March Madness 2014: Safe Picks That Will Build Momentum Before Deep Runs

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 14:  Talib Zanna #42 of the Pittsburgh Panthers celebrates on the bench with teammates against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the quarterfinals of the 2014 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 14, 2014 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A little momentum goes a long way in the Big Dance.

Each year, that one middle seed many perhaps pick to lose in the early goings simply catches fire and makes a deeper run than expected. While an extreme example, look at what Wichita State was able to do last year as a No. 9 seed, advancing all the way to the Final Four and taking down a No. 1 seed in the process.

The Shockers won't be, well, shocking anyone this year as a No. 1 seed, but there are a few candidates with various seeds that appear to be in a position to make a deep run based on recent form and the bracket itself.


All Your Bracket Essentials:

Bleacher Report


No. 5 Cincinnati Over No. 12 Harvard (East)

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 6:  Sean Kilpatrick #23 of the Cincinnati Bearcats celebrates during the game against the Connecticut Huskies at Fifth Third Arena on February 6, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati won its 15th straight game, 63-58 over the Hus
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Now is not the time to count out the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Yes, a 58-56 loss in the AAC semifinals to Connecticut hurts, but as long as Mick Cronin's team does not see the Huskies for an extended period of time—it's 1-2 against them this yearthings will work out.

Now take a gander at the bracket. A matchup with Harvard to kick things off is solid enough. The Crimson's numbers are inflated thanks to playing in the Ivy League and they have crumbled against teams such as Connecticut.

After that, the Bearcats get a shot at one of Michigan State or Delaware, which are both somewhat favorable matchups as well considering Cincinnati's defensive prowess. 

Cincinnati, led by star senior Sean Kilpatrick and his 20.7 points per game, can play with any team in the nation when the shots are falling.

Things are extremely tricky with a matchup against Michigan State followed by what would likely be a showdown with Virginia, but the Bearcats are battle-tested from the AAC and the seed to watch from the East as far as sleeper status goes.


No. 9 Pittsburgh Over No. 8 Colorado (South)

Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

While it's disappointing that Pittsburgh was once again unable to overcome Virginia, the final time in the ACC tournament semifinals, the Panthers made themselves known in a big way thanks to their performances in the games prior.

Against Wake Forest, the Panthers exploded for an 84-55 victory before taking down No. 15 North Carolina 80-75.

Look, the Panthers have seven losses against the top 50 in the Ratings Percentage Index, but a matchup against Colorado looks great on paper and senior Talib Zanna has been on fire as of late, grabbing 39 rebounds and 51 points in his last three games.

Zanna is a man on a mission, which certainly still applies to the NCAA tournament in his last year at the collegiate level. He told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as much during the ACC tournament:

"I just want to win and make history before I graduate," he said. "Well, I've already graduated [with a degree in social sciences]. But I want to make history before I leave Pitt. This is our first ACC tournament. We all want to make history."

The Buffaloes have consistently crumbled against bigger programs this year and don't have the means to slow down Zanna on either end of the court.

The Panthers' second game would likely come against Florida, which is another team they match up well with athletically. If Pittsburgh can win a close, physical battle there, the rest of the South is rather easy.


No. 9 Oklahoma State Over No. 8 Gonzaga (West) 

FORT WORTH, TX - FEBRUARY 24: Marcus Smart #43 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys shoots a three-pointer against the TCU Horned Frogs on February 24, 2014 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

It is rather easy to write off Oklahoma State after an early exit from the Big 12 tournament via a quarterfinal loss to No. 10 Kansas, where the Cowboys mustered just three points in overtime.

Those filling out brackets are taking quite the risk in doing so.

As's Jeff Borzello pointed out during that loss to the Jayhawks, many top seeds were hoping for the Cowboys to prevail—in order to avoid facing them in the tournament:

Led by Marcus Smart, who averages 17.8 points per game, the Cowboys are a nightmare for top teams thanks to scrappy defense and a potent offense. This translates well to a matchup with Gonzaga, a team that ranks in the top five in field-goal percentage.

Stingy defense is what will get the Cowboys past an efficient team like the Bulldogs and into very winnable matchups against the likes of Arizona later in the region.


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