by T.J. HORGAN
The most erratic aspect of sports is the underestimated, “Sleeper Team.” A sleeper (team, players, etc.) is one that is undervalued, but performs at an unexpected level. As the plethora of bracket advice is released, there are so many predictions surrounding which team(s) could be a sleeper, it seems as though only a team with a 16-seed winning would be a surprise.
When reading this list of potential sleepers, remember that I am not projecting these teams to make a final four run, but merely to perform better than their seed level.
Moving up a division this year, the Bruins fared very well in the Ohio Valley Conference, where Murray State was expected to grab the attention. Belmont certainly does not possess tournament experience and I do not see them beating Ohio State (if they make it that far), but the Bruins will put up a fight against Arizona in the first round.
Belmont can knock down their shots, as they were fourth in the nation in field goal percentage. Also, Arizona’s sub-par defense will allow the Bruins to control the pace of the game. If Belmont gets out to early leads, watch out for this team moving forward.
The Cowboys were phenomenal this year in the Big 12. Three of their five Big 12 losses coming from teams seeded lower in them this tournament. Oklahoma State could surprise many people (including Joe Lunardi) who have them losing their second game to St. Louis. Many people could argue that due to the Cowboys’ fifth seed, they don’t qualify as sleepers. However, if they beat St. Louis, they will face Louisville (most likely). Any team above a three seed that beats Louisville qualifies as a sleeper.
During the regular season, Oklahoma State had a 1-1 record against Kansas, a one seed in the South bracket. However, their only loss to the Jayhawks was in double overtime, proving that the Cowboys can endure elite teams. In addition to this, the Cowboys lost to Gonzaga by only one point. A team that was five points away from going 3-0 against one seeds could be a serious contender to excel in this tournament.
This team is certainly one of the most speculative when looking at the bracket match-ups. Being a ten seed, and facing a seven seed in Notre Dame, picking Cyclones would not be unprecedented. This matchup will be my most anticipated first-round game.
Iowa St. relies on the deep shots, some of them being questionable. However, more often than not, they make the shots that I call “questionable.” The Cyclones rank fourth in all of college basketball in points per game (79.6). In addition to their scoring efficiency, they averaged 38.7 rebounds per game.
Iowa State knows how to do everything right, just not consistently. Their unpredictability reflects in their ten seed. However, putting their somewhat extemporaneous offense aside, the Cyclones will cause havoc in this tournament if they get hot. Look for this ball-hawking, deep-shooting team to make a sweet sixteen run if they hit a hot streak.