8 Sleeper Teams That Could Reach the Final Four
With March Madness just around the corner and Joe Lunardi's Bracketology heating up, it is time to start making those tournament predictions.
Powerhouses like Arizona, Florida, Kansas and Duke may be the early favorites to reach the Final Four but you can never count out the underdogs.
Here are eight sleeper teams that have a shot to make the Final Four.
The Badgers started off the season 16-0 highlighted by wins over Florida, Iowa and Illinois.
After their first loss of the season to Indiana, Wisconsin went on to lose four of their next five games and were starting to spiral down the Big 10 standings.
However, the Badgers have turned their season around and won six straight games with quality wins over ranked teams such as Michigan and Michigan State.
Led by the trio of Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky and Ben Brust, Wisconsin is currently 3rd in the Big 10 standings and getting hot at just the right time. Wisconsin has committed just 227 turnovers all season, a mark that is the best in the NCAA.
If the Badgers can continue to take care of the basketball and get good production from their three-point shooters, they have what it takes to make a deep run in the tournament.
Any Tom Izzo team is dangerous come tournament time. Michigan State has reached the Sweet Sixteen the past two seasons and could take the leap this year to the Final Four.
Sophomore guard Gary Harris has led the Spartans this year as he averages 17.9 points per game, second highest in the Big 10. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are the senior leaders on the squad and both have NCAA Tournament experience.
According to Joe Lunardi’s latest mock bracket, Michigan State would be a three seed and play Delaware in the first round. The Spartans have three quality scorers in their starting five and if they can gain momentum in the Big 10 tournament, they will not be an easy team to beat come late March.
Creighton will go as far as Doug McDermott can take them. The senior guard leads all of college basketball averaging 26 points per game and recently moved into tenth place on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list.
In 2008 Stephen Curry led small school Davidson to the Elite Eight when he scored 128 points in four games. This year it is McDermott’s turn to put another small school on the map. If he can shoot the lights out, there is no telling how far Creighton can go.
Under first year coach Steve Alford, the Bruins are currently 21-6 and sit in 2nd place in the Pac-12 standings.
UCLA is capable of putting up huge points every night as they are 9th in the NCAA, averaging 82.9 points per game. Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine are grabbing the attention from NBA scouts but UCLA’s best all-around player is probably Jordan Adams. At 6’5’’, 220 pounds, Adams is a matchup nightmare with his ability to both hit the three and drive to the basket.
The Bruins will need all three of these guys to have big games. If their big three get going, it will be hard for any team to outscore the Bruins.
Memphis has advanced past the first round of the tournament in each of the last two seasons and have a great shot to make a deep run again this season.
They have proved they could play with any team in the country by beating the reigning national champion Louisville Cardinals earlier in the season.
The Tigers do a great job of spreading around the basketball and have four very efficient scorers in Joe Jackson, Shaq Goodwin, Michael Dixon Jr. and Geron Johnson. Memphis ranks 16th in the nation with a 48.7 field goal percentage and average 79.2 points per night.
Is this their year to run the table in March?
Heading into the season, Iowa State was faced with a very difficult strength of schedule. The Cyclones have embraced the challenge and picked up quality wins over Michigan, Iowa, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma.
Senior forward Melvin Ejim has had a huge year averaging 18.9 points per game including a monster 48-point performance against TCU on February 8. Georges Niang and DeAndre Kane both average over 16 points per game and have made the Cyclones one of the top scoring teams in the country.
With such a strong starting five, Iowa State definitely has the firepower to win some games in the tournament.
Pittsburgh has been the victim of some heartbreaking losses this season. They were one basket away from knocking off Cincinnati, have endured two losses to Syracuse by a combined seven points and suffered a three point loss to Virginia.
In order for the Panthers to get over the hump and beat some of these elite teams, they should lean on their defense who gives up just 61 points per game. If they are able to do this, Pittsburgh has a great shot to surprise the tournament field in March.
Will SMU be the darlings of this year’s tournament?
After going 15-17 last season, SMU has had huge success this year in the American Athletic Conference with big wins over Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinatti. In just his second season as head coach, Larry Brown has made SMU basketball relevant once again.
With a defense that gives up just 61.4 points per game and an offense with a 49.3 field-goal percentage, SMU plays very sound basketball all around. Illinois State transfer Nic Moore has had a huge year while averaging 14.2 points and 4.6 assists per game.
Can Brown continue his magic and lead the Mustangs deep into the tournament?