March Madness is the most cherished month in all of sports. You don’t need to be an avid college basketball fan to latch onto a school and root for them to go deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Usually, the bracktologists are the lone source to identify those sleeper teams that are ready to make a long tournament run. Lets not forget that no No.16-seeded school has pulled the improbable upset of a No.1 seed, but we have seen a number of double-digit seeds defeat the higher seed since the tournament expanded to 64 schools. You don’t have to look further than last year when No.10 Syracuse survived and advanced to the Final Four.
Here are college basketball’s top sleeper teams:
Iowa State Cyclones
One of the key attributes for being considered a sleeper team is being hot at the right time of the season. The Iowa State Cyclones are currently on a four game winning streak and tied for second place in the Big 12 Conference with the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Cyclones have an experienced roster, with their four leading (Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, Nazareth Mitrow-Long and Deonte Burton) scorers all playing in their senior year. This veteran-laden lineup has the experience to win games in any environment as they won eight road games this season. The Cyclones know how to protect the basketball as they commit fewer than 10 turnovers-per-game. This will make it difficult to rattle a team that plays well under pressure.
The USC Trojans are a legitimate top-25 team, and they have plenty of pent-up frustration playing second fiddle in Los Angeles to their crosstown rival, the UCLA Bruins. The Trojans are a basketball team that averages just under 80 points-per-game, and they’re ready to unleash their offensive attack on any first-round opponent. The team’s leading scorer is Jordan McLaughlin, who has the talent to lead Southern Cal on a long tournament run. Unfortunately, the Trojans most reliable player was someone no college basketball fan knew of before the start of the season. Head coach Andy Enfield and company are poised to have a breakthrough tournament, as a school that can put the ball in the basket is a dangerous threat come March.
Wichita State Shockers
It’s hard to imagine a team three years removed from being undefeated and a No.1 seed being considered a sleeper team for the coming tournament, but that is the case for the Wichita State Shockers. The program did reach the Final Four in 2013 as a No.9 seed. The Shockers are another school that can score as they average close to 80-points-per-game, but they don’t have a player averaging over 11 points this season. However, the Shockers do have two explosive scorers, Landry Shamel and Markus McDuffie, who compliment each other on the court. Head coach Gregg Marshall has done a terrific job of mixing and matching his lineup depending on the opponent each night. This roster depth has produced a balanced attack that has won eight straight by at least 17 points in each victory. The Shockers will be a tough out on any neutral court come tournament time.
Nevada Wolf Pack
The Mountain West Conference is having a down season as the league’s usual power schools are struggling to stay in tournament contention. However, the Nevada Wolf Pack is one of the rising programs in all of college basketball. Second-year head coach Eric Musselman and his top assistant Dave Rice have done an excellent job of rebuilding the program by signing quality recruits and securing highly-sought after transfers. Last season, the Wolf Pack won 24 games, and this year’s group should surpass that number. The team’s best player is Cameron Oliver, who averages 13.4 pts and 9.1 rebs., and is the leading candidate for the conference’s player-of-the-year honors. The Wolf Pack are an unknown factor because they must win their conference tournament title to secure a bid, but their style will be tough to defend come March.