Today, we are here to recommend some sleeper teams for the NCAA Tournament – meaning lower-seeded schools that could survive the first weekend to reach the Sweet 16. However, we won’t be recommending any seed lower than a No. 3 to win it all because that almost never happens. There will be first-round upsets, as only four times have the top four seeds in every region survived the first round.
Don’t Sleep On Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
You may want to outsmart your friends in your NCAA Tournament bracket picks or take really long odds at Sports Interaction to bet on a No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1. Don’t waste your money. Cover the spread, maybe, but not outright an upset. No. 1 seeds are 128-0 all-time vs. No. 16 seeds, and the average margin of victory the past two years has been 28.0. Since 1998, only four games have been decided by single digits. Move on from the 1-16 line.
A No. 15 seed is 8-120 vs. No. 2 seeds but four of those wins have come in the past five years. Many 2016 brackets were ruined when No. 2 Michigan State, a very popular pick to win it all, was knocked off in dominating fashion by No. 15 Middle Tennessee.
Let’s stick with the Blue Raiders for our first sleeper pick of the 2017 Big Dance. They are a No. 12 seed in the South Region and facing No. 5 Minnesota on Thursday. Clearly the Sports Interaction oddsmakers are believers because Middle Tennessee is a 1-point favourite. It’s incredibly rare to have a No. 12 favoured over a No. 5. The Blue Raiders bring back their two leading scorers from last season in Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw and added Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams, who leads this year’s club in scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg).
Middle Tennessee, the Conference USA regular-season and tournament champion, is 20-1 in its last 21 games outscoring opponents by an average of 13.5 point during that span. This team should beat over-seeded and inconsistent Minnesota – at least one No. 12 has beaten a No. 5 in all but four tournaments since 1985 — and then either No. 4 Butler or No. 13 Winthrop on Saturday.
FGCU: Dunk City Part Deux
No. 14 seeds have won at least one game in four straight NCAA Tournaments for the first time since it happened each year from 1986-1992. Stephen F. Austin pulled the trick last year against West Virginia and then should have beaten Notre Dame in the Round of 32 before falling on a buzzer-beater.
Consider No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast this year as the Eagles open West Region play in Orlando on Thursday against No. 3 Florida State of the ACC. The Seminoles are -12 on NCAA basketball odds. You may remember Florida Gulf Coast from 2013 when it was christened “Dunk City” as the school made a run to the Sweet 16. That team’s head coach, Andy Enfield, was then hired by Southern Cal.
This year’s FGCU team dunks even more than the 2013 club. It was the regular-season and tournament champion of the Atlantic Sun. In non-conference play, FGCU played well in losses at NCAA Tournament teams Baylor and Michigan State. The Eagles were fifth in the country in field goal percentage during the regular season at 50.2 percent.
Florida State, meanwhile, was dominant at home this season in going unbeaten in Tallahassee for the first time in 41 years – meaning all its losses were away from home. FGCU, which is based in Fort Myers (full of Canadian snowbirds), likely will have more fan support in Orlando vs. FSU and certainly would for a Round of 32 game vs. either No. 6 Maryland or No. 11 Xavier, two teams that struggled down the stretch.
Other double-digit seeds with a realistic shot at the Sweet 16 are No. 13 Vermont in the Midwest Region and No. 10 Wichita State in the South. The Catamounts have won a national-best 21 straight games and play a No. 4 Purdue team that is overrated (also from an overrated conference) and that has been one-and-done in the past two NCAA Tournaments.
The Shockers, who were seeded terribly at No. 10, were have won 15 games in a row and are no strangers to NCAA Tournament success under Coach Gregg Marshall. They are again one of the nation’s best defensive teams and should beat No. 7 Dayton in the first round. That would likely lead to a showdown with No. 2 Kentucky in the Round of 32. WSU was unbeaten when it faced Kentucky in the 2014 NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 and lost 78-76.
Long Shots In Final Four? Probably Not
There has been at least one team seeded 10th or worse to reach the Sweet 16 in 30 of the past 32 NCAA Tournaments. Typically, those Cinderella teams that reach the Sweet 16 end there. Just four double-digit seeds have reached the Final Four: No 10 Syracuse (2016), No. 11 VCU (2011), No. 11 George Mason (2006) and No. 11 LSU (1986).
That said, only three times have all Elite Eight participants been seeded fourth or better: in 1995, 2007, 2009. There also have been at least two teams seeded worse than fourth in the Elite Eight in four of the past seven years. Don’t go assuming all four No. 1s will reach the Final Four, either. That has happened once. Since seeding began in 1979, 15 teams seeded seventh or worse have reached the national semifinals.