College Basketball Mid Major Sleepers for 2011-2012 and Some Tips for Your Bracket in March

by Mike Cannon

We’ve heard plenty over the last week about the Penn Statescandal. And we’ve heard now for 135 days about the NBA lockout. But what’sgetting overlooked, in a sense, is the start of College Basketball. It’s one ofmy favorite things to follow throughout the year. Everyone loves March Madnessand filling out the brackets. It’s one of those things where everyone seems toget involved no matter how much they watch over the course of the year. Somepeople watch and analyze games from November on, while others fill out bracketsbecause they’re in an office pool and they’ve heard of Duke. Either way it’s funfor all types of fans.
Every year during the tournament, we see upsets by midmajor teams that very few people predicted. This is partly what makes thetournament so great and exciting, but also, it’s frustrating, as it ruins your bracketat times. It’s depressing when you think you’re the smartest guy in the worldand predict an upset and it ends up backfiring on you. Or even worse;calling a huge upset that few people have, only for it to come up just short at the lastsecond. There’s also nothing worse than seeing your bracket crumble to pieceswhile looking across from you and seeing some clueless person, who just picks teamsbased on colors and names,  be, somehow, ahead of you in the standings . Even thepeople that just NEVER pick any upsets are annoying. The worst was when I had onegirl ask me one time if the numbers (seeds) next to the teams were how manywins they had on the season. I jokingly said “Yes”, to mess with her. Then shegoes “Wow Duke  isn’t really having a good year huh?” Duke was a one seed that year. I just cringed. It’s these kind of people that drive you nuts if they finishahead of you.
 “I’m really smart,” he’s saying.

Anyway, in more recent years, we’ve seen an increase in thenumber of mid-major and low-seed teams traveling further in the tournament. VCUlast year, and Butler the last two years are just examples. There’s others evenlast year you forget about. Remember Morgan St. over Louisville? Richmond overVandy? Over recent years you’re hearing more about Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, etc. Alot of mid-major sleeper teams have a good amount in common when it comes toupsetting the big schools. And that is: ball movement, three point shooting, and foulshooting. Athletically, the majority of the time, these mid-major teams can’tcompete based on size and physicality. So they have to use something on more ofan even playing field like teamwork and shooting as an advantage. Butler’s headcoach Brad Stevens, for example, has always said when he recruits someone outof high school he doesn’t go crazy with high school stats, other than three point percentage and foul shooting percentage. From there, he finds undervalued guys and fitsthem into his system.

Let’s be honest, no one will ever get this perfect,and the tournament is impossible to fully predict correctly, but it helps ifyou know a little info beforehand about possible sleeper teams. Here are somepossible mid-major sleeper teams coming into the 2011-2012 season that maysurprise you come March.

An angry Keith Wright, and a scared white boy.

Harvard: Don’tlaugh. These guys may be really smart, but they can also play basketball. Thedefending Ivy league co-champions are looking to bounce back from their heartbreaking loss in theone-game playoff against Princeton last year that decided who made it into thetournament. They have their leading scorer and Ivy League player of the yearKeith Wright returning for another season. The 6’8″ Wright is on theNaismith top 50 watch list for this year as well. Kyle Kasey is anotherathletic big man who can rebound and block shots. From what we’ve learned outof the Ivy League in recent years with Cornell and Penn’s success, and evenlast year with Princeton nearly upsetting Kentucky first round, is to notunderestimate these teams.

Belmont: Sure,this pick looks a lot better based on their close game with Duke last night.But I’ve had this team on watch for a while. They were A LOT of people’s upsetpick last year against Wisconsin in the tournament. They are excellent atmoving the ball around. Head coach Rick Byrd has designed a quick- moving offense that finds an open shot; most of the time a three-pointer. TheBruins were one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country last year.Guys like Hedgepeth and Saunders will contribute, and Belmont is returning NINEout of eleven guys from last year. They can shoot, they are experienced, and theycan compete with a ton of power conference teams. Watch the Duke game from lastnight if you don’t believe me. Look out for them.
Detroit: Now hereis a team that hasn’t been relevant at the NCAA tournament level since 1997 and1998 when they had back-to-back years of first round upsets beating St. John’sand UCLA. Since then, not much has come out from them. This year might bedifferent though. They are a Horizon League team, and at this point, I think weknow not to dismiss ANY team from there, based on Butler’s success. However, nowthat Butler lost some key guys, the conference is wide open. Detroit might bethe most talented team in the conference. They return 100% of their team fromlast year. Ray McCallum Jr., the head coach’s son, is one of the conference’sbest players if not the best. I was all ready to name this team my top sleeperteam of the year. BUT THERE’S A HUGE PROBLEM! Eli Holman, the team’s PF/C isout on “indefinite leave” from the program on accusation of assault. Holman ishuge in the front court, and his return is so speculative at this point it’shard to judge when it will happen, if at all. They are still very good withouthim, but this sleeper pick highly depends on his return or not. If he comesback though, I like this team a lot.
Long Beach State: AlthoughI don’t know much about this team as much as the others, everything I’ve readabout them last year and this year look great. Casper Ware is the only player I’veremotely heard of, as he is the reigning Big West Player of the Year. Whendoing my conference tournament picks last year I had them winning the Big West.They were the regular season champions. Came up short in the conference tourneyfinals two years in a row now. This year could be the year they breakout. Theyhave a tough out of conference (OOC) schedule, but it will boost their RPI bigtime as well as give them an opportunity for impressive wins.
Scott Machado, Iona Gaels

Iona/Fairfield: I’llput these two together since they are both MAAC teams. This may be a biasedselection as I am a Fairfield University and MAAC fan in general, but couldthis be the year the MAAC actually gets two teams in the tournament since I wasin 3rd grade? Possibly. Siena and Manhattan have certainly given theMAAC a better reputation in recent years with tournament wins. The league istop heavy this year, but the top teams are legit. I’ll start with Iona. Most preseason predictions giveIona the very slight edge over Fairfield, and that is mainly because of thelate acquisition of transfer Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who was recently cleared bythe NCAA to play. If the name sounds familiar, you might remember him onArizona last year as a key contributor in their Elite 8 run. Senior Mike Gloveris one of the MAAC’s top picks for conference player of the year. Scott Machadoshowed last year he’s one of the conference’s premier point guards. The bar ishigh for this team, and they are talented enough to upset someone. Fairfield is another team right upthere with Iona. The league’s regular season champions last year come in with anew coach in Sydney Johnson after Ed Cooley departed for Providence. Johnsonarrived at Fairfield from Princeton. I already mentioned before howPrinceton almost upset Kentucky in the first round last year, but Johnson as a player himself is familiarwith upsets. (One of my favorite tournament upsets ever, Gus Johnsonalert!!!) The Stags also have very high expectations. They are returning one ofthe league’s best players in Derek Needham. Ryan Olander and Maurice Barrowwill help on the front court. Houston transfer Desmond Wade will be a niceaddition as well. But the key for Fairfield is Boston College transfer RakimSanders. Easily could be league’s best player by year’s end. They have key OOCgames that they can win like Providence, Minnesota, Old Dominion and ArizonaSt. These wins could help them a lot at a chance for an at large bid. It wouldbe tough to get two MAAC teams in the tourney, but not impossible. If theColonial League can get three in last year, MAAC can get two.

Some other notes and predictions:

One response to “College Basketball Mid Major Sleepers for 2011-2012 and Some Tips for Your Bracket in March

  1. Pingback: March Madness Time!!! | Don't Get Lazy·

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