points. They were in virtually every game.
Which of these teams will make the deepest run?
In other words, a couple of calls go their way in those close defeats, and they could be entering the tournament as a high seed with only a few losses. They are a very strong offensive squad, highlighted by Lamar Patterson averaging 17.6 points and the team ranking inside the top 15 in assists per game.
The biggest question mark is whether Pittsburgh's defense can step up to get key stops in the second half, something that didn't happen in those narrow losses. Even a slight improvement in that area would mean the Panthers can become very dangerous.
By now, opponents understand the havoc-wreaking style VCU loves to play. That doesn't make it any easier to play against, though, especially in high-pressure tournament games.
The Rams do a great job of forcing mistakes with their swarming defense and turning those errors into easy buckets.
They appear ready for another tournament run. The combination of Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic doesn't generate enough attention. One person who has taken note of the team's success is Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, who's bullish on the Rams:
VCU finally beats Saint Louis. Rams will be one of the more under seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament. Much better than their record.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 2, 2014
Scoring depth is a concern. Beyond the top five minutes leaders, the Rams don't have any other reliable producers on the offensive end of the court. But even if just one role player steps up in the coming weeks, VCU becomes a serious threat.