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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?” column, though—that’s simply not going to happen again. Here are the top sleepers from the mid-majors seeded 11 and below:
Old Dominion: The Monarchs come into the tournament on a roll, having won 12 of their last 13 games. Valdas Vasylius is an inside-outside player that can create mismatches, and they have an experienced backcourt capable of winning some games.
Davidson: The Wildcats have the ability to win a game or two. They have a terrific backcourt, led by freshman phenom Stephen Curry, who can really fill it up, and point guard Jason Richards, who is second in the nation in assists. Bob McKillop can coach.
Winthrop: The Eagles are going to be this year’s “sexy” upset pick. They went undefeated in their conference and gave several top teams tough games. Mike Jenkins and Torrell Martin can shoot, while Craig Bradshaw is solid on the inside.
VCU: The Rams are my one “Cinderella” pick for this year. They pressure the ball and play multiple defenses. Moreover, Eric Maynor is terrific at both ends of the court, and B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa can also shoot and score.
Long Beach State: The 49ers have a favorable first-round match-up, and could pull an upset. They are tough to beat when teams try to run with them, and Tennessee will do just that. Aaron Nixon can do-it-all on the perimeter.
Oral Roberts: This could be the lowest-seed to pull an upset this year. Caleb Green is a load to handle inside, and can carry the Golden Eagles. Ken Tutt is a very good shooter and scorer on the perimeter, and ORU already won at Kansas this year.
George Washington: The Colonials won the A-10 automatic bid, and have won eight in a row. They have a very good backcourt in Carl Elliot and Maureece Rice, both tough guards. Moreover, GW has plenty of length and athletic ability up front.
New Mexico State: Don’t go pencil in Texas and Kevin Durant into the Sweet Sixteen just yet. The Aggies have plenty of high-major transfers on their roster, and they have the athletes and size to give the Longhorns trouble in the first round.
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