November 11, 2012; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators guard Mike Rosario (3), who had 14 points, celebrates as forward/center Erik Murphy (33) looks on after their game at the Stephen C. O

NCAA Tournament Picks 2013: Dark Horse Bracket Busters That Could Make Deep Runs

Mar 17, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Virginia Commonwealth Rams guard Rob Brandenberg (11) reacts during the second half against the Saint Louis Billikens of the championship game of the Atlantic 10 at the Barclays Center. Saint Louis won 62-56. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most exciting things about March Madness is seeing which teams can create the best storylines and keep them going for the longest amount of time. This is commonly confused as being a Cinderella Team, but there’s a distinct difference between being a dark horse sleeper and a cinderella sleeper. Cinderella teams are your lower seeded teams, like this year’s Oregon Ducks or Bucknell Bison. If you’re ranked lower than one but not a standout favorite to do damage within a specific region like New Mexico, Georgetown or Miami, then you’re categorized as a dark horse.

Think in terms of fantasy football: it’s not Adrian Peterson, but it’s not Alfred Morris either. Dark horse teams are the Doug Martin’s of the world, a guy who was projected to possibly have a good impact with his team and proceeded to blow the roof of that sucker in Tampa.

So who will be our Muscle Hamsters of the March Madness tournament? Let’s take a look:

 No. 3 Florida Gators

The more I think about it and the more you look at their path, the more I’m leaning towards saying the Gators are going to make it to the National Championship. Think about it, is it a safe pick: no. What picks usually make the deepest run: the unsafe high seeds. Florida drew a No. 3 seed and despite the fact that all the talk in the South is about Kansas and Georgetown, the Gators very well could sneak out of the region and into the Final Four if things go their way. Florida would need some help at the top of the bracket, as Kansas losing before an Elite Eight matchup is ideal, and it’s also possible. Kansas would have to potentially face No. 9 Villanova, No. 5 VCU and then No. 3 Florida to get to the Final Four. All three of those teams have the capability of beating Kansas which means unless the Jayhawks are playing lights out, they’ll likely lose to one of those teams. In fact, according to computer data, the Gators are favored by one whole percent over Kansas should they meet head-to-head, which is good news for Gator fans. Florida beats you to death with their defense and throw your body into the swamp with their deadly accurate offense. And I know, I watched the SEC title game as well, but the Gators have tasted defeat because they let up in the second half of a big game, they won’t do it twice.

How Far Could They Go: National Champions
How Far Will They Go:  Final Four


 No. 8 Pittsburgh Panthers

The Panthers are one of the best sleeper teams in the tournament that no one is talking about. All the talk is in the other regions, but the Panthers are in one of the most uneven regions in the bracket. The West is loaded with talent, but it’s loaded with streaky talent which means making a run deep into the bracket isn’t out of the question for anyone who gets hot. But the Panthers have managed to hold opponents to only 55.4 points per game and a lot of that has to do with the massive Steven Adams and his shot blocking expertise. Pittsburgh is a very balanced offense with senior Tray Woodall leading the way and a defense that is stingier than a preacher’s daughter during Lent. The road to the Final Four for Pittsburgh goes through Gonzaga (the weakest one seed in years), Wisconsin or Kansas State (both beatable teams if held down with defense) and finally Ohio State or New Mexico (both of whom are streaky teams that could cool off at any moment). There’s no guarantee that the Panthers will make a deep run, as they’re an eight-seed, which means losing in the ROund of 64 is a possibility. But if they look sharp against Wichita State, look out because Pittsburgh is gearing up to embrace the madness.

How Far Could They Go:  National Championship
How Far Will They Go:   Elite Eight


 No. 5 VCU Rams

Shaka Smart is going to be the most coveted college coach this offseason, much like he was last season, because of a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The Rams are no strangers to being a Cinderella team, but this time around they’ve graduated to dark horse sleeper as they as dangerous this season as ever. VCU wins with an in-your-face style of defense that picks the other team’s pocket and dominates you in the turnover margin. Smart has installed an insanely fast-paced offense that absolutely loves shooting from beyond the arc, but they’ll kill you creatively by also feeding the ruthless 6-9 forward Juvonte Reddic in the post. The Rams have a relatively easy Round of 64 matchup with Akron that will almost certainly be followed up by a meeting with the Michigan Wolverines. After that the Rams get their toughest test of the tournament: the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks. VCU bumped off Kansas before in the tournament, so they know what they’re doing in big spot games. Georgetown and then either Indiana or Miami stand in VCU’s way of making a run at a title, so as you can see the road isn’t easy but it’s really not one you should assume won’t be prosperous either.

How Far Could They Go: Final Four
How Far Will They Go:  Sweet 16


 No. 6 Arizona Wildcats

The Wildcats have a tough road out of the Round of 32, but it’s only because the West is stacked with streaky teams that are all borderline cinderella stories waiting to happen. Arizona gets a so-so matchup with Belmont in their first matchup and after that they’re primed for a showdown with New Mexico, who happen to be one of the darlings of the tournament. The Lobos are streaky beyond belief though, and while people are picking them, their chances of advancing aren’t as great as people are suggesting. In that same breath, the Wildcats are as capable of beating the Lobos as they are of losing in the the Round of 64. Once past the Lobos, the Wildcats get a matchup with (likely) Ohio State, which would be where their little dream run inexplicably ends. Like Memphis, they’re a borderline Cinderella team, but the Wildcats have the tools to make a deep run as a sleeper seed and bust up a lot of bracket on their ill-fated journey to the Sweet Sixteen.

How Far Could They Go: Sweet 16
How Far Will They Go: Round of 32


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Tags: Arizona Wildcats Florida Gators March Madness NCAA Basketball NCAA Tournament Pittsburgh Panthers VCU Rams