NCAA Bracket Predictions 2014: Sleeper Teams with Best Chances to Make Deep Runs

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterMarch 16, 2014

NCAA Bracket Predictions 2014: Sleeper Teams with Best Chances to Make Deep Runs

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    Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

    Where's this year's Dunk City? 

    That's what everyone wants to know. And you know who enjoyed Dunk City more than anyone else? The guy who had Florida Gulf Coast in his bracket. 

    The key is to find a mid-major team that plays a unique style. It also helps if you can identify the next big thing in coaching before it happens. 

    It's not fair to simply limit "the sleeper" to the mid-majors, so I've got a few major-conference schools that are under-seeded and primed for a run. 

    In most years, I'd say don't pick too many upsets. But if there was a year to go crazy, this would be the one. 

Tennessee

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    Why They're Dangerous:

    Iowa and UMass have to hate this draw. Tennessee is not playing like a No. 11 seed. The Vols' talent is more like that of a top-four seed, and when locked in, they have one of the best defenses in the country. 

    Before losing in the SEC semis to Florida, the Vols were cruising during a five-game winning streak with an average margin of victory of 23 points. 

    Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are a load to handle (520 pounds) up front, and Jordan McRae is one of the best wing scorers in the country. 

     

    Their Kryptonite: 

    Point guard play. Memphis transfer Antonio Barton was supposed to be the answer, but really all Cuonzo Martin has been able to ask from Barton is for him not to make mistakes. He averages only 2.1 assists, putting pressure on McRae to not just score but also be a creator for his teammates. 

     

    Prediction:

    Beating Iowa could prove more difficult for Tennessee than knocking off UMass. If the Vols win those two games, they'll also knock off Duke. The Blue Devils struggle against big front lines. Their run will end in the Sweet 16 against Michigan. 

Harvard

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    Why They're Dangerous:

    Point guard Siyani Chambers dominated New Mexico last year with his penetration and passing. This season he has more options with Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry returning after an academic cheating scandal that forced them to miss last season. 

    The Crimson have major-conference talent and play like it on both ends. They have six players averaging better than nine points. They lost by only eight at Colorado and five at Connecticut when both of those teams were playing well. And they will not view themselves as an underdog after a 26-4 season. 

     

    Their Kryptonite:

    Size. This is a stretch, because Harvard doesn't have a blatant weakness. The frontcourt of Steve Moundou-Missi and Kyle Casey are both only 6'7". 

     

    Prediction:

    The Crimson will lose to the Bearcats in a close game. Getting one of the best defensive teams in the country was a bad draw, and even if they win that game, they'll likely have to face one of the most talented teams in the country in Michigan State. 

Gonzaga

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    Why They're Dangerous:

    A team with two legitimate low-post threats is a rarity anymore and that's what makes Gonzaga so tough to guard. Przemek Karnowski is 7'1" and Sam Dower is the most efficient post-up scorer in the country (with at least 100 possessions used), per Synergy Sports (subscription required). 

    Decide to double down, and the Zags have great shooters outside in Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Drew Barham. 

     

    Their Kryptonite:

    Teams with athletic perimeters. The Zags lost to K-State, Dayton and Memphis, three teams with quick athletes on the perimeter. 

     

    Prediction:

    This pick was made before the bracket came out. I really liked Gonzaga's potential to win one or two games. Then the Zags got Oklahoma State, a team with an uber-athletic backcourt. Whoever wins that game will have a legitimate shot to beat Arizona. 

Baylor

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    Why They're Dangerous:

    Want a great shot-blocker? Isaiah Austin blocks 3.3 per game. Want a low-post scorer? Baylor has two in Cory Jefferson and Austin. Want a three-point ace? Brady Heslip shoots 47.3 percent from deep. A good setup man? Unlike his predecessor (Pierre Jackson), Kenny Chery doesn't try to do too much and averages 5.0 assists per game. 

    The Bears also have athletic wings and are the third-best offensive rebounding team in the country. They're a complete team. So why the record? They had a bad 10-game run in the best league in the country. 

     

    Their Kryponite:

    Consistent effort. The Bears don't always bring it, but Scott Drew is getting it lately. 

     

    Prediction:

    The West is one of the weakest regions and my prediction is something crazy is going to happen. How crazy? Baylor will end up in the Final Four. 

New Mexico

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    Why They're Dangerous:

    Disrespect. Many will probably pick against New Mexico because of last season's tournament loss to Harvard. That would be a mistake. Look instead at what New Mexico has done the last two years before the NCAA tournament, going 56-11. 

    Cameron Bairstow is the best power forward in the country not named Doug McDermott. Alex Kirk can score with his back to the basket and the face-up jumper. And Kendall Williams is one of the most underrated guards in the country. 

     

    Their Kryptonite:

    They don't force a lot of turnovers and rely on missed shots. 

     

    Prediction:

    Without Joel Embiid, Kansas will be overwhelmed by Bairstow and Kirk. The Lobos will then knock off Syracuse before losing in the Elite Eight to Florida. 

North Dakota State

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    Why They're Dangerous:

    Most defenses are set up to try to take away good three-point looks and shots at the rim. That's why a team like Michigan that can score in between is so hard to guard. The Bison fit in that category. They make 44.9 percent of their two-point jumpers, second-best in the country according to Hoop-Math.com. They also have one of the top shooting guards in the country in Taylor Braun, who at 6'7" is matchup problem for most guards. 

     

    Their Kryptonite:

    Whether it has been bad luck or a result of defensive style, North Dakota State has not defended the three-point line well. NDSU opponents shoot 37.5 percent from deep. 

     

    Prediction:

    The Bison got rewarded with a No. 5 seed in Oklahoma that doesn't like to play defense. They're the No. 12 seed most likely to pull off the upset. Unfortunately, San Diego State plays great defense and has plenty of length and athletes to throw at Braun. The Bison's run ends in the Round of 32. 

Stephen F. Austin

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    Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

    Why They're Dangerous:

    First-year coach Brad Underwood had been an assistant for Frank Martin. Three years ago when Martin was still at K-State, Underwood was a big part of a midseason turnaround when he convinced Martin to install the pinch-post offense. 

    Now Underwood is running that offense at Stephen F. Austin and it's a difficult system to defend. Underwood's guys have won 28 straight, and he owes some of that success to Martin. The old coach's influence is obvious in the way the Lumberjacks attack the glass—getting back 38.5 percent of their misses—and the way they apply pressure defensively, turning opponents over nearly once every four possessions. 

     

    Their Kryptonite:

    They foul a lot. That's another staple of Martin's teams that Underwood has duplicated. 

     

    Prediction:

    The Lumberjacks will be able to control pace and knock off VCU, but they don't have the talent to run with UCLA in the Round of 32. 

Tulsa

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    Why They're Dangerous:

    In 2000, Tulsa was coached by future Kansas coach Bill Self and made the Elite Eight. Now Tulsa is coached by former Self assistant Danny Manning. Manning runs a lot of Self's stuff and has his team playing even better defense this year than Self's Jayhawks. He has Tulsa in the tournament in his second season with seven sophomores in his rotation. The man can obviously coach.

     

    Their Kryptonite:

    Shooting. Tulsa shoots only 32.5 percent from distance and 67.5 percent at the free-throw line.

     

    Prediction:

    Tulsa has played against several great offenses (Creighton and Oklahoma) and lost by 10 each time. That was early in the year before Danny Manning had his team playing great on the defensive end. The Golden Hurricane will keep it close against the Bruins, but they're probably a year away from making a run.

     

    All Your Bracket Essentials:

     

    C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.