Virginia, Gonzaga and George Washington all look like Tourney sleepers
Of all the first-round upsets in last season’s tournament people picked, almost no one took Harvard over New Mexico. La Salle was just as much of a surprising moving from the First Four to the Sweet 16.
And then there’s Florida Gulf Coast.
Surprises are tough enough to figure with the bracket in your hand. In our weekly roundtable, we’ll try anyway as January comes to a close.
Name a team outside the top 25 that could make a run to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.
David Fox: I’m going to pick a team that’s done little to deserve anyone’s vote of confidence in an office pool: Gonzaga. True, the Bulldogs have disappointed when it comes to March, no more than last season when the No. 1 seed Zags didn’t even reach the Sweet 16. That said, I like the way Gonzaga has flown under the radar this season. The schedule hasn’t been as tough as it’s been in recent years, but the Bulldogs still look like a team ready for a late run this season. Gary Bell Jr. and Sam Dower are getting healthy, and Mark Few has a standout inside-outside duo in point guard Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski. The end of the season will prove much about the Bulldogs: They face Memphis on the road and finish the West Coast Conference schedule with four consecutive road games. In short, though, Gonzaga is due.
Braden Gall: Give me the Colonials of George Washington. This team has some decent non-conference wins — Creighton, Miami, Maryland — and has three "no-shame" losses to Marquette, at Kansas State and at La Salle. GW has won four straight in the Atlantic 10, including one over VCU. In a league that would test any team in the nation, George Washington has all of the pieces to make a run in March. The Colonials have plenty of scoring with four players averaging in double figure. They are one of the better rebounding teams in the A-10 at No. 2 in margin. G-Dub leads the league in blocked shots per game (5.3) and has a point guard in Joe McDonald that is in his second full season and is showing marked improvement (2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio).
Mitch Light: The switch has flipped at Virginia. The Cavaliers were 9–4 overall after a shocking 35-point loss at Tennessee in late December. They proceeded to win six of their first seven games in the ACC, with the only loss by four points at Duke. Not surprisingly, this team is getting it done on the defensive end of the floor. The Cavs lead the ACC in defensive efficiency, allowing only 0.87 points per possession in league play, and they have been very good defending the 3-point shot. Offensively, Virginia’s numbers aren’t gaudy because it plays at a slow pace, but Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson are solid weapons who are capable of scoring 15 to 20 points in any given game.