NCAA Brackets 2014: Updated Predictions for March Madness Sleeper Squads

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NCAA Brackets 2014: Updated Predictions for March Madness Sleeper Squads
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Every college basketball fan is searching for the school whose foot perfectly fits inside the glass slipper.

If you successfully pick Florida to win the NCAA tournament, nobody is going to sing your praises. Wow, you picked the favorite. How did you pull that off?

That's why everyone patrols the bracket for the Cinderella squad that will make them a hero if the pick pans out. We're all selfishly seeking glory instead of taking the statistically safer approach to guessing the more probable outcomes.

 

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With that considered, I'm not going to recommend riding any No. 15 or No. 16 seeds. A top seed has never lost in the round of 64, and Florida Gulf Coast's wild 2013 was more an anomaly than a harbinger of things to come.

I'm also considering long-term impact, so promising teams (Kentucky, Harvard, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State) with brutal round of 32 opponents were penalized. Don't pick any of these three schools to win it all, but they could easily outperform their seeding.

 

Ohio State

Ohio State isn't the quintessential underdog, but it has a cushy path to the Elite Eight.

While Dayton fits the underdog role much better, the Flyers are a poor match for their larger state cohort. The Buckeyes' lack of offensive firepower presents its biggest obstacle, but Dayton does not play enough defense with a 102.2 defensive rating.

On the other side, defense is Ohio State's meal ticket to March Madness success, and it's difficult to envision an inexperienced Dayton squad conquering that fierce unit. Its 91.2 defensive rating is good for ninth in the nation.

Coach Thad Matta told The Lantern's Eric Seger that playing another team from Ohio should help his club avoid growing complacent before its second-round bout: "For this team, it’s a great thing. I like that. Because there won’t need to be a wake up call, there won’t need to be a, ‘Who is this? Who are they? What conference are they in? I haven’t heard of that guy,’ or anything like that. So I like that from that perspective."

If the Buckeyes can handle the Flyers, a manageable road awaits to a deep run. Syracuse has stumbled down the gate, losing five of its last seven matches. Kansas may have to play without Joel Embiid, who is dealing with an injured back. 

Picking Ohio State into the Elite Eight presents a shrewd move with less risk than riding a fun, but untested No. 13 seed. According to FiveThirtyEight's projections, Ohio State is the only team seeded lower than No. 4 to hold a 20 percent chance of reaching the Elite Eight. 

 

Connecticut

Connecticut isn't a sleeper to win its first match, but the Huskies are a good play to drag into the Sweet 16.

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St. Joseph's is no pushover, but UConn can handle the Atlantic 10 winners, who needed the conference title to avoid sweating out Selection Sunday. Kevin Ollie's squad would be on a roll if not for running into Louisville twice during the past two weeks.

Should the Huskies defeat the Hawks, they'll likely play Villanova in the next round. Heading toward a No. 1 seed, Villanova had to settle for No. 2 in the East region after dropping a Big East tournament bout to Seton Hall, who didn't make the March Madness cut.

One loss should not incite deep panic for the Wildcats, but they have not defeated a ranked opponent since besting Kansas and Iowa to close out November. Since then, they have suffered three blowout victories against top contenders—one against Syracuse and two to Creighton.

UConn has twice defeated Cincinnati, thrice bested Memphis and once topped the top-ranked Florida Gators. A two-way star, Shabazz Napier's 6.6 win shares ranks eighth in college basketball.

It gets dicey after that, as Virginia or Michigan State could be waiting for a spot in the Elite Eight. Still, a Sweet 16 appearance is nothing to sneeze at.

 

Nebraska

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Maybe this is more up your alley.

Nebraska makes for a solid pick to upset Baylor, and knocking off Creighton during the following round isn't out of the cards.

Much like Ohio State vs. Dayton, Nebraska and Baylor pits defense against offense. Per KenPom.com, the Cornhuskers rank 29th in defensive efficiency while the Bears clock in at seventh among all eligible offenses.

Baylor is superior by the numbers, but good luck finding double-digit seeds that look better on paper. Nebraska has proven it can hang with the big boys, beating Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State in 2014. Since losing five straight during the season, the Big 10 squad is 11-4.

While Creighton wields the nation's fiercest offense behind Doug McDermott, it's vulnerable on the other side of the court. Nebraska limits opponents to 31.9 percent shooting from behind the arc, the Bluejays' greatest asset.

Consider Nebraska if you're looking for a bold pick to frequent your Sweet 16.

 

All advanced statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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