NCAA NET, KenPom Ranking: 14, 20
One Key Factor: 3-point shooting
Ceiling: Final Four
Here’s a sleeper that, by now, the college basketball world should know all about. Wofford has been dominant during the regular season, and though the team is far from a household name, it is a legitimate contender in this year's NCAA Tournament. The Terriers are ranked No. 14 in the NCAA's NET, above teams like Kansas, Florida State and Villanova.
Behind senior guard Fletcher Magee, who torched the Tar Heels last season for an unthinkable upset in Chapel Hill, Wofford scores 83 points per game. When the Terriers are hot — and shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point range, they almost always are — they can beat just about any team in the country.
But here's the thing: Wofford isn't just a streaky team that's capable of winning when hot. The Terriers are consistent. They have won every game they've played since December, and their only losses this year were to Power 6 teams (UNC, at Oklahoma, at Kansas and at Mississippi State). Currently projected as a 7-seed in Joe Lunardi's bracketology, Wofford should easily dispatch its first-round opponent, and would be evenly matched against its next opponent, presumably a 2-seed. Should Wofford get by that matchup, it could be a favorite for the Final Four.
Record: 25-4, 16-2 Ohio Valley Conference
NCAA NET, KenPom Ranking: 50, 55
One Key Factor: Ja Morant
Ceiling: Second Weekend
In the rare moments ESPN, college basketball analysts and NBA scouts aren't drooling over Zion Williamson, the next big name in discussion for the NBA draft is Murray State's Ja Morant. Morant is projected as high as the No. 2 pick in some mock drafts, and for good reason. His highlights include ridiculous dunks just about every game, including this one in which he leaped completely over a defender.
While his athleticism is key for his NBA hopes, his talents will also be dangerous for Murray State opponents in March. The 6-foot-3 sophomore averages 24.1 points and 10.3 assists per game, which would make him the first Division I men's basketball player to ever average 20 points and 10 assists for a full season.
However, the Racers are in danger of not even making the NCAA Tournament. They finished the regular season tied with Belmont for first place in the Ohio Valley conference. Right now, Lunardi has Murray State projected among the first four out, meaning that they likely need to win their conference tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Yet, if Murray State gets in, it can make some serious noise. The Racers average 83.8 points per game, the 12th-best mark in the country. They would likely make the tournament as a low seed — somewhere between 12 and 14. As such, Murray State would be a very dangerous matchup for a 3, 4 or 5 seed in the first round. Morant has enough talent to carry the Racers to multiple big wins.
South Dakota State
Record: 24-7, 14-2 Summit League
NCAA NET, KenPom Ranking: 101, 89
One Key Factor: Mike Daum
Ceiling: Second Weekend
South Dakota State might be the most slept on of these sleeper teams. The Jackrabbits hail from the Summit League, where they haven't posted any true notable wins. They are the lowest ranked of any of these teams in both NET and KenPom. But while the analytics might not back them up, they do have one ace in the hole: Mike Daum, who has scored the ninth-most points in Division I history.
Daum, a senior, has scored 3,026 points in his four-year career, and is in the middle of a 25.6 points per game season, and he also averages 11.7 rebounds. Though South Dakota State is relatively weak, and unlikely to make a Final Four run, Daum — like Morant — is enough on his own to lead the Jackrabbits to an upset win or two, but the Jackrabbits have other offensive firepower.
They also score the fifth-most points per game in the country. Should South Dakota State come out of the Summit League with a conference tournament championship, the team will be an opponent top seeds don't want to see in the early rounds.
Record: 19-11, 10-7 ACC
NCAA NET, KenPom Ranking: 24, 21
One Key Factor: Inconsistency
Ceiling: National Champions
To consider Louisville a sleeper team, you've got to reconsider the word. South Dakota State and Murray State would be true Cinderellas. Even Wofford, which is a class above those two squads, doesn't have name recognition and would be sure to shock with a deep tournament run. Louisville on the other hand, is a different case. The Cardinals are a household name, have multiple National Championships to their name, and play in the ACC.
The difference here, is that I believe they are capable of going to the Final Four or beyond.
The Cardinals have one of the more perplexing tournament resumes. Louisville has 11 losses, and is only 24th in the NCAA's NET. The Cardinals have wins over Michigan State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, but also losses to Pittsburgh and Boston College, and hit a February skid in which they lost five out of six games.
But Louisville has as much potential as any team in the bracket, and when playing well, has shown that it can beat the best teams in the country. On top of beating Michigan State and dominating UNC on its home floor, Louisville dominated a fully healthy Duke team for 30 minutes. The Cardinals mounted a 23-point lead over the Blue Devils with only 10 minutes to go. While all everyone will remember is the epic collapse and Duke win, it takes a lot of talent to be in that position in the first place.
Similarly, Louisville dominated Virginia for a half, leading 37-27 at the break of a Feb. 23 game that Virginia ultimately won by 12 points. Barring the collapses, what those performances show is that Louisville is at least capable of beating these teams. If Louisville can string together multiple games of these performances in the NCAA Tournament, the Cardinals could cut down the nets. Sound impossible? See: UCONN, 2011.
Record: 27-3, 15-2 MAC
NCAA NET, KenPom Ranking: 16, 23
One Key Factor: Veterans
Ceiling: Elite Eight
Buffalo is a well-rounded team that is top-10 in the country in both scoring and rebounding, and also ranks top-15 in assists per game. The Bulls started hot this season, jumping out to a 11-0 start which included a win at Syracuse.
Unlike South Dakota State and Murray State, the Bulls are far from a one-trick pony. The engine behind Buffalo's success has been a trio of seniors: C.J. Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris. Buffalo is also a dangerous 3-point threat, as the team has five shooters that average 38.5 percent or better from beyond the arc.
Buffalo's scoring and 3-point shooting ability can make it dangerous in any one matchup, and its combination of players with years of experience in college basketball and a balanced scoring offense are a recipe for a deep tournament run.
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