Top 5 NCAA Tournament Sleepers
Cornell: This team has a great inside-outside combo in 7 foot big man Jeff Foote (12.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and swingman Ryan Wittman (17.5 ppg, 42% from 3). Usually most Ivy League teams are seen as “untested”, however that is not the case with the Big Red. They had a 3 point lead at the half against Kansas at Phog Allen, before eventually losing by 5. This team has also faced Syracuse, Seton Hall, Alabama and St. John’s. I believe this team was actually under-seeded. They seem to be this year’s “sexy” pick for a first round upset. There’s also a legitimate chance they could square off against Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
Butler: They aren’t a first/second round sleeper. They are my Final Four sleeper, especially if Onuaku’s injury is more severe then we think for Syracuse. The Bulldogs went 18-0 in the Horizon League. I don’t care what conference you play in, if you go undefeated, that’s pretty damn good. They have their own version of a “Big 3” in Shelvin Mack, Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard. Not to mention an up and coming coach in Brad Stevens. This team can play with anyone in the country. I think their first round matchup will be tougher then their second round matchup and if they can survive against UTEP, look for them to give Syracuse some trouble, if not flat out beat them.
Texas: Why not? They were the No. 1 team in the nation at one point this season. They started off 17-0. They have out of conference wins against Michigan State and Pittsburgh. Can they get their swagger back? Most people (smart people) don’t think the Longhorns have a chance in hell to top Kentucky in the second round, especially after their blowout loss against Baylor in the Big 12 tourney. However, I’d like to think they can bounce back. They have a potential NBA lottery pick in Damion James, a good big man in Dexter Pittman and two good young guys in Jordan Hamilton and Avery Bradley. They also have depth. The pieces for this team to do damage are there, they just haven’t put together the puzzle. They have underachieved. I know a lot has changed since their 17-0 start but, can they snap out of it for the Big Dance?
Old Dominion: They scheduled tough opponents at the beginning of the year to help them for conference play. Their confidence from playing tougher opponents then carried over to winning their conference tournament and regular season title. The confidence from that should carry over into the tournament against Notre Dame. Got all that? Their out of conference schedule this year included Missouri, Mississippi State, Richmond, Dayton, Northern Iowa and Georgetown. Although all but one of those games resulted in losses (win at Georgetown) they won’t be scared to face anybody in the tournament. They posted a 15-3 record, including the conference tournament championship, in an underrated CAA Conference. They are a relatively balanced team, with eight guys averaging double digit minutes. Plus, ODU head coach, Blaine Taylor, has an incredible mustache on his side. Fear the ‘stache.
Georgia Tech: They enter the tournament on a bit of a run despite losing to Duke in the ACC Tourney Finale. They, like Texas, underachieved this season. I thought that the Yellow Jackets could finish as high as third in the ACC entering this season. They have a physical guard in Shumpert combined with a great frontcourt in Lawal and Favors. Paul Hewitt has the NCAA experience, leading Georgia Tech to an NCAA Finals appearance in 2004. Again, like Texas, the pieces are there. If they can slow down James Anderson and Evan Turner or catch them on an off night ... Okay, I am throwing out a ton of “what ifs” but you never know. It could happen. The point I’m trying to drive home is that they have the talent to be a good sleeper pick and even reach the Elite Eight.
Who are your sleeper picks?