The NCAA Tournament is set to tip off with four play-in games on Thursday night and after missing out on the Big Dance last March, we're obviously all anxiously waiting with our betting slips in hand for what will likely be the heaviest bet tournament of all-time.
Here's a look at four potential tournament sleeper picks. - one from each region. While these teams aren't likely to be serenaded by 'One Shining Moment' come April, they do have the potential to bust a few brackets early on.
Seeding in parentheses.
St. Bonaventure (9) - East Region
The Bonnies rode their wealth of experience to an Atlantic-10 Tournament championship on Sunday, delivering a dominant performance against a quality VCU squad. They draw a favorable opening round matchup against an LSU team that came a point short of winning the SEC Tournament championship, falling to Alabama in what was an impressive (but somewhat improbable) run. I really like St. Bonaventure's depth advantage in the early stages of the tournament. Keep in mind, LSU doesn't get much scoring at all from its bench while the Bonnies likely second-round matchup would be Michigan, which lost starting guard and team co-captain Isaiah Livers to a stress fracture in his foot and his status remains in doubt. There's definitely a path forward for the Bonnies, who open as a two-point underdog against the Tigers.
Ohio (13) - West Region
The Bobcats draw the defending national champions (from two years ago) in Virginia in their opening round matchup. Ohio doesn't get a lot of press coming out of the MAC but its resume is certainly impressive (if not all that extensive). The Bobcats gave popular bracket-winning pick Illinois all it could handle in just their second game of the season, falling by a 77-75 score as 16-point underdogs, on the road no less. They followed that up with an impressive 101-46 dismantling of eventual Horizon League champion Cleveland State. After running the table in the MAC Tournament, scoring 85, 87 and 84 points in the process, they're certainly upset-minded heading into this date with what I believe to be a vulnerable Virginia squad. Should Ohio upset Virginia it would likely draw Creighton - a team that had its own issues down the stretch and got drummed by Georgetown in the Big East Tournament championship game.
North Texas (13) - South Region
The Mean Green Eagles certainly have the look of a true Cinderella team after going on a magical run to a Sun Belt Tournament championship last weekend. North Texas loaded its early season schedule with tough matchups on the road against Arkansas, Mississippi State, West Virginia and Loyola-Chicago and while it went winless in those three games, I do think it helps eliminate any sort of intimidation factor against Purdue here in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. A win over the Boilers, while improbable, would lead the Eagles to a likely matchup with Villanova in the second round. The Wildcats obviously possess a championship pedigree but certainly aren't invincible, at least not this season. While this is probably the biggest longshot of the four teams I've highlighted, I do think UNT is worth a look early on.
Syracuse (11) - Midwest Region
Syracuse battled to the final buzzer despite not making it all the way in the ACC Tournament, exiting at the hands of Virginia in a hard-fought affair. The Orange draw a quality San Diego State team in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs are the Mountain West champions and deserving of plenty of respect but as we've seen in the last couple of weeks, the Orange are capable of getting hot and staging the minor upset here. I actually like the path forward for the winner in this game as I see some upset potential in the Morehead State-West Virginia matchup, the winner of which 'Cuse-SD State would face in the second round. Note that 2019 (the last time an NCAA Tournament was played) marked the first time since 2013 where the six-seeds won at least three games against the 11-seeds.