Sleepers from Outside the Major Conferences
In addition to identifying the teams ripe for an upset in the first weekend, one must find the smaller conference clubs that have the potential to make a run into the second week. Every NCAA Tournament has them; you just have to figure out which ones. Don’t mistake this for a “Who is this year’s George Mason?” or “Who’s this tournament’s Davidson?” column, though – that’s simply not going to happen again. Here are the top sleepers from the mid-majors seeded 11 and below:
Note: Butler and Siena have a great shot at winning their respective first-round games, but are too high of a seed to be considered a deep sleeper.
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers made a run to the Sweet Sixteen last season, and could win at least another game this year. They face an Illinois team that struggles mightily to score and could be without Chester Frazier. Plus, WKU can really shoot the three and knows how to win.
Utah State: The Aggies had one of the best records in college basketball this season, and they have experience and solid coaching. Plus, Marquette has not been the same team since Dominic James went down and USU’s Gary Wilkinson is the type of player who can carry his team to a win.
VCU: Well, look who it is. The team who stole everyone’s hearts two years ago against Duke and (almost) Pittsburgh is back. Eric Maynor is still leading the way, and he is enough to give the Rams a shot against anyone. Throw in shot-blocker extraordinaire Larry Sanders, and this team is tough.
Portland State: The Vikings probably received too high of a seed, but that’s for Xavier to worry about. This team won at Gonzaga earlier this season and nearly won at Washington. Jeremiah Dominguez is a very good point guard, and PSU has plenty of scorers who can get hot and fill it up.
North Dakota State: The Bison could be the deep sleeper to watch this year. They have a ton of experience in the starting lineup, and Ben Woodside and Brett Winkelman form an explosive duo. If NDSU is able to get up and down the floor and the three-pointers are falling, look out Kansas.
Cleveland State: One of the surprise teams during Championship Week, Cleveland State has wins at both Syracuse and Butler this season. J’Nathan Bullock is difficult to stop and Cedric Jackson is excellent at both ends of the floor. They are playing very well lately, and could pull the upset.
Temple: Although they are not technically a mid-major, don’t be surprised to see the Owls give Arizona State a run for its money in the first-round. Dionte Christmas is one of the most explosive shooters in the country, and he can single-handedly carry this team to a win. He’s done it before.
Northern Iowa: The Panthers don’t push the ball and beat opponents with a variety of explosive scorers, but they have several versatile weapons and they play tough defense. Adam Koch is a difficult match-up and UNI won’t back down from anyone. This is not a team you want to play.