March Madness 2014: NCAA Tournament Sleepers Poised to Make Runs at the Title

Kenny DeJohnAnalyst IIIMarch 16, 2014

Connecticut's Shabazz Napier, right, drives past Memphis' Joe Jackson during the second half an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Hartford, Conn. Connecticut won 86-81. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Everyone knows that the likes of Florida, Villanova, Wichita State and Arizona will make a run at the 2014 NCAA title, but there are several other worthy teams that aren't getting the same attention.

Sleeper teams are what makes March Madness so compelling. Watching Cinderella teams get hot and compete at the highest level is one of the most thrilling things that college basketball has to offer.

While there are multiple sleepers to watch out for in this year's tournament, the following three appear to have the best shot at making a deep run to the title.



Jessica Hill/Associated Press

When everything is going their way, the Huskies of the University of Connecticut are one of the toughest teams to beat in the country.

Despite disappointing losses to Houston and SMU (twice) this season, the Huskies have beaten up on their best opponents. They have taken down Florida, Cincinnati and Memphis (three times). Their last contest against a very good Memphis team was indicative of how potent UConn can be.

In the AAC quarterfinals on March 13, UConn dominated the Tigers 72-53. Niels Giffey led the team with 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting (6-of-8 from three).

Look for the Huskies to earn a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NCAA tourney. There's plenty of good with this team, but the fact that it lost by 33 to Louisville in the regular-season finale is evidence of how inconsistent it can be.

As a No. 5 or 6, the Huskies have the potential to make a run through the tournament. They have multiple three-point shooters (Giffey, Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright, etc.), making them a threat to any opponent.

When this team is on, it's really hard to beat.



HARTFORD, CT - DECEMBER 18: Stefan Nastic #4 and Chasson Randle #5 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrate their 53-51 win against the Connecticut Huskies during the game at XL Center on December 18, 2013 in Hartford, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Ge
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Stanford Cardinal were just 10-8 in the Pac-12 this season, but wins against UConn, Oregon and UCLA have helped to make this season a success.

The team ultimately lost to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament, but Stanford's win against Arizona State in the previous match was one of its most impressive this year. In the 79-58 rout, Stanford had four starters in double figures.

Chasson Randle led the charge with 21 points, while also adding in four assists. ASU's lead scorer, Jahii Carson, was held to just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins had great things to say his team's defensive effort.

"It's hard to stop a great player," he told Kevin Zimmerman of "You try to contain him."

It's this defense, coupled with the strong play of its front line, that will make Stanford a threat in the NCAA tournament.


North Dakota State

Elijah Van Benschoten/Associated Press

With a 12-2 record in the Summit League, the North Dakota State Bison hardly struggled in their conference this season. In fact, the teams they lost to (Denver and IPFW) fell to the Bison in the conference tournament. 

The Bison really exacted revenge against Denver, stomping them by a score of 83-48.

Matt Norlander of speaks highly of North Dakota State:

NDSU can score, it can pass, and it makes winning look tough yet easy. A well-built veteran team that's highly unlikely to lose by double digits in the NCAAs. Want to pick 'em to win? You could do a lot worse. Keep an eye out. Saul Phillips' team has been flying under the radar all season for a group that so clearly was the best this conference had to offer.

NDSU was 49th in the nation this season with 76.4 points per game, but what's most impressive about its offense is how efficient it is. The team was No. 1 in the nation with a field-goal percentage of 50.9, led by senior forward Marshall Bjorklund's 63.6 percent shooting.

Don't sleep on NDSU in the NCAA tourney.