March Madness is upon us in full swing. The NITs are underway, the NCAA Tournament Play-In Game has already occurred, and the first games tipoff in a little under 12 hours.
But this also means that you have 12 hours to finalize your brackets and figure out how to stun your coworkers with amazing March Madness picks. With that in mind, let's move on and take a look at three sleeper teams that can make a run during the Big Dance.
No. 7 East—Texas Longhorns
22-11, 9-7 Big 12, RPI: 41, SOS: 36
The Longhorns were ranked as high as fifth in the polls this season, and were in the Top 25 as recently as the end of February. They had a sloppy run where they lost to Kansas State, Missouri, and Nebraska (by four, four, and three points, respectively) that hurt them in the polls, but they have proved on more than one occasion this season that they have the ability to take down teams on a big stage.
In December, they took down UCLA and Villanova in back-to-back games, they defeated Wisconsin on the road, and took out Oklahoma. Against the Top 25, they are 3-4, but against the RPI Top 50 they are 6-6.
If the Longhorns can get by Tubby Smith's Gophers in the first round, they will move on to face Duke in the second round. While this may sound very intimidating, keep in mind that Duke has not made it to the Sweet 16 since the 2006 tournament, and that as a two seed last season they were upset by No. 7 West Virginia. The Blue Devils live and die beyond the arc, and they have shown the college hoops world on more than one occasion this season that they are fallible.
Should the Longhorns make it to the Sweet 16, they will most likely have a rematch of a December game, either UCLA or Villanova. They have the ability take down either team, as they beat them before and can beat them again.
A run to the Elite Eight is definitely a possibility for the Longhorns. Once there they would face Pitt, who has been taken down by various weaker teams this season—West Virginia, Villanova, and Providence.
No. 10 West—Maryland Terrapins
20-13, 7-9 ACC, RPI: 55, SOS: 18
The Terps may have 13 losses this season, but eight of them have come to teams in the Top 25, five of which were to teams in the top-spot at some point this season—Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest. Unfortunately, that does not account for the other five losses on their books.
Depending on which Terps team shows up, they can make a run that will surprise many all the neysayers. If you didn't follow college hoops very closely this season, make note that the Terps defeated both UNC and Wake Forest.
Coming out of the Pac-10, California is a good team, but they have a 2-3 record against the Top 25. They finished the regular season 2-3 (one of their wins was in OT), and they were knocked out of the PAC-10 Tournament in the first round (after finishing the regular season tied for third).
Next up for the Terps would be Memphis. I know that this is like throwing rocks at a hornet's nest, but I'm still not sold on the Tigers. They are a good Conference USA team—no one disputes that—but they were not overly successful during their out-of-conference schedule. They have only played three Top 25 teams this season, and they went 1-2 in those games. Their three losses this season came against Xavier, Georgetown, and Syracuse—three teams who play at a higher level than the Tigers' C-USA competition.
No. 11 West—Utah State Aggies
30-4, 14-2 WAC, RPI: 23, SOS: 135
The Aggies have a 30-win season and the WAC regular season and tournament titles under their belts, but it was only good enough for an 11-seed in the eyes of the selection committee. They have the WAC Player of the Year on their squad, as well as the WAC Coach of the Year—two awards that probably shouldn't be taken lightly.
What was light, though, was their schedule, which is the reason for their ranking. They faced no Top 25 teams this season, and they only went 1-2 against RPI Top 50 teams. With that being said, they still have a Top 25 RPI and are 25th in the Coaches Poll.
The Aggies face Marquette in the first round. The Golden Eagles struggled down the stretch and lost one of their leading senior guards. They did have an incredibly tough schedule as well, which is part of the reason for their slip, but the loss of Dominique James is clearly going to hurt them. The Aggies match up well against the Golden Eagles, and they stand a very good chance of getting by them.
In the second round, they will face Missouri (who is playing Cornell in the first round—Ivy teams haven't won an NCAA Tournament game in the past 10 years). The Tigers are a great Big 12 team who have been very successful against tough opponents this season (they have gone 4-1 against Top 25 teams), but they have also failed to get 'er done multiple times this season, losing by double-digit points on four occasions.
Should they make it to the Sweet 16, the Aggies will face either Maryland or Memphis (see above).
Other Cinderella Potentials
No. 12 South—Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
24-8, 15-3 Sun Belt, RPI: 43, SOS: 125
WKU took down top seeded Louisville earlier this season, and they have a very favorable matchup against Illinois, who are without senior guard Chester Frazier.
No. 5 West—Purdue Boilermakers
25-9, 11-7 Big Ten, RPI: 20, SOS: 28
The Boilermakers secured the automatic bid to the Big Dance after winning the Big Ten Tournament, but they would have received an at-large one regardless. They are currently ranked 17th, but they have been ranked in the Top 10 on more than one occasion this season.
No. 10 Midwest—USC Trojans
21-12, 9-9 PAC-10, RPI: 38, SOS: 21
If you believe in momentum, then the Trojans are a team that you want to take a look at. After going 1-6 in February, they have been perfect in March, including a run through the Pac 10 Tournament where they defeated California, UCLA, and Arizona State (all seeded higher than them in the NCAA Tournament).
All of these teams have the potential to pull off some major upsets—let's just hope you decide to include them in your brackets!
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