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March Madness 2013: Sleeping Giants Capable of Making Deep Run

Feb 26, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA;  Led by Minnesota Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe (32) the bench cheers during the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Williams Arena.  The Gophers defeated number one ranked Hoosiers 77-73.  Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports
Tim KeeneyContributor IMarch 6, 2013

If you're going to beat that pesky brunette in the cubicle next to you in this year's office pool, then finding the right sleepers is a must. 

Thanks to schools like Gonzaga, George Mason, VCU and Butler, that usually means scouring the mid-major ranks for popular Sweet 16 upset picks. 

Considering the parity of college hoops this season, that's not such a bad idea, but don't forget about the big boys.

NC State last year, Marquette and Florida State in 2011, Washington in 2010, Arizona in 2009, yadda yadda yadda, LSU in 1986. Moral of the story, a sleeping giant—aka a double-digit team from a power-6 conference—inevitably makes noise almost every year. 

While the seeds are far from final, here's a look at some sleepy Goliaths capable of being this year's under-the-radar bracket buster. 

 

California Golden Bears

You know what's crucial for winning games in March? Premier guard play. You know what Cal has? Premier guard play!

Notice the similarity (I really hope you do)?

Led by Allen Crabbe, one of the best pure scorers in America, and Justin Cobbs, a heady point guard capable of penetrating and creating on the inside, the Golden Bears have reeled off seven straight wins and are the hottest team in America not named Georgetown. 

Throw in quality big-man play from Richard Solomon and David Kravish, speedy improvement and posterizing dunks from freshman Tyrone Wallace and, of course, Bak Bak off the bench (just wanted to type his name), and the Bears are a balanced force on both sides of the ball. 

Cal isn't going to get a high seed because it spent its January getting throttled by teams like Washington and Stanford, but after knocking off Oregon (twice), Arizona (in Tuscon), UCLA and Colorado, it's peaking at the perfect time. 

 

Virginia Cavaliers

You know, just as long as they don't have to play a team outside the RPI top 100. 

The Cavaliers have had one of the most unique seasons in college basketball history. They lost to Old Dominion (sad face) and are just 13-7 against teams outside the top 100, but they are likely dancing because of wins over Duke, North Carolina, NC State and Wisconsin that highlight their 7-2 record against the top 100. 

As with all Tony Bennett teams, Virginia has an obvious style: playing slower than a sloth with a backpack full of rocks walking through molasses and grinding out wins on defense. 

The Cavs, according to BBState.com, average just 62.1 possession per 40 minutes, but they give up only 0.876 points per possession. Slow and stout-y wins the race.

They likely won't blow anyone out, but they also won't get blown out themselves, and in close games, they have a little secret weapon who goes by the name of Joe Harris—because, you know, that's his name.

Harris, the pride of Chelan, WA, is averaging 17.2 points on 49.9 percent shooting from the field with a 46.3 percent mark from deep and his 1.26 points per shot ranks 63rd in America. He dropped 36 in a win over Duke and is absolutely cold-blooded when he gets it going.

Virginia is going to be a tough out—as long as it gets in, first. 

 

Minnesota Golden Gophers

The Golden Gophers are tougher than a piece of steak that Ron Swanson typically enjoys. 

Led by Trevor Mbakwe, they are fourth in the nation in rebounding percentage, 12th in blocks per game and 19th in two-point field-goal percentage defense.

Essentially, if you're going to beat Tubby Smith's team, you better do it from the outside if you don't like having black eyes.

That kind of toughness is an important trait for winning away from home, and Minnesota has showcased that with road or neutral wins against Illinois, Memphis, Stanford, USC and Florida State, all teams in the top 100. 

Moreover, the Golden Gophers have several individual parts you would expect to shine in the bright lights of March.

We've mentioned Mbakwe, a senior coming off a season-ending injury and bulldozing anyone in his way, but you also have Andre Hollins and his ability to catch fire (ask Memphis) along with Rodney Williams, who is capable of stepping on heads with his athleticism. 

The Gophers have been beaten up a little bit in the Big Ten, but don't be surprised if that helps them to a couple of wins against the rest of the country. 

 

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