The calendar has finally made its long awaited turn over to March. College basketball fans everywhere are rejoicing knowing that selection Sunday is less than two short weeks away. All of the talk around the league is who is going to be crowned the NCAA Tournament champion after the final whistle of the season, but if you want to win your bracket, picking the winner may not be enough to clinch first place. Here are some sleeper teams that may end up playing in the second weekend of the tournament.
Some may not consider the Cardinals a sleeper team because of their success earlier on in the season, but Louisville has certainly played their way into being considered a sleeper team. Just three weeks ago, the Cardinals were being projected as a five seed or at best a low four. Now after losses in six of their last nine games dating back to groundhog day, Louisville finds their seeding around a seven seed. This would mean that the Cardinals play a two seed in the second round barring an upset.
Despite their losses in a brutally difficult ACC conference, the Cardinals still have the potential to beat a two seed and make it to the second weekend. Chris Mack’s squad has four wins against top 25 opponents this season, headlined by a massive win over North Carolina on the road. In wins, Louisville has been efficient on both sides of the ball, and that will have to be the case against a team like Michigan or Tennessee in the second round. A 5-5 record on the road also suggests that the Cardinals might be able to have what it takes to knock off a top seed if they play their best basketball.
The Orange upset Michigan State last season to make it to the second weekend as the zone defense was too much for Tom Izzo’s squad. This season Jim Boeheim’s group brings the same type of defensive intensity this season that can provide a spark to an offense that has struggled at times this season. After a rocky start, Syracuse is being looked at as an eight or nine seed in most mock brackets.
As an eight or nine seed, the Orange would be forced to play a one seed barring a UMBC type upset in the first round. This doesn’t mean disaster for Syracuse. Tyus Battle leads the team with over 17 PPG and is good enough to match a top scorer like RJ Barret or De’Andre Hunter in a second round matchup. This doesn’t mean Syracuse will be favored in a game against Duke or Virginia, but the Orange can beat both of them. The most favorable matchup for Syracuse would be the one seed that comes out of the SEC. Whether it’s Tennessee or Kentucky, the Orange will be in that game until the final buzzer if they make it that far.
The Rebels have strong wins and tight losses on their resume this season. They are projected as a ten seed this year though due to their losses to inferior teams like Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas.
Despite those tough losses, Ole Miss will be a popular sleeper team come March. The Rebels play some of the best paint defense in all of college basketball, a huge reason why they were able to stay in the game against Tennessee until the final buzzer last week. As a ten seed, the Rebels would see a two seed if they made it into the round of 32. With enough talent on both the defensive and offensive end to beat solid teams (Auburn twice, Mississippi State, Baylor) and a strong game from leading scorer Breein Tyree, Ole Miss has the potential to take down a Michigan or a Michigan State.
The Knights are now on everyone’s radar after beating previously one loss Houston on their own home floor. They should have been on everyone’s radar the entire year. UCF has pretty much ran through the American Conference this year (12-4) with slight hiccups to the better teams in it. Projected as a nine seed after the road win against Houston, the Knights would play a one seed in the second round.
Despite the tough draw in the second round, UCF has the ability to take down a monster in the tournament. BJ Taylor is a scorer that can carry this team and has a perfect compliment in Aubrey Dawkins, who can also lead the team at times. Taco Falls is 7’6 and an animal in the paint as he leads the team in rebounds and is a matchup problem for almost any opponent. If UCF’s top three provide enough to lead the team, the complimentary players may not need to be perfect to take down a Kentucky or a Tennessee if that’s who they get.
The Aggies are not on this list because they upset Nevada over the weekend. Yes that’s a big quad one win for a team who’s trying to make the tournament with a potential at large bid, but Utah state is on this list because they have been just as good as ranked Nevada all season. The Aggies now combine their win against Nevada with a victory over St Mary’s and solid conference play record to project as a dangerous 11 seed in the tournament.
If Utah State is going to do anything, they will have to rely on Sam Merrill, who carried them to the victory over Nevada with 29 points. Barring an upset, the Aggies would take on a three seed in the second round. Utah State matches up well against a team like Houston and would also play well against Texas Tech if they can defend Jarred Culver. Watch out for a possible Loyola-Chicago type run for the Aggies if they can continue the hot stretch they are on
If Utah State is going to do anything, they will have to rely on Sam Merrill, who carried them to the victory over Nevada with 29 points. Barring an upset, the Aggies would take on a three seed in the second round. Utah State matches up well against a team like Houston and would also play well against Texas Tech if they can defend Jarred Culver. Watch out for a possible Loyola-Chicago type run for the Aggies if they can continue the hot stretch they are on.
photo via: The Daily Orange