NCAA Tournament 2019: Top Sleeper Teams Heading into March Madness

Jake RillContributor IIIMarch 13, 2019

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 23: Mfiondu Kabengele #25, Devin Vassell #24, David Nichols #11, Phil Cofer #0 and Terance Mann #14 of the Florida State Seminoles line up during a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels on February 23, 2019 at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 59-77. (Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images)
Peyton Williams/Getty Images

It's always the top-seeded teams that enter the NCAA tournament each year with the highest outside expectations. However, there are frequently teams that are a No. 4 seed or lower that can surprise fans and make a deep run into March Madness—and perhaps even win it all.

Villanova has the record for the lowest seed to win the NCAA tournament, as the Wildcats went all the way as a No. 8 seed in 1985. More recently, UConn won the national championship as a No. 7 seed in 2014.

While highly ranked teams such as Gonzaga, Virginia or Kentucky could be cutting down the nets at the end of this year's tournament, it could also be a team that less people are talking about as we get closer to Selection Sunday this weekend.

Here are three teams that could surprise fans with their performance during March Madness this year.



Julie Bennett/Associated Press

Most years, Kentucky is the SEC team most experts project as a top seed for the NCAA tournament. And that's not any different this season.

Plus, LSU and Tennessee have each had strong seasons, with the Tigers winning the conference's regular-season championship.

But Auburn could also be a dangerous team when the NCAA tournament gets underway.

The Tigers are the No. 5 seed in the SEC tournament, a year after they were the No. 1 seed and shared the SEC regular-season title with Tennessee. However, they could also be building momentum at the right time.

Auburn was 18-9 with a 7-7 record in SEC play after its loss to Kentucky on Feb. 23. After that, the Tigers reeled off four straight conference wins to end the regular season, ending with an upset victory over Tennessee.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology update projects Auburn to be a No. 5 seed. That could of course improve if the Tigers have a strong showing in the SEC tournament. But if not, then they could still be a sleeper later in March.


Florida State

Virginia, North Carolina and Duke are the clear three best teams in the ACC this season. But people shouldn't forget about Florida State, either.

The Seminoles won 12 of their last 13 games in the regular season, with the only loss during that stretch coming at North Carolina on Feb. 23. They beat Virginia Tech in overtime on March 5 to help secure the No. 4 seed, along with a double bye, for the ACC tournament.

Florida State went 0-3 against the ACC's top three teams during the regular season, losing to the Cavaliers, Tar Heels and Blue Devils once each. But perhaps things could go better for the Seminoles if they face any of those teams in this week's conference tournament.

During the regular season, Florida State had one of the better scoring offenses in the ACC, ranking fourth at 75.8 points per game. However, it was a balanced effort, led by forward Mfiondu Kabengele's 13.1 points per game.

The Seminoles will likely be tested with at least one tough matchup during the ACC tournament, and that experience could help them prepare for an upset over a top seed in the NCAA tourney. And perhaps it will even come as revenge against one of their ACC foes.



Matt Marton/Associated Press

Marquette is the No. 2 seed in the Big East tournament, but it may be a lower seed in this year's NCAA tourney. Lunardi's Bracketology currently projects the Golden Eagles to be a No. 5 seed.

But seeding may not matter when a team has a scorer as prolific as Markus Howard.

Howard is averaging 25 points through 31 games, and he's gone off for more than that quite a few times this season. He scored 45 points in wins over Kansas State (on Dec. 1) and Buffalo (on Dec. 21), and even netted 53 in an overtime victory over Creighton on Jan. 9.

If Howard gets hot and scores close to that many points in an NCAA tournament game, it could be hard for any team to keep up.

But if Marquette is going to be a sleeper team this March, it will have put a tough end to the regular season behind it. The Golden Eagles lost four straight games, ending the campaign with a home loss to Georgetown.

Keep an eye on Howard and Marquette to get back on the right track and be a dangerous team in this year's NCAA tourney.