March Madness: Five Sleeper Teams Gaining Momentum
By the end of the week, we will have tripped our way into the month of March. For sports fans, that means it’s time to dial in on college basketball and, in particular, the season-ending NCAA Tournament. With that in mind, it’s an excellent time to look at five college basketball teams gaining momentum as March Madness approaches.
It’s never too early to think about your brackets or your college basketball betting opportunities. Not only is the NCAA Tournament looming ahead, but the conference tournaments are also coming up fast. That’s a lot of games in a short period of time, which means a lot of opportunities to either stoke your profits or fall way behind.
In the world of sports, timing is everything. And nowhere is that truer than in college basketball, where all it takes is a team to go on a hot streak in the month of March to turn a disappointing season into a magical season. Identifying and betting on those teams is the tricky part.
We are at the point of the season where some of the things we thought we knew back in November have been proven false. Teams we may have written off as non-contenders may have gelled in that time, especially those with younger players who need some experience under their belt before they can show their true talents. By the same token, those teams who might have peaked in the preseason part of the schedule might be stumbling to the finish line.
The history books are littered with NCAA champions who seemed like non-factors heading into the postseason. Sometimes they were willed into championship status, such as what Danny Manning did once upon a time with Kansas, or Carmelo Anthony managed with Syracuse. Sometimes it’s more of team effort coalescing, a la Arizona shocking Kentucky behind Miles Simon and Mike Bibby.
In any case, it’s always a good idea, for betting purposes on a game-by-game basis or in the futures realm, to look for who is coming into March on fire. That can mean a long winning streak. Or it also could mean finding a team that seems to have leapt over the hump with a signature win or two.
With that in mind, we’re identifying five college basketball teams gaining momentum as March Madness approaches. These are all major conference teams who might have seemed like long shots earlier in the season but are coming together at the absolute perfect time. And they are all teams that should definitely be on your betting radar as we come to the most important time of the season.
Odds Courtesy of Bovada
North Carolina (+1100)
In some ways, it seems absurd to say that North Carolina, one of the true bluebloods of college basketball, is in any way being overlooked. They did just move into the top 5 in the most recent rankings. And they are a name that you think of as a Final Four contender, almost out of habit.
And yet it seems like people still have some doubt about them. Perhaps it was their somewhat spotty record against top teams, as they were handled, with relative ease, by Michigan and Kentucky. An ugly 20-point loss to Louisville was the low point.
Since that game, however, they are 10-1, with only a loss to Virginia spotting the record. As far as big wins, it doesn’t get much bigger than a dominant performance against arch-rival Duke at Cameron. Even though that win was mitigated somewhat by Zion Williamson’s injury, it was such a rout that it’s hard to imagine that Williamson would have made that much of a difference had he played.
Carolina has all of the elements that you would like in a contender when betting. There’s a great point guard in Coby White, a silky wingman in Cameron Johnson, and a versatile big guy in Luke Maye. They also have a nice blend of young talent and experience and a proven coach in Roy Williams, which means that, if they get just a little bit of outside shooting, they can win at all at 14-1.
Texas Tech (+4000)
When you think of the Big 12, you probably instinctively think of college football before you think of college basketball. If you do have college hoops in your mind, you’re most likely pondering about whether or not Kansas could make a run to the Final Four. There aren’t too many other teams in the conference with much of a track record in March Madness.
Into this fray steps Texas Tech, who has endured a rollercoaster season to this point. The Red Raiders came out guns blazing, winning their first ten games, albeit against less than standout competition. They hit a roadblock when they lost to Duke in a hard-fought affair, but were still sitting at 15-1 going into a game against Iowa State.
That’s when they lost the first of three straight games, and, in so doing, dropped off the national radar somewhat. A 16-point loss to Kansas a week later really made it seem like the hot start was a mirage. But that’s when Tech found its footing again.
They have rattled off five wins in a row since then, by an average of 23 points per contest. Included in that streak was a sound thrashing of KU by 29. With an offense that has started to catch fire to match their already-stingy defense, and one of the nation’s most underrated players in Jarrett Culver, this team could be a true danger in the month ahead, so keep an eye on their betting value.
No conference has been deeper or tougher this year than the Big 10. There are currently six teams in the top 25 that hail from the conference, and the bottom end of the conference has been sneaky good as well. So how has Purdue, which right now sits in a tie for the conference lead with Michigan State, fallen off the grid somewhat?
Well, again, it comes down to the pre-conference performance weighing heavily on people’s minds. The Boilermakers stumbled early and often, losing four of their 11 non-conference games. They also started conference play in less than impressive fashion, coughing up two of their first four contests.
But since then, they have been nearly impeccable. Their only loss in their last 12 contests was a stumble on the road at Maryland, which is no shame considering the Terps are a top 25 squad. Included in that streak was a convincing victory against Michigan State by 10 points.
Of the four remaining conference games for Purdue, none is scheduled against a team with a winning conference record. That means that they might be the best bet to win the toughest conference in the nation this year. Isn’t that kind of record deserving of a look at 60-1 betting odds to win it all?
Louisiana State (+4500)
For much of the season, the talk of the Southeastern Conference has been Tennessee, which climbed to #1 overall at one point. Then there have been the Kentucky Wildcats, having a typically great season for John Calipari with a team a little more experienced than his usual freshman-heavy squads. It’s left precious little oxygen for commentators to talk about anybody else but those two.
Yet the last several weeks have demonstrated that LSU can compete on the level of those two big names and more. Coach Will Wade has helped to resuscitate this program to the tune of a 22-5 record. But it’s their recent performances against those squads we mentioned above that really stand out and suggest the Bayou Bengals can be more than a conference threat.
First, they went into a hostile environment at Kentucky to come from behind and win on a last-second tip-in. Then, without arguably their best player in point guard Tremont Waters this past weekend, LSU played Tennessee and won an overtime thriller. Those were two gutty victories.
LSU is deep and filled with size and athletic ability. They might not be the best shooting team on the planet, but Waters is the kind of heady point guard who can help them overcome those deficiencies. Don’t be surprised if this is the team from the SEC that ends up making the biggest March Madness dent.
Arizona State (+12500)
It has been a year to forget in terms of Pac-12 college basketball. There is currently one team in the top 25, and that team, Washington, is clinging at #25. UCLA fired Steve Alford, and Arizona, with the NCAA seemingly ready to pounce for all their off-the-court nonsense, is at its lowest point since before the Lute Olson era.
As a result, it’s hard to get too excited about the postseason prospects of anybody from this conference. But we submit Arizona State as a potential exception. ASU has been all over the place in terms of highs and lows this season, but it’s possible that the highs are starting to win out.
Keep in mind that this was a team that was ranked #20 in the nation after winning its first seven games of the season, so there is precedent for them being well-regarded. There have been some ugly losses along the way, including belly flops to Vanderbilt and Princeton. But this is also the only team to upend Washington so far this season in conference play.
Arizona State is also playing well again, with three straight wins heading into their game Thursday night against Oregon. Their last three conference games are on the road, so that is a concern, and they are not even yet clear of the bubble. Coach Bobby Hurley knows a little bit about March Madness, however, and there is a lot of talent here for 125 to 1 championship betting odds.
These five college basketball teams gaining momentum as March Madness approaches should certainly be on your betting watch list in the last few conference games before the tournaments. You’ll need a team moving in the right direction if you want a find a true sleeper. After all, the sleeper picks are what make March Madness so special and March Madness bettors so rich.