Every NCAA tournament has a sleeper team that gets further than anyone anticipates, and this year's group of squads is full of teams that can make some noise. They may not be from the biggest or most prestigious of conferences, but these teams still have the feisty nature and determination to play giant slayer if momentum is on their side.
The Virginia Commonwealth Rams are no stranger to this role. They stunned the college basketball world with a run to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed, and their pesky defense is not to be underestimated.
Moreover, teams with key signature wins, of which there are many, should not be counted out either.
If they get favorable draws and execute their strategies perfectly, these teams could easily surprise us all by going on lengthy runs in the Big Dance.
The Badgers play in the Big Ten, and, at No. 22 in the latest AP ranking, they do not seem like a conventional sleeper. However, with a 21-10 record and a ranking of No. 42 in the RPI rankings, they definitely do have sleeper status.
Wisconsin is also something of a sleeper just because of how many signature wins the team has. Not only did head coach Bo Ryan's men defeat heavily favored Indiana on Jan. 15, but they also took down Michigan on Feb. 9 in an overtime stunner.
It also helps that the Badgers rank 70th in the nation in rebounding. They aren't the strongest scoring team, but their ability to work well in the paint definitely could give them an advantage depending on which teams they are matched up with early on.
If they can get some momentum behind them, a long tournament run could easily be in the works for this underrated Big Ten squad.
The Rams faced a big test this season, as it was their first season in the Atlantic 10 after over a decade in the less competitive Colonial Athletic Association. Sure enough, Shaka Smart's men were well prepared and went 24-7 on the year and 12-4 in conference play.
The team got a key signature win late in the season in blowing out conference rival Butler on March 2, and it ranks 11th in the nation in scoring.
While the scoring numbers are all well and good, what makes VCU special is Smart's "havoc" style. This team plays pesky defense from start to finish and is first in the nation in steals, with just under 12 a game.
Throw in a dynamic duo of Treveon Graham (15.7 PPG, six RPG) and Juvonte Reddic (14.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG), and the Rams are definitely not to be written off quickly.
The Bulldogs have had a season of ups and downs, including some bad in-conference losses to VCU and Saint Louis, but the team still went 25-7 overall and 11-5 in conference play—good for third in the A-10. They may not look like a team that can make some noise, but trust me. They can.
This is because head coach Brad Stevens already has two key tournament runs under his belt—runs that no one will soon forget. Butler made the tournament championship game as a No. 5 seed in 2010 and again in 2011 as a No. 8 seed, finishing as the runner-up both times.
They may not be as high-profile a team as the Indianas and Dukes of the tourney, but Butler is still special. The Bulldogs have proven they can win and play giant slayer before, and this season should be no exception.
That said, don't be surprised if Stevens rallies his troops to yet another long run in 2013.