Skip to content

Six sleeper Sweet 16 teams

Mar 18, 2014, 12:55 PM EST

source: AP

AP Photo

REGION PREVIEWSEast Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

We all remember the Cinderella stories from March Madness. The George Masons, Hamptons, and Northern Iowas, these are the teams that can ease a smile out of the most hardened and jaded NCAA antagonist. We love the NCAA tournament because these sleeper squads make the postseason seem democratic.

The selection committee, sequestered in various hotel suites, is the sporting equivalent of the Wizard of Oz, but Cinderellas level the field, and we’ve listed the six teams, all higher than a seven seed, that have the potential to make the tournament’s second weekend.

SOUTH REGION

No. 13 Tulsa (vs. No. 4 UCLA; then either No. 5 VCU/No. 12 Stephen F. Austin): A first-round match-up against UCLA, a team that rendered the vaunted Arizona defense toothless, appears catastrophically poor for Danny Manning’s squad, but the Golden Hurricane is also a sound defensive squad, one that forces turnovers at a pretty rapid rate (20.4 percent). The team also keeps opponents off the glass, and UCLA isn’t known for securing additional possessions. Should Tulsa advance to the round of 32, the team also matches well with either VCU or Stephen F. Austin.

A large percentage of Tulsa’ scoring comes from the free throw line, and the Lumberjacks foul quite frequently (52.5 percent defensive free throw rate). VCU defends ferociously and shoots a fair number of threes, but since the Rams will likely miss guard Melvin Johnson, VCU will be without their most efficient perimeter option (39.5 percent). Tulsa can withstand VCU’s trademark ball pressure because the Golden Hurricane have a sticky handle in the midst of ball hawks (16.6 turnover rate, ranked within Ken Pomeroy’s top sixty).

MORE8 teams that can win it all  |  8 clutch players  |  7 teams that won’t win it all

No. 14 Western Michigan (vs. No. 3 Syracuse; then either No. 6 Ohio State/No. 11 Dayton): America should be ready to meet Shayne Whittington, Western Michigan’s 6-foot-11 center. The big makes 55.9 percent of his twos, and while WMU hasn’t played Syracuse during the past two seasons, the Broncos have faced a very similar defense. During WMU’s four games against Eastern Michigan, a team coached by ex-Cuse assistant Rob Murphy and one which uses a 2-3 zone, Whittington made 53 percent of his attempts within the arc.

Both of their second round opponents aren’t great at defending the interior — Ohio State and Dayton allow teams to make close to 50 percent of those shots — which is a bonus for a Western Michigan team which is one of the best at converting their twos, ranking twelfth nationally. The other two Broncos who use a high percentage of WMU’s attempts, David Brown and Connar Tava, are efficient up to 19 feet from the basket.

EAST REGION

No. 9 George Washington (vs. No. 8 Memphis; then either No. 1 Virginia/No. 16 Coastal Carolina): Memphis is not a good match-up for the defensive-oriented Colonials. The Tigers turn the ball over on nearly 20 percent of their possessions (that’s bad), don’t get to the free throw line (not great), and are a poor perimeter shooting team (another box checked) — all attributes which are pluses on George Washington’s defensive resume.

Assuming the second round tilt is against Virginia, Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense would be an interesting test for the Colonials. The return of Kethan Savage (and if he can play meaningful minutes) and the emergence of Nemanja Mikic are both crucial for a Sweet 16 birth. Lacking the presence of another perimeter threat, opponents could concentrate solely on Mikic last season, but the addition of Maurice Creek has helped boost Mikic’s clear looks.

No. 10 Saint Joseph’s (vs. No. 7 Connecticut; then either No. 2 Villanova/No. 15 Milwaukee): St. Joe’s Langston Galloway is coming off a torrid shooting performance in the Atlantic 10 tournament, but the team’s frontcourt will be the focus against UConn. Halil Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts, and DeAndre Bembry should take advantage of the foul-prone Husky bigs — DeAndre Daniels is the only forward who plays substantial minutes and does not accumulate more than six or more fouls per 40 minutes (an issue for both Amida Brimah and Philip Nolan). The likelier second-round game will be against Villanova, and the ensuing Holy War rematch, one dominated by the Wildcats earlier this season, could be a classic.

WEST REGION

No. 11 Nebraska (vs. No. 6 Baylor; then either No. 3 Creighton/No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette): Even though Nebraska isn’t an offensive juggernaut, Baylor’s defense provides large gaps for point production — only one other at-large squad had a worse defensive efficiency rate than Scott Drew’s team (North Carolina State). Even though Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long pose a potential threat, Creighton should emerge from that first-round tilt. Nebraska was embarrassed by the Bluejays earlier this season, but this is a much different Huskers squad (for starters, Deverell Biggs is no longer bogarting shots) and the emergence of Terran Petteway is a match-up problem for CU.

MIDWEST REGION

No. 14 Mercer (vs. No. 3 Duke; then either No. 6 Massachusetts/No. 11 Iowa/No. 11 Tennessee): Mercer is the epitome of a Giant Killer. The Bears shoot a high percentage both within and beyond the arc, and those attempts are spread amongst a handful of players, each of whom either make a plethora of twos or threes (Bud Thomas and Anthony White, however, make both). There is an offensive balance to this team — no one Bear truly dominates touches — which could be an problem for a Duke team possessing some defensive issues.

Duke traditionally defends the three-point arc well, but two-point field goals are easy to achieve. Unfortunately for Mike Krzyzsewski, this is an even weaker defensive team than the one which lost to Lehigh in the 2012 tournament. Iowa and UMass also have suspect defenses, and while Tennessee is defined by their stingy leanings, the Vols don’t force many turnovers. Against a team that doesn’t miss often, a failure to pressure the ball and simply allow them to run their offense could prove disastrous.

Latest Posts
  1. Sluggish performance, Norman Powell drop No. 11 Utah out of Pac-12’s top spot

    Jan 30, 2015, 10:35 AM EST

    Delon Wright, Isaac Hamilton Delon Wright, Isaac Hamilton

    Thursday’s loss was a reminder of the fact that these current Utah players are still getting used to being the “hunted.”

  2. D’Angelo Russell wasn’t the only freshman to step forward for Ohio State Thursday night

    Jan 30, 2015, 9:50 AM EST

    Morehead State v Ohio State Getty Images

    While D’Angelo Russell gets most of the attention (and rightfully so), another freshman has stepped forward in the last two games for the Buckeyes.

  3. Weekend Preview: Duke-Virginia, an MVC showdown and UNC-Louisville

    Jan 30, 2015, 9:02 AM EST

    Justin Anderson AP

    The Super Bowl isn’t the only high-octane action we’ll see this weekend.

  4. Former Oregon signee JaQuan Lyle verbally commits to Ohio State

    Jan 30, 2015, 12:19 AM EST

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    With Shannon Scott being a senior and D’Angelo Russell considered to be a possible lottery pick if he goes pro, JaQuan Lyle’s commitment is a nice insurance policy moving forward.

  5. POSTERIZED: Ike Nwamu’s emphatic dunk was originally called a charge (VIDEO)

    Jan 29, 2015, 10:57 PM EST

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwvjyjbiodlizwnmy2q0oge3yzm2zwrmyjq1zti2ndiw AP

    Ike Nwamu scored 20 points in the Bears’ 75-72 overtime win over Chattanooga, but should he have two (or three) more points to his credit?

  6. Thursday’s Snacks: Ohio State rolls past No. 16 Maryland

    Jan 29, 2015, 9:38 PM EST

    D'Angelo Russell, Dez Wells AP

    Providence’s Kris Dunn posted the program’s first triple-double since 2006, and UMass held off Dayton in Amherst.

  7. Big 12/SEC Challenge to be a one-day affair next season

    Jan 29, 2015, 8:44 PM EST

    Champions Classic: Kansas v. Kentucky Getty Images

    The third year of the event means an improved schedule, with all ten games being played on one day.

  8. Bradley’s leading scorer one of three players facing disciplinary action following incident Thursday morning

    Jan 29, 2015, 6:57 PM EST

    Bradley v Memphis Bradley v Memphis

    Warren Jones is averaging a team-best 13.8 points per game for Bradley, which has lost six of its last seven games.

  9. Brown’s leading scorer and rebounder decides to leave program

    Jan 29, 2015, 5:46 PM EST

    Brown v American Brown v American

    Leland King led Brown in scoring and was also tied for the team lead in rebounds per game.

  10. Duke dismisses reserve shooting guard from program

    Jan 29, 2015, 4:42 PM EST

    Duke v Louisville Getty Images

    Rasheed Sulaimon played 12 minutes in the Blue Devils’ loss at No. 8 Notre Dame Wednesday night.

  11. Chase for 180: Already a good shooter, Tyler Harvey’s been even better in 2014-15

    Jan 29, 2015, 4:15 PM EST

    Troy Williams, Tyler Harvey AP

    The Eastern Washington guard has received more attention nationally in recent weeks, and it’s well-deserved.

  12. Film Session: The case for Jerian Grant as National Player of the Year

    Jan 29, 2015, 3:28 PM EST

    Jerian Grant (AP Photo) AP

    At the very least, he’s the most valuable player in the country.

  13. Reports: Two Southern Miss players ruled ineligible by NCAA

    Jan 29, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Donnie Tyndall’s trail of destruction in Hattiesburg continues to grow.

  14. Pregame Shootaround: A terrific matchup of talented, freshmen point guards

    Jan 29, 2015, 1:09 PM EST

    Melo Trimble Melo Trimble

    Melo Trimble vs. D’Angelo Russell will be worth the two hours.

  15. Assigned Reading: Former top 100 recruit Noah Cottrill kicked addiction, thriving in NAIA

    Jan 29, 2015, 10:04 AM EST

    spts_12_17_09-e1340037417375

    Cottrill was once ranked above Shabazz Napier and Aaron Craft, among many others.

  16. St. John’s guard strains patella in loss at Creighton

    Jan 29, 2015, 9:08 AM EST

    AP AP

    Rysheed Jordan averages 13.4 points.

  17. Gilvydas Biruta’s putback as time expires saves Rhode Island (VIDEO)

    Jan 28, 2015, 11:24 PM EST

    Gilvydas Biruta, Matt Hubbard Gilvydas Biruta, Matt Hubbard

    Rhode Island moved to 14-5 overall and 6-2 in Atlantic 10 play with the win over Fordham.