Cinderella stories are what the big dance is all about, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we have more than one in 2018. 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
This is about as obvious as it gets. Arizona should have been at least a No. 3 seed and are a legit threat to not only make it out of the South, but to win the entire thing. The Wildcats have arguably the best player in college basketball in Deandre Ayton, who will be a difficult matchup for any team they face. Arizona also has experience and big time talent at the point guard position in junior Allonzo Trier. The only problem is the Wildcats didn’t receive the easiest of draws. They will likely have to face red-hot Kentucky just to get to the Sweet 16, where they would likely have to take on No. 1 overall seed Virginia.
It was a bit of an up and down season for the Wildcats, but the most important thing is that Kentucky comes into the tournament playing their best basketball. The Wildcats won 3 games in 3 days to take home the SEC Tournament title and are 7-1 over their last 8 games. Just how far they make it will likely come down to the play of freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was sensational in the SEC Tournament, averaging 21.0 ppg and 6.7 apg. If not for the brutal draw they received, this is a team that a lot more people would be talking about.
My big sleeper in the South is No. 7 Nevada, who won the Mountain West regular season title and reached the conference tournament finals before losing to San Diego State. The Wolf Pack have a lot more talent than people realize and aren’t just a team that relies on one guy to carry the load. Nevada has 4 different players who average at least 13 ppg. This team also showed they can hang with the big boys in non-conference play, losing by just 6 on the road to Texas Tech and by just 4 to TCU when they still had Jaylen Fisher. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they knocked off No. 2 seed Cincinnati and got as far as the Elite 8.
This is the obvious choice out of the West, as several experts are picking Gonzaga to make the Final Four. It wouldn’t come as a huge surprise, given this team was in the title game just last year. The Bulldogs head into the Big Dance having won 14 straight. While they lost to the likes of Florida and Villanova in non-conference play, they also had wins over the likes of Ohio State, Texas, Creighton and Washington. Gonzaga also appears to have a favorable draw, as Xavier is by far the worst of the No. 1 seeds.
The Cougars aren’t going to get a lot of love, simply because so many people are high on Michigan and don’t see a path for Houston to make a deep run. While I’m in agreement that the Wolverines are the team to beat in this region, the Cougars are more than capable of making some noise out west. Senior guard Rob Gray will be the deciding factor on just how long Houston dances in March.
#7 Texas A&M
Another team that I think could create some havoc in this region is Texas A&M. This is a team that a lot of people thought would finish inside the Top 10 and be one of the top seeds in this tournament. Things didn’t go as planned for the Aggies, but the talent is there and if they can get hot from outside, there’s not a team in this region they can’t beat.
#4 Wichita State
The Shockers started out 15-2 with their only losses coming by single-digits to Notre Dame and Oklahoma. The fact that they didn’t win the AAC isn’t a big surprise, given just how strong this league was at the top and Wichita State making the transition this year from the Missouri Valley. What I like about the Shockers is they closed out the season strong, going 8-2 over their last 10 with the two losses coming by a combined 3-points. Like Texas A&M, many thought this Wichita State team was going to be a legit Final Four contender when the season started and it wouldn’t surprise me if they lived up to hype.
#5 West Virginia
West Virginia is a team that has to be on this list. The Mountaineers have a lot of the qualities that I like to look for. The two biggest things for me is they have senior guards who have been here and know how to handle the pressure of these games. They also play a very unique style that can cause problems for teams that aren’t use to playing against teams that create so much chaos with their style of play.
#11 St. Bonaventure/UCLA
I’m going to go a bit out on a limb here and take the winner of the play-in game between St. Bonaventure and UCLA to potentially be a major factor in the bottom half of this region. I think whoever wins between these two teams can knock off No. 6 Florida and with the way Texas Tech struggled down the stretch, a spot in the Sweet 16 is well within reach.
It’s hard to pick a sleeper to come out of the South with No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Michigan State all residing in this region. I think it will be near impossible for any team besides The Blue Devils or Spartans to reach the Elite 8 out of the bottom half of this region, so all of my sleepers are going to be in the top half, where all they would need to do is knock off No. 1 Kansas. The obvious choice here is Auburn, who earned a share of the SEC regular-season title and have the talent to make a deep run.
Like Auburn, Clemson was one of the biggest surprises in the country. A lot of people had this team finishing in the bottom half of the ACC. The Tigers were better than advertised and if not for an injury to Donte Grantham might be getting a little more love. The thing is, this team continued to play very well even after Grantham went down.
#9 NC State
I’m sticking in the ACC for my final sleeper in the South and that’s NC State, who was another one of those teams that came out of no where this season. The Wolfpack finished tied for 3rd in the ACC regular-seasons standings at 11-7. They beat Duke by 11 on their home floor and won at UNC. They also had a non-conference win over Arizona. If they can get by Seton Hall in the first round, I really think they matchup well with Kansas and could pull off the big upset.