Four sleepers to watch come March
March Madness is not here yet, but the greatest tournament on Earth is beckoning. The conference tourneys will begin in a few weeks, followed by seedings and the eventual tip-off in Dayton, Ohio.
By now, everyone knows the Kentucky Wildcats are the prohibitive favorites to be cutting down the nets. Kentucky is installed at 11/10, followed by the Wisconsin Badgers (15/2), Duke Blue Devils (9/1), Virginia Cavaliers (9/1) and Gonzaga Bulldogs (10/1), according to BOVADA.
The more enticing question is which team can upset the apple cart? Let’s pick out four teams who have made some noise, but are primed to make a whole lot more come March:
4. VCU Rams
Shaka Smart is one of the best basketball coaches in the country at any level. Under Smart, the Rams have been to the Final Four and appear poised to make another charge at that challenge, entering the week ranked No. 25 by the Associated Press Poll. VCU is known for its “Havoc” defense, an aggressive trapping-style of play. The Rams are more offensively focused this time around and the results are still solid, earning wins over Tennessee, Oregon and No. 11 Northern Iowa thus far.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma gets overlooked for a handful of reasons, starting with their neighbors to the north. The Kansas Jayhawks overshadow every team in the Big 12 and for good reason, having dominated the conference for the better part of a decade. All that said, Oklahoma is a scary group to deal with. The Sooners are No. 17 in the AP Poll and have wins against Butler, Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Iowa State and two over Texas. Oklahoma also possesses size, a valuable commodity in the tournament.
2. West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers are coached by Bob Huggins, have a stellar senior guard in Juwan Staten and own a bevy of quality victories. West Virginia has been a tourney regular since the days of Kevin Pittsnogle and are set up to make a deep run after being battle-hardened in the Big 12. The Mountaineers earned a thrilling 62-61 win over Kansas earlier in the week. The defense is very suspect, but the offense can carry this group deep.
1. North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina is not generally a sleeper, but it certainly qualifies in this year’s ACC. The Tar Heels are generally seen as the fourth-best team in the conference behind Virginia, Duke and Louisville, but Roy Williams’ club has plenty to brag about. Despite a brutal overtime loss to the Blue Devils on Wednesday, North Carolina showed it can hang with anybody, anywhere. The Tar Heels have already beaten Louisville, Ohio State and Syracuse, with close losses to Louisville and Notre Dame. North Carolina needs Marcus Paige to get hot in the tourney, because he’s a game-changer when he does.