Cinderella stories are what the big dance is all about, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we have more than one in 2017. 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 3 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.
NCAA Tournament Sleepers in Each Region That Could Make the Final Four
The Gators were one of the hottest teams in the country not that long ago. That was until they suffered an injury to John Egbunu. An elite shot blocker and anchor of their defense. Having him available would certainly help, but Florida is a team that has the talent to go on a run. This is a team that played the likes of Gonzaga, Duke and Florida State all tough in non-conference and beat Kentucky by 22-points.
When you play defense like the Cavaliers anything is possible. This isn’t the same caliber of Virginia team as years past, but it’s one that could definitely surprise. Keep in mind they lost by just 2-points on a buzzer-beater at Villanova. A team that likely awaits them in the Sweet 16. After that a likely matchup against a familiar foe in Duke.
I had a hard time picking SMU to make a deep run, but it wouldn’t shock me if they did. The Mustangs enter having won 16 consecutive games. Taking home both the AAC regular season and tournament titles. There’s no question they have talent and watching them play is impressive. My concern is their non-conference resume. They lost by 22 to Michigan and also dropped games to both USC and Boise State.
#4 West Virginia
The Mountaineers are one of the most difficult teams to prepare for come tournament time. Their relentless pressure creates chaos on the court and that’s where they thrive. West Virginia isn’t all about the press. This team is very efficient in the half court offense and are a deep team that will bring it for a full 40 minutes. I personally don’t think Gonzaga is all that they are made out to be, so getting to the Elite 8 and Final 4 isn’t a stretch.
#5 Notre Dame
The ACC is so deep that you forget about teams like Notre Dame, who let’s not forget had Duke on the ropes in the ACC Tournament title game. This is a veteran bunch led by All-American center Bonzie Colson. The Irish will not go away easy and for a lot of the same reasons I like the Mountaineers, I think this team could make it to Glendale.
#7 St. Mary’s
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what to expect from the Gaels. This is the best Saint Mary’s team the school has every fielded and it wasn’t good enough to win the West Coast because of Gonzaga. The big questions you have to ask yourself is whether or not Gonzaga is for real? If you believe they are, the Gaels could be a team to spoil a lot of brackets by taking out No. 2 Arizona in the second round.
I know the Big Ten isn’t getting a lot of love and rightfully so. However, if there’s one team that I would be worried about making a deep run, it’s the Boilermakers. Purdue gave Villanova and Louisville all they could handle in non-conference and defeated a quality Notre Dame team. They were one and done in the Big 10 Tournament, but won the conference by a full two games.
#5 Iowa State
The Cyclones caught fire on their way to winning the Big 12 Tournament. A lot was expected of this team coming into the year, but they flew under the radar in a stacked Big 12 Conference for most of the year. They have one of the best point guards in the country in Monte Morris, who is playing some of his best basketball. If the outside shot is falling for ISU this team is extremely difficult to beat. The win at Kansas back on Feb. 4 tells you all you need to know about their potential. Just so happens the Jayhawks could be standing in their way come the Sweet 16.
Here’s another Big Ten team that could ruin brackets. The Wolverines were involved in a pretty serious plane crash prior to leaving for the Big Ten Tournament. Bad enough that the team considered not even playing. They rallied together as a team and won 4 games in 4 days to take home the title. Stuff like this can do crazy things to a team. If they can find a way to carry over that momentum to the Big Dance, look out.
Could the Bulldogs do it again? It’s not out of the question. Butler was responsible for two of Villanova’s three losses this year. They also beat the likes of Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Arizona, Cincinnati and Indiana in non-conference play. I think they could catch a break and get No. 12 Middle Tennessee in the second round. The big question is can they take out the Tar Heels.
The Bearcats are a team that will put up a fight regardless of who they line up against. Cincinnati is very athletic and use that to torment teams on the defensive side of the ball. Don’t be concerned about them dominating in a soft American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats went on the road and won at Iowa State and knocked off Xavier before all their injuries at home. This is one of the better teams that Mark Cronin has fielded.
#10 Wichita State
There’s been plenty of talk about the Shockers. Most experts are in agreement that this team should be much higher than a No. 10 seed. At least those that watched them play. It’s unfortunate for Wichita State that the committee made such a clear mistake. They have an absolute gauntlet of a road to the Final Four, but this team is good enough to pull it off. What a story it would be. The Shockers path to Glendale would likely require them to go through No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 UCLA and No. 1 North Carolina in consecutive games.