Top Sleeper Teams for the NCAA Tournament

MAR 19 – Every year during March Madness, as I look over my bracket on the first day of the tournament, I feel pretty confident with my picks. All it takes is about four hours of basketball for my hopes and dreams to be crushed by the ‘Little Sisters of the Poor’ knocking off my Goliath that I picked to go to the Final Four. So before you make the mistake of looking past the lower seeds, here are some potential sleeper teams that could ruin everybody’s bracket.

South Region: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (31-2)

Matchups against No. 5 seeds and No. 12 seeds are always ripe with upsets, and this game is no exception. SFA has not lost a game since November 23 and ran away with the Southland Conference. They have a favorable matchup with VCU, who lost in the Atlantic 10 final to St. Joseph’s. In March, the best teams are not always the ones that move on. The hottest teams have the most success historically and no team is hotter than SFA. The Lumberjacks score nearly 77 points per game and have nine wins by 20 or more points, albeit against subpar competition. However, VCU has one of the toughest defenses in the nation, and it will be SFA’s first real test since they lost to Texas over four months ago.

West Region: No. 6 Baylor Bears (24-11)

After starting 12-1, Baylor imploded and lost seven of their next eight games, dropping them to 2-8 in the Big 12 and putting them on the wrong side of the bubble. Then the Bears caught fire and resurrected their season, finishing on a 10-2 run and losing in the Big 12 championship game to Iowa State. Cory Jefferson is the team leader, averaging 13.5 points with over eight rebounds per game. Sophomore center Isaiah Austin will be a nightmare for anyone who dares to put up a shot at the rim. Standing at 7-1, he guards the basket like a momma bear guards her cubs. Brady Heslip is a deadeye shooter who will make you pay if you give him an inch of space, but struggles defensively. The key to beating Baylor is shooting well from outside to bust their zone defense.

East Region: No. 12 Harvard (26-4)

The Crimson are not new to the sleeper role. Last year they upset No. 3 New Mexico in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and Tommy Amaker’s squad is even better this year. They have six players that average more than nine points per game and they have the 13th best defense in the nation. Their opponent, No. 5 Cincinnati, struggles mightily on offense, ranking No. 237 in the nation in scoring. But the Bearcats’ defense is even better than Harvard’s, coming in at No. 6 in the nation. Harvard has an RPI of 46 and although they do not have any RPI top-50 wins, they did defeat Green Bay by 12 and only lost to Connecticut by five. Watch out for the Crimson to ruin your bracket, again.

Midwest Region: No. 12 North Carolina State Wolfpack (22-13)

When talking about the Wolfpack, the one name you must remember is T.J. Warren. The ACC Player of the Year leads NC State in points and rebounds. In their last five games, Warren is averaging 28 points per game, including a 42-point outburst against Boston College. He is one of the best players in the NCAA tournament and put in a strong showing in the First Four matchup with Xavier. NC State’s first matchup is a soft No. 5 seed in Saint Louis. They stumbled in the final stretch of their season, losing four of their last five games. The Wolfpack had to scratch and claw their way into March Madness by winning four games in a row, including beating Syracuse in the ACC tournament. Now they are poised to pull the upset once again.


Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.

Photo: NCAA

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First Round Predictions for the B1G Tournament

MARCH 11 – The regular season is finally over, and the fun can officially begin. March college basketball is perhaps the most entertaining basketball in the world, and we are right in the middle of it. The Big Ten tourney kicks off on Thursday in Indianapolis, Ind. so here is a prediction of every game in the first round.

Game 1 – No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Illinois (Thursday, 12:00 p.m.)

The Hoosiers (17-14, 7-11) split the season series with the Fighting Illini (18-13, 7-11). Illinois took the first matchup in Champaign, Ill. 83-80 in overtime on New Year’s Eve, and then Indiana won the next game by 10 in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana is 2-3 in its last five games, with wins over Iowa and Ohio State. Illinois is 4-1 in their last five with a huge road win at Michigan State.

These two teams are having disappointing seasons, but Indiana is playing better basketball right now despite their recent record. They took Michigan to the wire in Ann Arbor, and their young talent is playing extremely well. The Hoosiers will win 64-59. The winner plays No. 1 Michigan on Friday at noon.

Game 2 – No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Purdue (Thursday, 2:25 p.m.)

Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) finished the season on a high note, squeaking a win out against MSU on Sunday. Although they can be offensively challenged at times, their defense will make up for any scoring shortcomings. OSU leads the B1G in scoring defense, while Purdue is dead last. Everyone’s favorite Buckeye Aaron Craft can shut down anyone he is matched up with and can facilitate the offense without needing to score.

Purdue (15-16, 5-13) struggled mightily at times this season and lost their last six games to finish the year. Their defense is porous, and they rank No. 131 in the nation in scoring. OSU wins this one 74-60. The winner plays No. 4 Nebraska on Friday at 2:25 pm.

Game 3 – No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 10 Penn State (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.)

These two teams met for the final regular season game of the year on Sunday, with the Golden Gophers (19-12, 8-10) coming out victorious 81-63 in Minnesota. They also won the first meeting in Happy Valley by three points in early January. Minnesota recently beat Iowa by six at home, but have not won back-to-back games since the beginning of January.

Penn State (15-16, 6-12) has had consistency issues as well, sweeping the season series with Ohio State and beating Nebraska in January, but falling to Illinois twice and opening the B1G season with a six-game losing streak. Minnesota is in Joe Lunardi’s last four out in his latest Bracketology, so they need this game more than anyone in the conference.

The Gophers will win for a third time against the Nittany Lions 75-59. The winner will face No. 2 Wisconsin on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Game 4 – No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Northwestern (Thursday, 8:55 p.m.)

This is the game to watch for MSU fans. The winner goes on to face MSU on Friday at 8:55 p.m.

Iowa (20-11, 9-9) has stumbled to the finish line, losing five of their last six games including a disappointing three-point loss at home to Illinois. The Hawkeyes climbed as high as No. 10 in the AP poll earlier this season, but their final defeat knocked them out of the rankings. Roy Devyn Marble has been the star of the team, leading them in scoring with 17 points per game.

The Spartans played Iowa twice this year, earning a hard-fought overtime win with the help of “The Legend” Russell Byrd at Iowa in the first game, and winning more convincingly on senior night last Thursday. Marble is averaging 22.5 points in the two contests against MSU this year. Aaron White is another leader on the Hawkeyes squad, averaging 13.3 points per night to go along with nearly seven rebounds. If Iowa wants to go far in the tournament, it will be on Marble’s back.

Northwestern (13-18, 6-12) fulfilled their usual role of cellar dwellers this season, finishing second to last in the conference. They endured two lengthy losing streaks of four and seven games and they score at an abysmal rate. Their only marquee win was at Wisconsin near the end of January, but other than that there has not been much for Wildcat fans to cheer about.

MSU faced off against the Wildcats twice, winning both games by 14 and 15 points, respectively. Northwestern had a tough time handling Adreian Payne down low in the second game, allowing him to score 20 points to compliment 14 rebounds.

Iowa will win this game 65-62 and move on to face the Spartans for a third time this season, where they will lose for the third time this season.

The full tournament bracket can be seen here.


Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.

 

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