Tournament Pools Sleeper Teams
A "sleeper" team is a team whose performance exceeds expectations. The following teams, listed in order by team name, are the teams we expect to outplay their seeding.
Total Wins By 2009 Sleeper Teams: 7 (5 Wins Expected Based On Seeds)
After doing a pre-season feature on these guys for SLAM Magazine I became an even bigger fan than usual of this team from Spokane, Washington. They are loaded to the gills with size, speed, experience, and athleticism, but have endured some bumps through their challenging pre-conference road. I’ll put it this way. This team should have been able to put themselves in a better position for a higher seed, but they can beat any team at any point, in any gym/arena/dome. Final Four should be in their sites after getting large (and confident) off their disappointing conference foes, especially with the continued dominating backcourt play of senior Jeremy Pargo and junior Matt Bouldin. The committee made up for last season’s embarrassing placement of the Zags in Carolina against Davidson by placing them in the Portland sub-region with two winnable games. A potential Sweet 16 game in Memphis against Carolina might be one of the most exciting earlier-round games.
Player to watch-Sophomore Austin Daye is a rare mix and talent, length, speed, and game. He can score from any angle, is an intimitading defender, and has become a quality rebounder. His pro future is not in question and now that he is getting some meat on his almost 7-feet of bones he should be more ready for the physical grind of the next level.
Key wins-Still owners of 26 wins on the season, the Zags’ resume is loaded with challenging opponents away from the Kennel. They lost both games in Washington to Memphis (blown-out, embarrassed) and a game they let get away (and into OT) against UConn in Seattle, but they do have neutral site wins over Maryland, Oklahoma State, Tennessee and an additional win in Knoxville, as well. Their road defeats are worth mentioning in losing at Arizona and Utah.
Actual Wins: 2 (2 Wins Expected Based On Seed)
13. Portland St
Back-to-back Big Sky Champions, the Vikings bring back an experienced team that is led by last year’s POY and a first-teamer this season, in the 5-6 Jeremiah Dominguez. The senior shows no fear against any competition and he has the luxury of a deep and balanced supporting cast that boasts four other players that average at least nine points/night. A draw in Portland would have been ideal, but Boise might be just as well. Xavier is a team that can be beaten and an upset might be in the works here.
Player to watch-Anytime a guy that stands less than 66 inches tall can dominate a basketball game it is worth the look. Dominguez is a local guy that started his career at nearby Portland U. before transferring cross-town for his last two seasons.
Key wins-An impressive win at the Kennel over Gonzaga spotlight the Vikings resume and a one-point loss in Seattle to Washington is nothing to sneeze at either. This team will not be afraid of an opponent like Xavier and could give their eventual second-round opponents fits, as well.
Actual Wins: 0 (0 Wins Expected Based On Seed)
What this team lacks in depth (temporary, though, they are bringing in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, next year) they make up for with experience and toughness. They have also had the luxury of “flying under the radar” in a stacked conference. In any other year/league/dimension, a team with 25 wins and 13 in conference would be given much more national run. Inside, the Wildcats are led by (seemingly ninth-year) senior, Dante Cunningham; outside, Scottie Reynolds does most of the damage. But is the flexibility of this team to either outscore you in an up-tempo game and or grind out a slug-fest might make them the most enticing while filling out your bracket. It also doesn’t hurt that they get to play their first two games in Philadelphia
Player to watch- While the junior Reynolds does have help with the sophomore backcourt Coreys, Fisher and Stokes, Scottie is the real star of this team. He controls the pace of the game and with the ball in his hands for large stretches of games, he directly influences the outcome of many games.
Key wins-Jay Wright’s team does not have a signature road/neutral site win other than a victory over Rhode Island (one of the nation’s hotter teams now) but even that game was an off-campus one in Philly over Thanksgiving. But anytime you sweep your Big Five games, you got those bragging rights.
Actual Wins: 4 (2 Wins Expected Based On Seed)
11. Virginia Commonwealth
Mark my word, the coaches at UCLA groaned in unison when the draw came out. Having to face the Colonial champion, VCU Rams in Philly will be a gargantuan task for the team that has made three-straight Final Fours. The Rams have been battled tested both in and out of conference and are led by CAA Player of the Year, Eric Maynor. A do-it-all combo-guard, Maynor is a threat to score or distribute whenever the ball is in his hands. Strongly consider picking this team in the first round. A second-round match-up with Villanova in Philly, however, does not look so favorable.
Player to watch-Maynor is a pleasure to watch and tough to ignore, but I have long been a fan of forward Larry Sanders. A freakish athlete, that has had issues with staying out of foul trouble, will give UCLA fits not only on the backboards, but at 6-10 his almost 3 blocks a contest are intimidating to say the least.
Key wins-Early season home victories over San Diego State and Akron to go along with a neutral site one over New Mexico are equally impressive and the Rams gave Oklahoma all they needed in a game in OKC.
Actual Wins: 0 (0 Wins Expected Based On Seed)
6. West Virginia
An up-and-coming team that is probably one more year away from being serious players (for real, WVU is going to be legit for years to come) has gotten hot at the right point of the year and is in a position to make a move for the second weekend, again. This team has experience in the backcourt molding an exciting freshmen point guard in Darryl Bryant to go along side a pair of long, talented, and major potential in forwards Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones. They are battle-tested from the conference schedule alone, and will a be team that should be considered for a potential sleeper. At 6-7 225, Da’Sean Butler is one of the best wings in the nation on both sides of the court
Player to watch-Ebanks is the gem of the group in most scouts’ estimation. Listed at just 6-9, but seemingly about a half-foot taller on the court, the freshman more than delivered in the first season of major college hoops. He produced in the box score and on the defensive backboards and with continued development, he could be a major player in an NBA Draft of the very near future.
Actual Wins: 0 (1 Wins Expected Based On Seed)
12. Western Ky
When a mid-major team makes a run to a Sweet 16 and is led by an NBA First-Round pick, usually there is a drop the following year in production. Not so the case with this year’s Hilltoppers. Yes, Courtney Lee is now but a memory adorned on the gymnasium wall, but this year’s team may be more potent and should give Illinois all they need in the first round.
Player to watch-AJ Slaughter, Orlando Mendez-Valdez, and Steffphone Pettigrew are collectively the “best” player on this team. All three are capable of leading the team and each provide scoring and rebounding. Mendez-Valdez, in particular, had a triple-double earlier in the season.
Key wins-Over and over this week you will hear about how Western Kentucky beat Louisville in Nashville, so I will reiterate it here. Not much else was accomplished away from the Bluegrass State, but their track record and a 14-point win against the tournament’s “top seed” can’t be ignored.
Actual Wins: 1 (0 Wins Expected Based On Seed)