March Madness 2014 Bracket: Sleeper Picks to Reach at Least Sweet 16

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March Madness 2014 Bracket: Sleeper Picks to Reach at Least Sweet 16
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If all the top seeds won, no one would care about the NCAA tournament.

The good news for fans and those filling out brackets is that anything can happen. You would not expect No. 15 seeds to beat No. 2 seeds or a No. 8 to beat a No. 1, but strange things occur every season. This tournament will be no different.

If you want to win your pool, you need to stay ahead of the pack by knowing which teams will exceed expectations with multiple wins.

These squads will have difficult first- or second-round matchups, but they each have the ability to advance to the Sweet 16 and possibly further with strong performances.

 

All Your Bracket Essentials:

Bleacher Report

 

No. 7 Connecticut

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the teams seeded No. 7 or lower, Connecticut has the best chance to reach the Sweet 16. The reason for this is Shabazz Napier, who has been one of the best guards in the country all season.

The senior currently leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals while having hit big shots throughout the regular season, including this game-winner over Florida:

He has finally gotten some help as of late, with DeAndre Daniels putting together some big games down the stretch. With Ryan Boatright and Niels Giffey able to hit open shots, the offense is finally clicking.

However, it is the defense that has truly excelled this year, with Amida Brimah helping the squad rank eighth in the country in blocks per game. KenPom.com ranks the Huskies as having the No. 11 defense in college basketball.

This low-post presence will help against Saint Joseph's, which struggled in non-conference play and did not see too many great big men in the Atlantic 10.

In the second game, UConn will likely face No. 2 Villanova, which has not been challenged lately. The Wildcats do not have an RPI Top 40 win since the start of 2014 and could struggle against a team with a great scorer like Napier.

This shot is also likely on the minds of many Villanova fans and personnel:

Napier might be able to recreate this moment, or he can simply help lead his team to an easier victory, as the squad has what it takes to make a surprising run to the Sweet 16 and possibly even the Elite Eight.

 

No. 11 Dayton

Although Dayton was one of the last at-large teams in the field, the Flyers have an advantage of playing in a bracket with teams that have struggled mightily down the stretch.

Ohio State started the season 15-0 before going 10-9 for the rest of the year. The team had big wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin in Big Ten play, but the offense has been incredibly inconsistent.

As good as point guard Aaron Craft is on the defensive end, he hurts the team offensively with his poor shooting and inability to distribute to teammates.

Dayton also has a personal vengeance against the in-state rivals after being unable to schedule a game for years, as noted by Dana O'Neil of ESPN:

The Flyers would certainly love to take advantage of this opportunity. If they are able to survive the first game, they would likely get another team that has faltered down the stretch in Syracuse.

After starting 25-0, the Orange have only won two of their last seven games, scoring more than 70 points in one of them. Despite these offensive struggles, head coach Jim Boeheim is confident, via Mike Waters of Syracuse.com:

I'm not concerned about our team. I think we played well all year. I think we struggle shooting it. I think that's pretty well documented. But in spite of that, we won 27 games. So I'm pretty pleased with what these guys have done. And I believe that we'll be a very good tournament team.

No matter what he says publicly, there must be legitimate concerns privately with a team that is clearly not as good as it was earlier in the year. Dayton has a chance to take advantage of it with some hot shooting from the outside to get into the Sweet 16.

 

No. 10 Arizona State

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

While the Sun Devils have a tendency to be inconsistent, they can clearly beat anyone in the country when things are going well.

One of the reasons for this is Jahii Carson, the diminutive guard capable of putting up huge points in a hurry. He scored 40 points in a win at UNLV earlier in the season and is always a threat to score at least 20.

The sophomore already has over 1,200 points in his two-year career and could break some records if he stays in school. He pairs with Jermaine Marshall to create one of the top backcourts in the country, something that Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports predicted earlier in the year:

Still, the big difference is the interior defense of Jordan Bachynski, who leads the nation with 4.1 blocks per game. His ability to alter shots as well as bring in rebounds will take away the one advantage Texas has against most teams inside.

If the Sun Devils are able to advance, they will likely face Michigan in the next round. While the Wolverines did win the Big Ten, Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal points out that they are one of a few top teams that struggle defensively:

Michigan keeps a slow pace but still gives up too many points, especially in the paint without a true rim protector down low. This will allow Carson and Marshall to get easy buckets at the rim.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines will be limited offensively by a strong interior presence while failing to get second-chance points. This puts too much pressure on Nik Stauskas to do it all himself on the perimeter, leading to an upset.

 

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