2016 Final Four Betting: 7 First Round Sleepers to Monitor
Everyone knows that March Madness is all about the upsets. Whether they come in round one or later doesn’t matter, but the core of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is sheer possibility, the belief that any team, on any given stage and day, can beat any other team.
While the excitement lives on into the deeper rounds, there is nothing quite like round one. Those first two days of college basketball action can’t be touched, as no other spot can hold the possibility of a 15 seed upsetting a 2 seed, or any number of other possible clutch finishes.
The upsets can surely grow from there, but all eyes will be glued to screens come Thursday and Friday, when we get that first taste of a potential Cinderella – or maybe even more than one.
At least a few upsets make their way through the rounds every year, and guessing who it could be is what draws the nation together during this time of year when everyone fills out a bracket.
So, which sleeper teams do we need to consider giving the green light on an upsets? In a tournament of 64 teams, there could be quite a few, ranging from the 9 seed all the way to the 16 (although the latter has never upset a #1 seed). Still, the impossible can always become a reality, and we’ve got seven teams in particular we think can shake things up a bit at the 2016 Final Four later this week:
A #14 Seed
It seems a #14 seed wins just about every year – at least lately – so while one winning in 2016 isn’t a lock, it’s something we definitely need to consider.
The odds of more than one winning aren’t great obviously, but of the four 14-seed squads, which has the best opportunity?
Your four options are Buffalo (vs. Miami), S.F. Austin (vs. West Virginia), U.W. Green Bay (vs. Texas A&M) and Fresno State (vs. Utah).
Of the four, Green Bay and Fresno State feel like the least likely to stage an upset, and it’s possible those games aren’t even overly competitive. Texas A&M was a monster earlier in the year and comes in with an impressive 4-2 mark against Top 25 teams. U.W. Green Bay was merely decent this year, and is only here because of a tourney win in the Horizon League. With zero Top 25 wins and a porous defense (79 points allowed per game), U.W.G.B may not be long for the tournament.
The same should be said of Fresno State, who also needed to win their Mountain West tournament just to get here. The Bulldogs had a solid season (25-9), but hail from a weak conference and don’t have any wins against Top 25 opponents (0-2). They’re also facing a very good Utah team, which boasts a man-eater down low in Jakob Poeltl and has been extremely battled tested (3-2 against Top 25 teams) and made it through a strong Pac-12 conference.
While half of the 14-seeds probably don’t stand a chance, two do. S.F. Austin was here a year ago and comes in ablaze with an amazing 20-game winning streak. They mopped up their conference (18-0) and will go up against West Virginia, sporting a strong 27-5 record on the year.
The scariest thing about S.F. Austin is their balance, as they can pour on the points (80 points per game offensively) and also stifle you on the other end (allow just 63 points per game). The only issue there is their opponent, West Virginia, is basically the same type of team.
West Virginia has way more experience against brutal competition (6-6 against Top 25 foes), but they also have only been average in that pool. It only takes one big game for S.F Austin to pull off the upset, too, and if their defense can show up, leading scorer Thomas Walkup could finish the job on the offensive end.
S.F. Austin could be a fun pick, but don’t forget about Buffalo, who plays very fast and at least offensively, have the goods to run with anyone. They’ve been extremely inconsistent on the year and were very back and forth in a weak conference, but playing a fast-paced Miami team could work into their favor.
Should the game develop into a shootout (seems likely) or Miami’s shots don’t fall, Buffalo could be in a good spot to land the massive upset. Buffalo has been awful against quality teams and doesn’t defend, however, so their offense will undoubtedly need to be clicking to give them a real chance in the first round.
Of the 14-seed teams, if you need to roll with just one, our sleeper pick is S.F. Austin.
Arkansas-Little Rock started the season hot (10 straight wins), dominated the Sun Belt conference (17-3) and finished strong with a stellar 29-4 record.
Naturally a weak conference and a lack of elite size makes Arkansas-Little Rock a tough sell, but elite defense and a methodical offense that can get hot from outside (39% as a team) gives them a real chance against the Purdue Boilermakers.
Purdue was very strong in a brutal Big 10 (26-8 overall), and boasts a lethal scorer in A.J. Hammons. Their biggest flaw, however, is their perimeter defense, which could be especially bad for them against Arkansas-Little Rock. If Arkansas-Little Rock sticks to their usual suffocating defense (allowing just 59 points per game on the year) can get hot from outside, they could be in for a big upset.
Xavier is not really a team to be messed with, but seven 15-seed teams have staged massive upsets in the NCAA tourney’s history and if one can do it this year, it just might be Weber State.
They look like a plenty capable bunch after wrecking the Big Sky conference, while they enter March Madness for the second straight year and seek their first NCAA tourney win since 1999. Blessed with two very strong scorers in Jeremy Senglin and Joel Bolomboy, the Wildcats are one of the top scoring offenses in the nation inside the arc.
The real problem is that Xavier sports an even better offense and has been quite impressive on the year. Xavier dropped just five games all season – all in a tough Big East conference – and didn’t lose a single game outside of the conference. Could Weber State be the one non-Big East team to take them down? Their stellar balance of efficient offense and steady defense could make that a reality.
Yale is a fun story, as they come in with almost nothing to lose and everything to gain. This is Yale’s first NCAA appearance since 1962, which alone is quite an achievement and makes their 2015-16 campaign a success.
It could get even better with a win over the Baylor Bears, who they combat with elite defensive rebounding. Considering Baylor is the third best team at rebounding their own misses, Yale’s elite glass-cleaning could be the power-shift in this matchup.
The main story-line, of course, is the fact that Yale simply is never on this stage. There is the possibility that they’re not good enough or they shrink under the spotlight, but the “nothing to lose” and “making history” narrative could go a long way in a win or go home tourney.
Northern Iowa is your classic mid-major that won their tournament and had some big wins, but is going to be tough to trust. Their rough mid-season run is what calls them into question, but this is a team that has been hot ever since (12-1 to close the regular season) and owns impressive wins over North Carolina , Iowa State and two victories over Wichita State.
One of the hottest teams in the nation gets a tough draw against a solid Texas Longhorns squad, but this is still a team full of outside shooters and quality starters that are accustomed to making the tourney.
Texas presents a challenge with tourney master Shaka Smart leading a brutal shot-blocking and rebounding defense, but the Panthers can stiffen up on defense, just as well. If their offense can also show up, Northern Iowa could be talking about a tourney win for the second year in a row.
College basketball tends to be about two things: elite backfourt production or unstoppable forces down low. If your shooting is good enough, you can win despite severe size disadvantages, yet if you have a big that can’t be guarded, you can pummel the opposition into submission.
One team that could potentially off-set size issues is Iona, who are 10th in the nation with 10 makes from deep per game and have a litany of players that can kill defenses from outside. The best part? Their first round matchup isn’t against a team with elite defense or some amazing post player. Instead, it’s against a similarly built Iowa State squad that kills you with outside shooting and a fast, up-tempo offense.
Iona could still lose right away, as the Cyclones are also quite good, but this is a fun upset to watch, as when they get hot, they’re tough to stop.
Let’s keep things in perspective, shall we? For one, Wichita State is not the team that nearly went undefeated a year ago. They also need to beat Vanderbilt to exit the First Four and even get into March Madness.
But if/once they arrive, former #1 Arizona is going to have all that it can handle. There is no denying the Wildcats are a brutal first round opponent, but Wichita State is supremely battle tested and boasts a lethal guard tandem in Ron Baker and Fred VanFleet that once led the Shockers to the Final Four as freshmen. It sure would be magical to watch them do it again as their college careers come to a head.
Even if they can’t piece together another crazy run, the Shockers are at least a threat to advance to round two. Ever since the First Four was created, at least one of the winners wound up advancing out of the first round. If Wichita State can simply fend off a pesky Vanderbilt squad, there is a decent chance they carry on the torch in that regard.
Got a sneaky first round sleeper of your own? Tell us in the comments below!
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