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Six sleeper Sweet 16 teams

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source: AP
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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Vanderbilt advances; N.C. State tops LSU

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No. 19 Vanderbilt 86, Wake Forest 64: In the first semifinal at the Maui Invitational, the Commodores had an impressive start-to-finish effort in completely outplaying Wake Forest. Damian Jones had 17 points and 10 rebounds while Wade Baldwin IV also added 17. Vanderbilt shot 49 percent from the floor while holding Wake Forest to 32 percent shooting.

N.C. State 83, No. 22 LSU 72, OT: LSU squandered a valuable opportunity for some good non-conference wins by losing again on Tuesday night and going 0-2 at the Barclays Center this week. The Wolfpack used 20 points from junior point guard Cat Barber to guide them to victory.

Ben Simmons had another solid stat-line, but the Tigers still lost. CBT’s Rob Dauster has more on this one.

Louisiana Tech 82, Ohio State 74: Ohio State had won 61 consecutive non-conference home games against unranked teams before losing back-to-back games against UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs went 10-for-25 from 3-point range and Ohio State turned the ball over 14 times. Alex Hamilton led Louisiana Tech with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Marquette 78, Arizona State 73, OT: The Golden Eagles picked up another huge win on a neutral court as Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer finished with 18 points. Marquette’s defense held Arizona State to 38 percent shooting.


Derrick Jones Jr., UNLV: The high-flying freshman went for 26 points in a win over Chaminade and also threw down some ridiculous dunks.

Javion Ogunyemi, Siena: Scoring a career-high 24 points was strong enough, but Ogunyemi also made the game-winning bucket with 2.2 seconds left to give the Saints an 83-81 overtime win over Bucknell.


  • Maryland once again trailed in the final five minutes but rallied to beat Illinois State. Rasheed Sulaimon led the No. 3 Terps with 18 points.
  • No. 7 Oklahoma rolled past Incarnate Word as Buddy Hield had 22 points.
  • In the consolation bracket at Maui, No. 13 Indiana rebounded with a win over St. John’s as Yogi Ferrell went for 22 points.
  • No. 24 Cincinnati remained unbeaten with a 64-49 win over Southeastern Louisiana as Jacob Evans and Troy Caupain each had 15 points.


  • Duquesne held off Milwaukee in overtime as Derrick Colter had 27 points and Micah Mason had 26 points and nine assists.
  • George Washington rolled past Gardner-Webb as Tyler Cavanaugh had 20 points.
  • UMass Lowell cruised by Wheelhouse College as Dontavius Smith broke a backboard during the game and finished with 14 points.
  • Rhode Island knocked off TCU as Four McGlynn had 18 points.
  • Cameron Jones knocked down five 3-pointers and finished with 23 points as Radford upset Penn State on the road.
  • South Florida escaped with a home win over Albany as Chris Perry had the late go-ahead dunk and Angel Nunez led the Bulls with 16 points.
  • Northwestern topped Missouri in the consolation game of the CBE Classic as Tre Demps had 13 points.
  • Saint Louis beat North Florida as Ash Yacoubou had 20 points to lead the Billikens.
  • Nebraska cruised past Arkansas-Pine Bluff as Andrew White finished with 16 points.
  • Tennessee rolled past Army as Armani Moore had 29 points and Kevin Punter added 26 points.
  • Louisville picked up an easy win over St. Francis  (Brooklyn) as Damion Lee  had 21 points.
  • Virginia Tech earned a big win over North Carolina A&T as Zach LeDay had 30 points.


Ben Simmons: Another memorable stat-line, another loss

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons stays setting records.

One night after becoming the first high-major player to finish with at least 20 points, 20 boards and five assists in a game since Blake Griffin in 2008, Simmons became the first player to notch 10 boards, 10 assists, three steals and three blocks in a game since Luke Walton did it for Arizona back in 2002.

[MORE: Why scouts think Simmons is overrated]

To get an idea of how rare that is, Luke Walton is currently the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

Here’s the issue: Simmons — who finished with 14 boards, 10 assists, three steals, three blocks and no turnovers — was just 1-for-6 from the floor with four points as the Tigers lost their second straight game at the Legends Classic, this time falling to N.C. State in overtime, 83-72.

[MORE: Simmons’ Enigma: Transcendent star? Overrated? Or irrelevant?]

Unfortunately, it looks like the predictions are coming to fruition, that this LSU team, loaded with talent, with spend the season on the periphery of the national consciousness.

There’s a reason to be hopeful.

Keith Hornsby, who averaged 13.4 points last season, is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery for an undisclosed injury. Craig Victor will be eligible for the second semester. Reserves are on the way, and having an athletic five-man and a shooter like Hornsby will certainly help a team that likes to spread the floor and play in transition.

After watching LSU play the last two days, they need all the help they can get. Marquette and N.C. State are name-brand programs, but there’s no guarantee that either of them are going to be NCAA tournament teams. In other words, those two losses aren’t going in the book as “good losses”.

Yesterday, I was worried about LSU not being able to make a run in the NCAA tournament. After today, I’m just hoping that they’ll be able to get into the tournament at all.