Who, precisely, qualifies as a sleeper?
College basketball fans know the definition and qualifications vary depending on whom you’re talking to when it’s NCAA Tournament time. But with the greatest sporting event on the American calendar set to tip off this week, it’s necessary to pinpoint a few sleepers talented enough to wreck some havoc if you’re taking your bracket challenge seriously.
Because even though this year’s tournament appears to be a two horse race between Gonzaga (+220) and Baylor (+600), overwhelming favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis by oddsmakers, we all know the tournament will be as wild and crazy as ever for two distinct reasons. First, it’s the NCAA Tournament and history has proven that crazy shit is guaranteed to happen—i.e. a double-digit seed has reached the Sweet 16 every year since 2008 and four No. 11 seeds have reached the Final Four over the last 14 tournaments. Second, we just concluded the weirdest regular and conference tournament seasons in college basketball history where some teams played a full schedule while others couldn’t meaning we have less data on this field than any other dating back to pre-internet days. So if you’re filling out a bracket and thinking about going all chalk, think again. Picking a sleeper or two to bust things is a rite of March, kind of like terrible St. Patrick’s Day specials at your local liquor store. Who, precisely, qualifies as a sleeper in our book is based on this very specific and ultra-scientific criteria:
- 6 seeds or lower because, I’m sorry, a 4 or 5 seed is absolutely not a sleeper
- Feature dynamic playmaker(s)/scorer(s)
- Picturing them making a run to the Sweet 16, or deeper, doesn’t require an acid trip
Now that you know the criteria, here are the sleepers you should seriously consider if you’re all about busting up your bracket.
Seed: 6, West
Final Four Odds: +750
If you somehow still haven’t seen Evan Mobley play, prepare to be wowed. The extremely gifted 7’ center has the kind of footwork few freshman his size have ever possessed at the college level and it’s why he’ll be taking his talents to the NBA after just one season. Projected to go as high as the top 5 in this summer’s draft, Mobley exceeded expectations during his one and only season in Los Angeles averaging 16.8 PPG and 8.6 RPG. But it ain’t just about offense with him since he also averaged 3.0 BPG. He’s the biggest reason why USC was one of the better defensive squads in the nation (19th, according to KenPom ratings) and led the Pac-12 in all the sexy stats like defensive efficiency, field goal percentage allowed, and blocks. Mobley has the potential to carry the Trojans past a potential matchup with No. 3 seed Kansas in the second-round. In fact, the Action Network pegs the Trojans’ chances of reaching the Sweet 16 at 36.26 percent.