Cinderella stories are what the big dance is all about, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we have more than one in 2016. There are upsets every year, and finding those upsets can help you win your bracket.
In this article, I’ll give my top 3 sleepers (schools outside the top 2 seeds) in each region. These aren’t just teams I think can win a game or two. These are legit Final Four contenders.
Find out how far I have each of these sleepers advancing in my bracket.
#3 Miami – The Hurricanes don’t get near the respect they deserve. Miami finished tied for 2nd in the ACC with Virginia at 13-5. Just 1-game back of North Carolina.
The Hurricanes also impressed in non-conference play. They beat Mississippi State by 26, Utah by 24, Butler by 10 and Florida by 11.
I could definitely see them beating Villanova in the Sweet 16 and upsetting Kansas in the Elite 8.
#4 California – The big question with the Golden Bears is their youth. If Cal can overcome their lack of inexperience, they could surprise everybody.
They certainly seemed to figure things out late in the year. The Golden Bears went 9-2 over their last 11 games. That streak included a 20-point win over Oregon. The two losses came at Arizona by 3 and to Utah in the Pac-12 Tournament by 4.
#7 Iowa – The Hawkeyes were the talk of the country not that long ago. Iowa was projected as a No. 1 seed back in February.
The Hawkeyes didn’t just beat Michigan State twice, they dominated them. They didn’t finish the year strong, but were in every game they lost.
If they can regain that confidence, this team is certainly capable of a deep run.
#3 Texas A&M – The Aggies aren’t a team to overlook. Everyone is talking about Kentucky right now. Texas A&M shared the SEC regular season title with the Wildcats. They then lost in overtime to Kentucky in the SEC title game.
The Aggies have won 8 of their last 9 overall. They have impressive non-conference wins over ISU, Texas, Gonzaga and Baylor.
Oklahoma struggled down the stretch and Oregon not a proven commodity. Texas A&M can win this region.
#4 Duke – I don’t care what form or how many stars Duke has. As long as Coach K is on the sidelines, this team can’t be taken lightly.
The Blue Devils don’t have the same talent as the team that won it all last year. But they have the same fight.
With two stars in Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram, the Blue Devils could certainly end up in Houston.
#5 Baylor – The Bears are the one team in the West that isn’t getting enough hype. They are more than capable of getting past Duke in the Round of 32.
That would set up likely game against Oregon, who they battled down to the wire on the road earlier this season.
Baylor is one of those teams that can beat whoever they line up against. One thing I like about this team, is they had no bad losses. All 11 of their defeats came against teams in the field of 68.
#3 West Virginia – Bob Huggins has turned the Mountaineers into a force in the Big 12. West Virginia’s pressure makes them a nightmare matchup for any team they face.
That pressure will be extra difficult for teams to prepare for on just 1 day of rest.
The Mountaineers beat all the heavy weights at least once in the Big 12. That’s wins over Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State (twice) and Baylor
#4 Kentucky – The Wildcats always seem to be playing their best when March rolls around. This year is no different. Kentucky won the SEC Tournament and went 10-2 over their last 12.
Jamal Murray has emerged into a star and is capable of carrying this team. He won’t have to do it on his own. Sophomore Tyler Ulis gives them a potent 1-2 punch.
The road to the Final Four isn’t easy, as they likely have to go through North Carolina early. Either way this team is capable of winning it all.
#6 Notre Dame – The Irish didn’t take the big step back everyone was expected. After losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton from last year’s Elite 8 run, this team kept it’s edge.
Notre Dame has the experience and balanced offensive attack that can catch fire. With the way this season has gone, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to see the Irish in Houston.
#3 Utah – The Utes suffered an embarrassing 31-point loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. That defeat will have a lot of people jumping off the Utah bandwagon, but one loss doesn’t define a season.
Prior to that defeat to Oregon, the Utes had won 9 straight. The Ducks were the only team in the Pac-12 that had the edge against Utah. Last I checked they weren’t in the Midwest Region.
Sophomore Jakob Poeltl is one of the best players most of the country doesn’t know about. He’s a future lottery pick in the NBA Draft. He averaged 17.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 1.6 bpg. He good enough to carry Utah to wins over both Michigan State and Virginia. Enough said.
#5 Purdue – The Boilermakers nearly upset Michigan State in the Big 10 title game. That’s says a lot about what this team is capable of.
Purdue doesn’t have just one big man who can take over a game. They have three. That kind of size is tough to come by. As you would expect, they dominant the glass and are strong defensively.
If they get hot from the outside, there’s no team they can’t beat. I like their early matchups against Little Rock and likely ISU. The big question is can they beat both Virginia and Michigan State.
#6 Seton Hall – The Pirates were a major surprise in the Big East this year. Seton Hall finished 3rd in the conference behind Villanova and Xavier. Who they beat in back-to-back games to win the Big East Tournament.
It’s not uncommon to see a team carry over their success from the end of the regular season to the Big Dance. Seton Hall has won 12 of their last 14.
Unfortunately the road to the Final Four is difficult. That’s saying it nicely. The Pirates will likely have to beat Utah, Michigan and Virginia in that order.