March Madness 2014: Predicting NCAA Tournament's Top Sleepers

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March Madness 2014: Predicting NCAA Tournament's Top Sleepers
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press


Pinpointing the correct sleeper to go on a run of upsets is not just beneficial to brackets, it is extremely gratifying. 

It happens every year. There is at least one sleeper team that destroys brackets in an impressive run. Of course, picking them is not a science. This tournament is called March Madness for a reason, after all. 

Still, there are key ingredients in the following three teams I'll highlight below that makes them prime sleeper candidates. First, have a look at all the bracket information you need. 

 

All Your Bracket Essentials:

Source: Bleacher Report

 

West No. 6: Baylor

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Baylor Bears had their share of struggles this year, but they are peaking at the right time. 

Baylor has won 10 of its last 12. That includes a 13-point win over Iowa State (No. 3 seed in the East) and a four-point win over Oklahoma (No. 5 seed in the West).

The hot closing stretch coincides with Kenny Chery returning to health and the starting lineup.

NBC Sports' Rob Dauster was certainly impressed with Chery at the close of the season:

The junior guard knows how to fill the stat sheet, and he provides a steady hand for the Bears. He also has weapons to distribute the ball to. This starts with senior forward Cory Jefferson. 

What really makes the Bears jump out is their road to the Elite Eight. 

Wisconsin (No. 2) and Creighton (No. 3) are the top seeds in Baylor's half of the region. 

The Badgers picked up six losses in the Big Ten this year, and Creighton slumped to end the season.

Baylor is in great position to make waves in this tournament. 

 

South No. 7: New Mexico

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

New Mexico burned me last year when it fell as a No. 3 seed to Harvard in the first round. Still, I'm back for more.

This time around, the Lobos are under-seeded.   

New Mexico won the Mountain West conference's regular-season and tournament titles, and it lost just six games all season. 

Which of these teams will advance the furthest?

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The Lobos bring great balance to this tournament. They can beat teams with offense or defense. They also check in with the nation's 15th-best mark with a 1.46 assist-to-turnover ratio. New Mexico is also eighth in the nation in defensive rebounding. 

New Mexico is in the South with No. 1 Florida, but it is in the lower half of the region where the top seeds are Kansas (No. 2) and Syracuse (No. 3). 

It is hard to tell what either of those teams will offer in the tournament. Syracuse limped to the end of its regular season, and Kansas is dealing with a big health concern. 

Center Joel Embiid has had back issues, and he isn't out of the woods yet. In a tweet from Kansas Basketball, Kansas head coach Bill Self provided an update: 

The lower half of the South is filled with question marks. This makes the consistency and balance of New Mexico very appealing. 

 

West No. 12: Harvard 

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Let's dig a little deeper down the seeds to find the last sleeper.

As I mentioned above, Harvard stunned many last year by beating New Mexico and went on to make the third round.

The Crimson could go further this year.

Harvard dominated the Ivy League and lost just one conference game. It lost just four games overall. 

Under the guidance of head coach Tommy Amaker, Harvard has turned into a perennial tournament team. That has led to the Crimson bringing in an experienced and battle-tested team.

Amaker talked about his process at Harvard with Pat Eaton-Robb of the Associated Press (via The Charlotte Observer). Amaker: 

I think all coaches and programs are striving to be in a position where maybe you're the favorite or you're that type of team; you're a contender on a consistent basis. That's what we've talked about being. 

Harvard's road is certainly not easy. The Crimson will start off with rugged Cincinnati and then face the possibility of taking on Michigan State. The Spartans have become a chic pick to make the championship game. 

The Crimson have an array of three-point shooters, however, and if they are hot from the floor, Harvard can upset anyone. 

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