NCAA Tournament 2014: Favorites and Cinderellas To Watch For In March
NCAA Tournament 2014: Favorites And Cinderellas to Watch for In March
Seemingly every year, there are a couple of teams that everyone expects to make deep tournament runs in the NCAA tournament that do. There are also usually a couple teams that reach the late stages of the tournament that nobody saw coming. The mixture of favorites and sleepers is what usually sets up David vs. Goliath type match ups in the later rounds of the tournament and it makes for a great spectacle.
Everyone likes to root for the underdog, unless of course, you're already a fan of a powerhouse team. Really, the underdog vs. powerhouse match up makes for one of the better narratives in all of sports.
This March should be no different. There are plenty of teams that most people envision making the trip to Dallas and there are plenty that few have ever heard of. You can count on teams falling into both categories playing late into this year's tournament. So that brings us to the ultimate question: which teams will be pitted against each other in these David vs. Goliath match ups?
Since the brackets haven't been made yet and the regions aren't set, it's impossible to look at possible match ups, but what is possible is to look at some teams that fall into each category that have a good chance of reaching the later stages of the tournament.
There is still plenty left to be decided in the last few regular season games and conference tournament games for each team, but from what they've shown so far this season, there are several teams that look to be favorites in March. The same can be said for teams that seem primed to surprise the nation and attempt to play the role of Cinderella and see if the slipper, in fact, fits. Here are five teams that fall into each category that look to make noise in different ways this March.
The Wildcats have reclaimed a spot at the top of the college basketball universe behind steady play across the board this season, which has spurred them to a 26-2 start. They dominate the boards, play complete team basketball and shoot well from the field. All of those aspects of the game are extremely important in March and the Wildcats rank in the top 50 in all of college basketball in rebounding, assists and shooting percentage. Those all bode well for one of the favorites to win it all come March.
Cinderella: St. Joseph's
At 21-7, the Hawks seem primed to earn an at-large bid for the tournament this season. Projected as a No. 10 seed right now, they're a double-digit seed that's more than capable of making a run in March. While they don't rebound particularly well, the Hawks have two consistent sources of scoring in Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts Jr. Having two legitimate scoring options in March is invaluable and it could very easily propel them into the later stages of the NCAA tournament.
Favorite: Wichita State
The Shockers just finished off the first undefeated regular season in 10 seasons and the first 31-0 start since UNLV did it in the 1991-92 season. While they do play in a relatively weak Missouri Valley Conference, this phenomenal start is no fluke. Wichita State plays a very physical style of basketball that wears on other teams and ends up paying dividends late in games. A very solid rebounding team, the Shockers are as well rounded as any team in the nation and look to reach the Final Four for the second consecutive season.
Even though they play in a power conference, the Volunteers are going to be a dangerous team in March if they're able to secure a spot in the tournament. Right now, they're slated for a No. 11 seed. They aren't a great passing team, but players like Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes are capable of getting in the lane and creating their own shots. Mainly, this team can dominate the boards and extend possessions and despite their inconsistent play, they can make some noise in the early-going of this year's tournament.
After dismantling LSU, the Gators moved to 16-0 in SEC conference play and 27-2 overall. With plenty of senior leadership, this Florida team is starting to look scary at exactly the right time. They're on track to claim the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament at this point and for good reason. They haven't lost since December 2nd because they simply haven't allowed other teams to score. Florida is averaging 57.8 points against per game during their current 21-game winning streak. If that defensive effort continues, it's likely the Gators will be cutting down the nets in early April.
The Bears looked like a force to be reckoned with in the early going, but then they went 2-8 in a month span. That stretch pushed them out of the projected tournament field, but they've regained their form and are now a projected 11-seed. They have won five of their last six games now and are rolling. Two recent overtime wins have shown the Bears' resolve. Baylor is just 2-7 against ranked teams, though; that's concerning. Those concerns aside, this team has a lot of upside and they could remind us why they were talked about so much early on.
After struggling a bit early on in the season, the Jayhawks have somehow managed to fly largely under the radar this season. As they've found their stride and put themselves in position to claim yet another one-seed come tournament time, they can't fly under the radar anymore. Shooting over 50 percent from the field, the Jayhawks are extremely efficient and don't waste chances at the offensive end of the floor. Kansas is led by two top-three NBA prospects, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. So while talent isn't everything, having a lot of it can help a lot come tournament time.
The Catamounts have one of the coolest mascots in college sports and they have one of the least well-known teams in the projected tournament field. As a projected No. 14 seed, it may be tough for Vermont to advance, but they have the pieces in place to make a surprise run in March. Clancy Rugg and Sandro Carissimo lead a steady scoring attack and the team is efficient, shooting over 47 percent from the field. Multiple scoring options and solid overall shooting could help Vermont to become this year's Cinderella.
After starting the season 25-0, the Orangemen have struggled mightily as of late. They've dropped three out of their last four contests and their lone win against unranked Maryland was by two points. Clearly, the previous No. 1 team in the country has lost their way, but they're a favorite in this year's tournament nonetheless. Their famed 2-3 defense is alive and well and can suffocate opposing offense at times. If you can't score, you can't win and that's what the Orangemen are counting on in the tournament.
The Cougars have hit a really solid point in their season right now as they've won eight of their last nine games and have looked good in doing it. BYU pretty much does everything well offensively as they average the third-most points per game in the country while also ranking seventh in rebounds and 11th in assists. As a projected No. 11 seed, the Cougars could easily blow teams out of the water with their offensive scoring attack. Teams that can put up points in bunches like that are usually successful in March.