Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Major Conference Sleepers


Although people sometimes overlook this category, identifying the teams from the power leagues that are apt to making a run is also crucial. These teams are usually seeded 6-11 and have the potential to take down one of the top-seeded teams in a region. Last year's surprise team was Arizona, a No. 12 seed that reached the Sweet Sixteen. Here are the teams most likely to spring a few "upsets" in the tournament:

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets are playing well lately, making a run to the final of the ACC Tournament before losing to Duke. We all know about the inside tandem of Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, two potential lottery picks. Interestingly, their first-round opponent, Oklahoma State, and likely second-round opponent, Ohio State, don’t have quality big men.

Notre Dame: With the way the Fighting Irish are playing lately, they could be a tough out in the Big Dance. They received a decent first-round match-up, facing an Old Dominion team that lacks firepower. In the second-round, they have the pieces to battle with Baylor. The Bears aren’t an overwhelming defensive team, which is conducive to the Irish.

California: The Golden Bears were highly overseeded at a No. 8, but that doesn’t matter anymore. They have excellent perimeter talent in Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher, and they are able to hang with anyone in the field when their shots are falling. Their guard play would give Duke nightmares in the second round, as the Devils struggle to contain dribble penetration.

Louisville: Cal’s first-round opponent is another team that could pull off an enormous second-round upset over Duke. The Cardinals have already defeated Syracuse twice this season, and they have Tournament experience across the board. They are athletic and deep, and Samardo Samuels is one of the best big men in the country when he is determined.

Missouri: A few weeks ago, the Tigers were in the mix for a top-eight seed before they dropped a Big 12 tourney game to Nebraska and dropped to a 10. Still, they received a favorable draw. Missouri’s “40 Minutes of Hell” defense will give nightmares to a Clemson team that turns it over, and it will also throw a scare into West Virginia, which lacks consistent guard play.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles have shown all season that they have what it takes to beat anyone in the country, despite being undersized and fairly underwhelming when it comes to talent. With that said, Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler are very difficult match-ups at forward and Darius Johnson-Odom has come on strong. If this team is hitting its threes, they can make a run.

Texas: A top-five team in the preseason, the Longhorns clearly were a disappointment. However, they still have some of the best talent in the country and could put it together for a couple games this month. Damion James is one of the best players in the country, and Dexter Pittman is a load down low. If this team gets consistent guard play, Kentucky has to be careful in round two.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys got a tough draw with a big Georgia Tech team in the first round, but this team has the shooters and perimeter players to win some games. James Anderson can carry OK State to a win or two by himself. If Oklahoma State gets past Tech, they actually have the personnel to match-up with Evan Turner and Ohio State, another perimeter-oriented outfit.

Tennessee: Any team that defeated Kansas and Kentucky has to be considered a scary team in the Big Dance. Furthermore, the Vols were vastly underseeded as a No. 6. However, Tennessee got a nearly impossible draw, facing MWC tourney champ San Diego State in the first round, with Georgetown and Ohio State also in the same sub-region.

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