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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
NCAA tourney sleepers

By Dick Vitale
ESPN.com

Every year, there are a handful of surprises and upsets at the Big Dance. My friends, with so much parity in college basketball this season and no dominant teams since UCLA in the '70s, don't be surprised if you see lower seeds getting to the winner's circle.

Here are my four sleepers, one in each region, that you should look out for. My idea of a sleeper team is one seeded fifth or below. It is easy to say a team seeded fourth is a sleeper, but I don't buy that.

EAST: VILLANOVA, No. 9 seed

I know that the Wildcats lost 10 of their last 15 games, but those losses came in the Big East. Villanova has had some time to rest and bounce back from its Big East tourney stunner, a loss to South Florida. This team has a lot of talent on the perimeter and another opportunity to respond to the challenge. Facing George Mason in its opening game is a test, but don't give up quite yet on coach Jay Wright and Co. He can motivate his team.


WEST: TENNESSEE, No. 9 seed

Coach Bruce Pearl's team was one game away from the Final Four last year, and several players from that squad are back. The Vols have handled the adversity of Pearl's eight-game SEC suspension. Scotty Hopson and Co. are athletic and can get up and down the court. If Tennessee can get past Michigan in its first game, this is the kind of club that can give Duke some trouble.


SOUTHWEST: VANDERBILT, No. 5 seed

I have a lot of respect for coach Kevin Stallings' club. Festus Ezeli can be a huge presence inside with his size. John Jenkins has been one of the premier players in the SEC, while Jeffery Taylor has tremendous athleticism. The Commodores also have some NCAA experience; while they lost in the first round last season, there is more incentive to make a run.


SOUTHEAST: GONZAGA, No. 11 seed

I was torn between 5-seed Kansas State and coach Mark Few's Zags. After a slow start, Gonzaga has come back to life, winning the WCC tournament championship. Steven Gray will be tough to stop, and I believe the Zags will score a first-round upset over coach Steve Lavin and St. John's in Denver. The loss of DJ Kennedy (torn ACL) is a blow to the Johnnies. I see Gonzaga being a real surprise, getting all the way to the Elite Eight.