NCAA Tournament Sleeper Teams to Watch

2023 NCAA Tournament Picks
Odds | Matchups | Futures
Sweet 16 | Elite 8 | Final 4 | Championship 

Although the NCAA Tournament is usually chalky and the Final Four is filled with teams seeded between No. 1 and No. 4, this year's field is considered to be wide-open and I've got my eye on two teams from each of the four regions that can play the role of a "NCAA Tourney Sleeper" to watch.

NCAA Tourney Sleepers

Whether you're looking to fill in your brackets or backing these team on the point-spread or money-line wagers, we believe this group can make noise over the first four days of the NCAA Tournament.

East: Memphis, Providence
South: Utah State, Furman
Midwest: Kent State, Colgate
West: Boise State, Arizona State

NCAA Tourney Sleepers - East Region

East Region Odds & Matchups

(8) Memphis Tigers

The Memphis Tigers captured the AAC tournament on Sunday. (Getty)

(AAC, At-Large)

SU: 26-8
ATS: 16-16-2
O/U: 19-15
PPG: 79.9
OPPG: 72.2

Opening Matchup
Friday Mar. 17 vs. FAU (9:20 p.m. ET)

In the lexicon of “sleeper” teams, there are effectively two categories; 1) underdogs  that might be able to score a first-round upset and briefly generate bit of Cinderella buzz, or 2) teams that legitimately have a chance to make a run from deep down the seeding ladder.

The Memphis Tigers qualify on the second front (indeed, they’re a slight favorite in the first round vs. FAU), but this is a longer-range alert on the 8th-seeded Tigers, who will not be too outclassed or outgunned by any team in the region, including a potential second-round matchup with East top-seed Purdue. 

As demonstrated in winning the American Tourney last week, head coach Penny Hardaway has two bona fide go-to threats capable of taking over games in SMU transfer G Kendric Davis (21.8 PPG) & F DeAndre Williams (17.9 PPG), as the pair combined for nearly 55 points per game in rolling to the tourney crown.  The Tigers have only lost four times since New Year’s, two of those to a Houston side that was top-ranked for much of the past two months, and the other two in OT, and avenged the losses to the Cougars in the American title game. Of all the teams on the 8-9 lines, Memphis appears most likely to make a deep run.

(11) Providence Friars

(Big East, At-Large)

SU: 21-11
ATS: 18-14
O/U: 17-15
PPG: 78.1
OPPG: 71.3

Opening Matchup
Friday Mar. 17 vs. Kentucky (7:10 p.m. ET)

Maybe it was the top-heavy Big East that wore down the Friars over the last couple of weeks of the season, as Providence enters the Dance on the heels of three straight losses, including defensive collapses vs. Xavier and Seton Hall.  Ed Cooley’s team, however, rallied late in the Big East Tourney opening round vs UConn, suggesting that maybe the Friars have relocated some of their earlier bite.  Into February, we regarded the Friars as a protected seed (thru the 4-line) in some of out mock brackets as Cooley quite remarkably blended a new team built almost entirely from the portal after the departures of almost all of the key cogs from last year’s Sweet 16 team. 

The current edition lacks the defensive presence of a year ago, and doesn’t have a legit post threat like Nate Watson, but Cooley’s adds from high-profile programs (F Bryce Hopkins via Kentucky, G Devin Carter from South Carolina, G Noah Locke from Louisville/Florida) had no trouble adjusting to the high level of play in the Big East.  Hopkins (16.1 ppg) in particular was a revelation this season, and he’ll get to face former mentor Coach Cal and UK in the first round.  A month ago a seed on the 11-line would have seemed ludicrously low for the Friars; if that midseason version of Providence shows up in Greensboro this weekend, Cooley has a chance to stick around a while for a couple of songs in this version of the Dance. 

NCAA Tourney Sleepers - South Region

South Region Odds & Matchups

(10) Utah State Aggies

Taylor Funk is a player that can score in bunches for the Aggies. (Getty)

(MWC, At-Large Bid)

SU: 26-8
ATS: 21-12
O/U: 19-13-1
PPG: 78.6
OPPG: 69.7

Opening Matchup
Thursday Mar. 16 vs. Missouri (1:40 p.m. ET)

Second-year HC Ryan Odom knows about March magic, having steered UMBC to the only win for a 16 seed vs. a 1 seed in Big Dance history when dumping top seed Virginia in the 2018 Dance.  Though the Utah State Aggies have been proceeding with a makeshift rotation at the point since Rylan Jones went down in early January, Odom has gotten functional work from the likes of top scorer Steven Ashworth (16.3 PPG) and Ukrainian import Max Shulga (12.1 ppg). 

What impresses most about Utah State is its ability to hit 3s, ranking among the nation’s leaders in long-range accuracy all season (partly because of Ashworth’s 44.3%) before temporarily losing their radar in the Mountain West Tourney final loss to San Diego State, and size, as Odom field arguably one of the biggest lineups in the country for stretches when the 6-1 Ashworth takes a rest.  Odom worked the portal well with 6-9 grad transfers Taylor Funk (via St. Joe’s; came alive in a recent 2-game stretch vs. Boise State & New Mexico when scoring a combined 56 points) and Dan Akin (via Cal Baptist but formerly with Odom at UMBC).  With a rare combo of size, physicality, and shooting accuracy, the Utags have a compelling look and would match up favorably vs. likely second-round foe Arizona if they can navigate past SEC Missouri in the opening round.

(13) Furman Paladins

(Southern, Automatic Bid)

SU: 27-7
ATS: 18-13
O/U: 17-14
PPG: 82.1
OPPG: 71.2

Opening Matchup
Thursday Mar. 16 vs. Virginia (12:40 p.m. ET)

When looking for some under-the-radar mid-and-low majors that might have a chance, we like to consider things like experience, ability to score, and a solid backcourt...on all three counts, the Furman Paladins check the boxes.  They might have also needed the extra rest afforded after the early conclusion on the SoCon Tourney that was a year-long obsession after being cruelly denied at the death in OT of the finale at Asheville last March by a 35-foot heave from Chattanooga’s David Jean-Baptiste.

Nowadays, we rarely see teams this old, or with as much experience in college hoops, led by fifth-year senior G Mike Bothwell (18 PPG) & F Jalen Slawson (15.7 PPG), two of Bob Richey’s four double-digit scorers. Moreover, the top seven in Richey’s rotations have a combined 22 years of college experience...all of those at Furman, where the portal remains something for others teams to use.  The Paladins score 82.1 PPG(ranking 11th nationally), hit 48.3% from the floor (ranks 18th), while ranking 12th nationally in assist-turnover ratio. 

Non-conference work includes a romp past in-state SEC rep South Carolina and a narrow miss vs. Big Ten Penn State at the Charleston Tourney.  Oddsmakers also hardly think the first-round matchup vs. No. 4 seed Virginia is a bridge too far, with the Cavs opening as only a five-point favorite.

NCAA Tourney Sleepers - Midwest Region

Midwest Region Odds & Matchups

(13) Kent State Golden Flashes

(MAC, Automatic Bid)

SU: 28-6
ATS: 21-10-1
O/U: 12-19-1
PPG: 76.6
OPPG: 65.7

Opening Matchup
Friday Mar. 17 vs. Indiana (9:55 p.m. ET)

The alert is out on the Golden Flashes, as by now anyone who watched the preview shows on Sunday night probably knows that Kent State put up a mighty fight on the road at both Gonzaga and Houston in pre-league play while losing in the final seconds at Colonial champ Charleston. 

The top end of the Mid-American was not for the faint of heart this season, either, as the likes of Toledo and Akron (both vanquished last weekend in Cleveland) were formidable, and MAC reps have been known to cause problems in the Dance, as UCLA found out last season when involved in a desperate battle vs. John Groce’s Zips. 

The Golden Flashes work on the stop end (top 30 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency) , are 10-1 in their last 11 games, and hit from all angles when on the attack led by former Duquesne transfer G Sincere Carry (17.6 PPG), while Ball State transfer F Miryne Thomas is a matchup headache who has been on a heater in recent games, such as the 24 points scored against Arkon in the MAC semis.  Rob Senderoff and company are not a secret, for good reason, but even at what looks a reduced price vs. first-round foe Indiana looks like potential good value. 

(15) Colgate Raiders

Oliver Lynch Daniels is the most accurate 3-point shooter in the nation. (Getty)

(Patriot, Automatic Bid)

SU: 26-8
ATS: 17-16
O/U: 20-13
PPG: 78.8
OPPG: 69

Opening Matchup
Thursday Mar. 16 vs. Texas (7:25 p.m. ET)

The track record for 15 seeds since the tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1984 is not especially encouraging (just 10-138 SU).  And the Raiders got no favors from the Selection Committee, which could have easily justified Colgate on the 14-line instead and not scheduled a date vs. a red-hot Texas team picked by many to make the Final Four. 

But the Raiders are likely to give a good account of themselves because the program has been here before in recent years, indeed pushing Tennessee and Wisconsin in recent Dances, and has posted some of the best offensive numbers in the country, behind only Gonzaga in field gal percentage (51.4%), behind no one in three-point accuracy (40.8%), and second is assist-turnover ratio.  One of the marksmen, G Oliver Lynch Daniels, leads the nation in triples accuracy (50.3%). 

Defending the arc is easier said than done, too, because Colgate has a legit scoring presence in the low post with 6-10 Keegan Records, who hits 67.5% from the floor. Among the pre-Patriot results of note was a 12-point win over Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse at the Dome.  Used to the Dance by now while making their fourth straight appearance, it’s no wonder that HC Matt Langel is being rumored as a possible candidate at several higher-profile openings, including Notre Dame. 

NCAA Tourney Sleepers - West Region

West Region Odds & Matchups

(10) Boise State Broncos

Boise State faces a tough test versus Northwestern in the first round. (Getty)

(Mountain West, At-Large Bid)

SU: 24-9
ATS: 16-14-2
O/U: 16-16
PPG: 72.2
OPPG: 64.3

Opening Matchup
Thursday Mar. 16 vs. Northwestern (7;35 p.m. ET)

We have a couple of angles to address with the Broncos, who are well overdue (like 0-8 overdue) for their first-ever Big Dance win.  Boise State, however, at least avoids an at-large play-in game for likable HC Leon Rice, who has been forced to go that route the last couple of invitations to the Dance for the Broncos.   

Boise especially intrigues because it is the closest hoops equivalent to Rinus Michels’ “Total Football” with the Dutch and Johan Cruyff in the 70s, with every player effectively playing every position, all comfortable on the ball, and capable of executing Boise’s well-designed offense.  The problems the Broncos have had are mostly when trying to hold leads late in games; Boise has dropped six spread decisions in games it has won outright in recent weeks because the offense has labored when trying to kill the clock, as G Marcus Shaver is effectively the only Bronco who can create offense off of the dribble, and when the offense is looking to merely run clock, it has had issues finding decent locks as the 30-second clock is about to expire. 

No matter, the offense has balance (five double-digit scorers), hits 52% of its shots inside the arc and 37% beyond the arc, and owns a win vs. Texas A&M at Fort Worth in December.  The opening round vs. Northwestern is rated a toss-up for good reason, but this is the best chance the Broncos have had to notch that elusive first-ever win in the Dance, and the fundamentals for a potential second-round matchup vs. UCLA are not too daunting for Rice’s team, which covered all five spread as a non-conference underdog earlier in the season.

11) Arizona State Sun Devils

(Pac-12, At-Large Bid)

SU: 22-12
ATS: 15-18-1
O/U: 17-17
PPG: 70.3
OPPG: 67.7

Opening Matchup
Wednesday Mar. 15 vs. Nevada (9:10 p.m. ET)

An asterisk* perhaps for this one, as the Arizona State Sun Devils are first going to have to survive an 11 vs. 11 play-in game at Dayton on Wednesday vs. Nevada to advance, then a challenging date at Denver vs. TCU would ensue if the Sun Devils should survive the Wolf Pack.  But don’t tell ASU that anything is impossible after the way in which they stole a win from Arizona two weeks ago in Tucson, when G Desmond Cambridge hit a wrong foot, 60-foot heave at the buzzer to stun the Wildcats and likely provide the bump ASU needed to get the nod from the Selection Committee. 

Living to fight another day, the Sun Devils have an intriguing upside, with that win over Arizona, non-league successes vs, VCU and Michigan (both on a neutral floor at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn), and a win over USC in the Pac-12 Tourney suggesting they will gladly accept the challenges of the Pack and, if that goes well, the Horned Frogs later this week. 

Coach Bobby Hurley laid down the law early on F Marcus Bagley, who left the team in November, but transfers like the Cambridge brothers Devan (10 PPG; via Auburn)  and aforementioned Desmond  (14 PPG; ironically to face his former Nevada team in the play-in round), Gs Frankie Collins (10 PPG; via Michigan) and last year’s transfer G DJ Horne (12.1 PPG; via Illinois State) provide plenty of upside and a flair for the dramatic...which never hurts in March. 

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