February 26, 2014
By Joe Nelson
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2014 NCAA Tournament Upset Threats
The 2013 NCAA Tournament featured some big surprises with teams seeded #9, #12, #13, and #15 all making it to the Sweet 16, with #9 seed Wichita State making the Final Four along with two #4 seeds.
This year’s tournament may not have a ‘Dunk City’ or a ‘shocking’ final four entrant but here are a few deep sleepers that could win a few games from double-digit seed positions.
That is, of course, if they get in.
Wisconsin-Green Bay: The Horizon League lost a couple of programs before this season (notably Butler) but Green Bay has dominated the league at 12-2 while going 22-5 overall. The Phoenix will be the heavy favorite to win the automatic tournament bid in the post-season tournament but they have a chance to get an at-large bid if they get upset. Green Bay has played two elite teams this season and they played commendably in those contests, beating Virginia and losing by just three against Wisconsin. 7’1” senior center Alec Brown is a NBA prospect while the backcourt is led by diminutive junior Keifer Sykes who has scored over 20 points per game. The Phoenix has solid depth with eight players averaging at least 11 minutes per game and there is good balance with strong efficiency numbers on both sides of the ball. Green Bay has shown versatility winning with great defense in holding 12 foes to fewer than 60 points this season while also scoring 80 or more points nine separate times. This is a complete team with veteran talent and a team that no foe will want to draw in a possibly the dreaded #5/12 matchup.
St. John’s: It has taken some time to develop but this young Red Storm squad had hit its stride late in the season. Half of the 10 losses for St. John’s have come against top 10 RPI teams and all of those games were close games with three of the five defeats decided by five points or less. St. John’s nearly won at Villanova last weekend and while this could be a team that ends up right on the bubble, wins in nine of the last 11 games could help to benefit the case for inclusion. St. John’s does not have a great deal of quality wins outside of a win over Creighton but this squad has next level talent and a proven veteran coach that has the team peaking at the right time after some early ups-and-downs. Having already played many of the top teams in the country should help to prepare the team for a potential first round matchup against a less talented team in a likely #8/9 or #7/10 draw should St. John’s finish up the season strong. St. John’s would also be a candidate for one of the first four play-in games depending on how the season finishes out and where the bubble ends up. In recent NCAA Tournaments teams like Virginia Commonwealth and LaSalle have used those games as springboards to great runs in March Madness and this is a team to keep an eye should they make the dance field.
Richmond: The Atlantic 10 has no shortage of quality teams with St. Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, George Washington, and St. Joseph’s getting the most attention. Richmond is a team that may be overlooked as the Spiders feature one of the best defenses in the conference and this squad is battle tested after playing several prominent non-conference games. The Spiders did not win many of those games which will have the program teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble but playing close with teams with elite talent like Florida and North Carolina should give the team confidence in any matchup. The Spiders are led by their backcourt with Cedrick Lindsay and Kendall Anthony being the top performers on the team and there has been great improvement as the year has gone by from the talented young frontcourt. Richmond has been one of the better teams in the nation at defending the 3-point shot which means they could give trouble to a favorite that is reliant on outside shooting in a tournament setting. Richmond has work to do to even make the field but this team could be an overlooked upset threat in March.
Middle Tennessee State: The Blue Raiders currently lead the Conference USA standings but no team in the league is a guaranteed a spot in the big dance. Five teams are currently 10-3 or better in the standings as the monster league with 16 teams is watered down with some of the new entrants struggling at the bottom. Middle Tennessee State has made a smooth transition to the conference but they will need to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament field. No team is playing better late in the season with the Blue Raiders winning nine in a row heading into this week’s big game at Louisiana Tech. Five wins on current streak have come on the road and the Blue Raiders played some credible games in the non-conference season with losses to Florida, Cincinnati, and Mississippi. Being fairly centrally located can also be a plus for the Blue Raiders in the tournament as they won’t face long travel unless they are sent out west to San Diego or Spokane. This is a very tough defensive team that forces a great deal of turnovers with a lot of pressure, something that has led teams like Louisville and VCU to tournament success in recent years. A veteran squad with four seniors that contribute significantly could be a threat if they can get into the picture as last season the Blue Raiders met disappointment with a loss in a first four game with St. Mary’s.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers started the Big Ten season 0-4 and that was after suffering four non-conference losses. Nebraska is 8-2 in the last 10 games however with marquee wins over Ohio State and at Michigan State. This is a team that is on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble right now but with a favorable schedule down the stretch they could make a compelling case for inclusion barring a bad loss or a one-and-done showing in the Big Ten tournament. Nebraska might need to beat Wisconsin in the regular season finale to get into the tournament but should the Huskers take three of the final four games and finish 11-7 in a very strong Big Ten, it will be tough to leave them out. This is a team that no one will want to see lined up against them in the bracket as a young team with only one senior has improved dramatically as the season has gone on and is starting to win games away from home. Six of the last seven foes have been held below 60 points as the defensive efficiency ratings continue to support Nebraska as a high quality team and while the offense is not explosive, the Huskers do a great job of taking care of the ball and getting to the line. This is a team that is much better than the overall season picture represents and would be a dangerous double-digit seed in the big dance.
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