March 14, 2012
By now you’re sitting around with only one thing on your mind—your bracket. With only hours before the meat and potatoes of the tournament tips off, you’re trying to finalize your decisions and put your mind at ease.
You’ve been in this situation before, you know there will be upsets, but you can’t put your finger on it this year. There are always a few sleeper teams who seemingly appear out of thin air and become the darlings of the nation. The sleeper teams are the ones that make or break your bracket. They either give you a sense of pride or have you hanging your head in embarrassment for an entire year.
So as you flip-flop between picks, do yourself a favor, keep these teams in mind:
South Region: Wichita State Shockers
Sure, at 27-5 the Wichita State Shockers may not appear to be a big sleeper, but anyone who’s ever completed a bracket knows that picking the No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups can be some of the most nerve-racking.
The Shockers will play the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams in their first game. VCU was last year’s Cinderella, which many will put into effect for this season. Don’t be fooled, as the Shockers are the ones that’ll advance. They have plenty of experience with six seniors and an NIT Championship last season.
Wichita State will advance to the Sweet 16 before losing to the Kentucky Wildcats.
West Region: Florida Gators
The Florida Gators should go into this year’s dance with a chip on their shoulder. How does a team ranked No. 19 before the tournament end up with a No. 7 seed? Good thing the Gators are the best No. 7 seed in this year’s tournament. Before you think they’re a fish out of water, the Gators will make it to the Elite 8.
Midwest Region: California Golden Bears
The Pac-12 conference got no respect from the NCAA selection committee. The regular season conference winner Washington Huskies were left out in the cold, leaving only the Colorado Buffaloes and California Golden Bears to represent the conference.
The Golden Bears have some extra work to do, as they’ll be involved in one of the play-in games. California will have to beat the University of South Florida Bulls before they’re technically in the field of 64.
Regardless of what they have to do, they’ll get the job done, as they’ll be this year’s version of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams, who made it all the way to the Final Four in 2011. After all, California is playing not for themselves, but the entire conference.
The Golden Bears won’t get as far as the Rams did in 2011, but they will turn some heads and reach the Sweet 16 before they lose to a tough North Carolina Tar Heels squad.
East Region: West Virginia Mountaineers
The West Virginia Mountaineers may have finished the regular season with a mediocre 19-13 record, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make a splash in the tourney.
The Mountaineers are slated as a No. 10 seed, which is always a good slot for a sleeper. They’ll handle the No. 7 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs with ease in their first game. Then they’ll take on the No. 2 seed Ohio State University Buckeyes, where their size will frustrate OSU until the final horn sounds.
The Mountaineers will then reach the Elite 8 by beating the Florida State Seminoles in the Sweet 16 on a buzzer-beater. Bust out your banjo—the Mountaineers will be dancing.