NCAA Tournament Preview: The Sleepers
While we may have all of the “favorites” covered, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is called March Madness for a reason. Every year there are a few teams that are absolute quality teams but don’t get enough respect from either their peers or the committee that seeds them. There are plenty of sleepers that could easily make a run to the Final Four, and that’s what we’re here for.
Our list starts with the most legitimate sleeper, one that could easily win the whole thing. Gonzaga came within a few points of winning a national title last year, and most of the faces are the same. Like Jay Wright, Mark Few was finally able to get Gonzaga to the Final Four and the Championship game after choking forever. He made Adam Morrison proud.
Gonzaga has a hard trip to the Final Four with potential opponents North Carolina and Michigan waiting, but their road to the Elite Eight isn’t all that difficult. Ohio State is an overseeded team from a Big 10 Conference that was lacking in depth, and a number one Xavier team that was great in the regular season but can never put it together come tournament time.
Rhode Island is definitely the most disrespected team on this list. Are the losses to a bad St. Joseph’s team and Davidson in the Finals concerning? Yes, but this team is far too good to be seeded this low.
Dan Hurley’s boys can ball, and they have the track record to show it. They are a Top 20 team that won 15 straight A10 games and had the longest winning streak in the country. If the committee wanted to punish for lack of competition and quality wins, Syracuse should not have even made the tournament.
The most intriguing of these sleeper teams are the Alabama Crimson Tide. Usually my rule is if the school is known predominantly for their football then their basketball school is therefore inferior and shouldn’t be trusted in the tournament. We’ve seen it with LSU, Auburn, and most recently Oregon.
However, Alabama’s guard play is incredible. They run an up-tempo style, play great defense, and have many quality wins in a very deep SEC this year. It was surprising to see a team essentially come out of nowhere but they’re a legitimate team.
Ever since Bruce Pearl arrived at Auburn the program has been on the rise. Things may have ended messy in Tennessee but there is no denying the fact that his team’s on court performance has never been an issue. Expect Texas Tech and Purdue to square off in the Sweet 16 in the East. I would not be surprised if we saw one of those teams in the Final Four. Arizona State was the hottest team in the country to start the season. The winter cooled the Sun Devils down but much like desert, things start to heat up in the Spring in Arizona. Things may heat up again for Arizona State if they play their cards right.