Maybe, like me, instead of just backing a favorite with short odds to win a national championship, you might be looking to make a play on a team with longer odds. If you’re looking for a March Madness sleeper, I’ve got you covered here.
What is a sleeper?
I’ve got a few criteria to meet in order to pick my sleeper. First, their odds to win a title have to be +1000 or longer. That gives us nine sides to look at, narrowing the field down by more than half. Here’s who we’re looking at right now:
We know that the top-seeded teams usually win. Since 1985, only four teams have won a national championship as anything less than a No. 3 seed in the tournament:
The second thing I want to do is weed out any side that is less than an 8 seed. That takes out Florida Atlantic and Princeton. With seven teams remaining, who’s our sleeper?
What Makes For A Good Sleeper?
I really like how the NCAA itself laid out the criteria for a strong sleeper. I’ve tweaked it slightly. Here are my criteria for finding a good sleeper candidate:
- Excellent on either end of the court
- A strong schedule
- An excellent conversion rate from the field
Here are how the seven remaining teams we’re looking at rank for all the categories I mentioned above:
|Team||Offensive Rank||Defensive Rank||Schedule Strength||Field Goal % Rank|
|San Diego State||155||329||35||150|
Gonzaga stands out because of that “1” in the offensive and field-goal percentage columns. Their 87.3 points per game are unmatched in the nation. Four of their starters average 10-plus points per game while three average at least six rebounds per game. The Bulldogs are also the most efficient shooters in college basketball at 53 percent from the field.
It’s hard to ignore Xavier here. I picked the Musketeers as my sleeper before the field of 64 teams was whittled down to the 16 we have today. The Musketeers rank no lower than 60th (defense) in any of the four categories and are top 10 in both offensive categories.
But we still don’t really have a clear picture of who to take. So from these seven sides, I look for a game-breaking player who can drive results on the court and an experienced head coach to guide his team through what will surely be a difficult run. If any of these sides have both (or the best combination of the two), that’s my sleeper.
March Madness Sleepers: Game-Breaking Player
|Michigan State||Joey Hauser||14.3||7.1||1.8|
|Kansas State||Keyontae Johnson||17.5||7.0||2.2|
|San Diego State||Matt Bradley||13.0||3.9||2.1|
|Miami (FL)||Jordan Miller||15.1||6.2||2.6|
You’ll notice that I didn’t simply name the top scorer for each side. For Miami, I took Jordan Miller, for example. He might score 1.0 fewer points per game than Isaiah Wong, but he makes up for that with an extra 0.7 total rebounds.
The gold standard here has to be Drew Timme. The Gonzaga forward has been excellent for a long time but he’s put it all together this year. He’s outscoring and out-rebounding everyone on this list and only Xavier’s Souley Boum has more assists per game than Timme.
So far through the tournament, Timme has averaged 24.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Not to mention he is converting 59 percent of his field-goal attempts. He’s been even better in the tournament than in the regular season. He’s the top game-breaker on the board here.
March Madness Sleepers: Experienced Coaches
|Michigan State||Tom Izzo||8||2||1|
|Kansas State||Jerome Tang||0||0||0|
|San Diego State||Brian Dutcher||0||0||0|
|Miami (FL)||Jim Larranaga||1||0||0|
Tom Izzo stands head and shoulders over the rest of the field. I guess that’s why Michigan State is paying the veteran coach $8.3 million a year to guide their basketball squad.
"MR. MARCH, TOM IZZO, TAKES MICHIGAN STATE BACK TO THE SWEET 16!" @MSU_Basketball pic.twitter.com/zUeD6uePfR— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2023
The grizzled veteran, who may be a tad too aggressive when keeping his players “accountable,” gets results – a championship, two finals appearances and eight Final Four appearances over his career. That’s more than the other six coaches combined.
We can’t ignore the impact that Izzo has on this side even though they’re the 7 seed in the East Region.
But playing second fiddle to Izzo here is Gonzaga’s Mark Few with a Final Four and a Finals appearance.
March Madness Sleeper Pick: Gonzaga
I know the last time I did this, I picked Xavier. And, don’t get me wrong, I like the way the Musketeers have played so far in the tournament. But Gonzaga is a better side.
The Bulldogs have better team numbers than Xavier. They’ve also got the better game-breaker in Drew Timme, and their coach is more experienced in going deep into the tournament (albeit only doing it once).
Gonzaga has been a disappointing side for a while at this tournament. But looking at the numbers as we head into the Sweet 16, they’re my sleeper.