Eight NCAA Tournament Sleepers

March 11th, 2012

One of the tricky aspects of filling out a bracket is figuring out which team(s) can jump up and spring a surprise or two. Last season two teams from non-Power 6 leagues (Butler and VCU) reached Houston, and throughout the history of the 64/65/68-team era there have been teams who have made runs. Below are eight teams who can make surprising runs in the bracket, some to win a game or two and a couple others capable of getting to New Orleans. 

Davidson: Bob McKillop's Wildcats may not have a shooter along the lines of Stephen Curry or a distributor the caliber of Jason Richards, but that doesn't mean that Davidson won't bring some talented pieces to the Dance. Forwards Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks have played very well this season, and guards Nike Cochran and J.P. Kuhlman were two of the best perimeter players in the SoCon. Going eight deep with five players in double figures can be tough for opponents who aren't familiar with Davidson, who is more than capable of pulling off an upset.

Detroit: The Titans finished third in the Horizon League during the regular season, but they played very well in grabbing the conference's automatic bid. And Ray McCallum Sr. doesn't lack for talent, beginning with his point guard (and son) Ray McCallum Jr. McCallum Jr. has improved as the season's worn on, doing a better job of picking his spots when it comes to running the show. Big men Eli Holman and LaMarcus Lowe are athletic interior players you don't always see in a conference like the Horizon. Depending on the two-seed, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Titans were to give their opponent fits.

Harvard: Not sure if the Crimson count as a true sleeper given the amount of attention on Tommy Amaker's program this season, but in favor of the argument they are making Harvard's first NCAA appearance since 1944. Forwards Kyle Casey and Keith Wright are one of the best front court tandems that doesn't get enough press, and Oliver McNally and Laurent Rivard lead the way on the perimeter. Harvard certainly didn't duck anyone in the non-conference portion of their schedule, doing so with this time of the year in mind.

Lehigh: Brett Reed has one of the best players in the country in guard C.J. McCollum, who leads the Mountain Hawks in points and rebounding while ranking second on the team in assists. But it's not just McCollum that teams should be worried about, as forwards Holden Grenier and Gabe Knutson are both averaging double figures. Lehigh's problem is that their strength of schedule could land them a seed lower than anticipated. But unlike last season's Patriot League representative (Bucknell), Lehigh has a guard in McCollum who can make plays on his own. If they can stay above the 16 line, the Mountain Hawks will have a shot at getting a win.

Memphis: The Conference USA champions took some swings at big non-conference wins early in the season and missed, with the conclusion of many being that they're too immature to turn things around. Well, Josh Pastner's team is playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. Knock them due to their conference if you like, but that shouldn't erase the fact that according to Ken Pomeroy's numbers this is a team in the Top 25 in both adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency. Will Barton's played like an All-America for much of the season and the emergence of Chris Crawford has relieved some of the pressure on Joe Jackson to run the offense.

Montana: Wayne Tinkle's Grizzlies are experienced (and most everyone will be back next season) and led by a pair of guards who can cause fits in Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar. Cherry was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and it one of the nation's leaders in steals, and the versatile Jamar was named Big Sky tournament MVP. Add in two quality frontcourt players in Derek Selvig and Mathias Ward and you've got a team capable of winning in the Big Dance. Montana's hot as well as they've won 14 straight games, and according to Ken Pomeroy's numbers they had the best adjusted defensive efficiency in the Big Sky (41st nationally).  

Saint Louis: Rick Majerus' Billikens have been the second-best team in the Atlantic 10 this season, but to be fair they may have flown under the radar nationally thanks to the presence of Temple and Xavier. But there shouldn't be any doubt as to whether or not SLU can play, with the tough Brian Conklin being the anchor inside and Kwamain Mitchell leading the way on the perimeter. Before their loss to Xavier in the A-10 semis the Billikens won nine of ten games, and in Majerus they've got one of the best game coaches in the country.

South Dakota State: Nate Wolters didn't play his best game of the season in the Jackrabbits' win over Western Illinois to win the Summit League, but he's been enough of a constant to where what he did against WIU shouldn't matter much. Scott Nagy's got an experienced team who helped grow the program this season, their first as a full Division I member. Griffan Callahan and Jordan Dykstra are both averaging double figures, and their presence has helped to improve the performance of both Wolters and the team as the season's worn on.