SLEEPER TEAMS TO WATCH OUT FOR
The first 2 days of the NCAA Tournament are the best 2 days in sports. Nowhere else can you find the emotion of college athletes putting it all on the line for their respective universities. The phrase “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” was made for the opening weekend of the tournament. Anyone who fills out a bracket knows about the jubilation or heartbreak when their teams are upset by little known mid-majors. In this article, we are going in-depth to look at 3 teams who have a very good chance of being NCAA Bracket Busters during the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the best sleeper team of them all. There are a number of so called mid-major teams that will compete in this year’s march madness. Some familiar names from recent years and others like a Loyola-Chicago that hasn’t reached the dance since 1985, when they won 2 games as a #4 seed until bowing out against the eventual runner up Patrick Ewing led Hoyas in the sweet 16. The Ramblers are one of few mid-majors to have a championship banner in their gymnasium. Thanks to a legendary team that defeated Cincinnati in the 1963 title game in overtime. The game would go down in history as a changing of the times as 7 of the 10 starters were black.
The Ramblers impressed with a (28-5) record winning the Missouri Valley regular season and tournament with relative ease. They have a 10 game winning streak and also won a true road game in Gainesville, knocking off Florida 65-59 in early December. The Ramblers have great balance boosting 5 players averaging in double figures. As a team they shot 50.7% on the year good for 4th in the country and if that doesn’t make you feel good they also only allowed 62.2ppg good for 5th best in the country. Junior guard Clayton Custer (13.4pts, 2.3reb, 4.3ast) leads the way. Loyola-Chicago is a team nobody wants to play and has all the ingredients of being an NCAA Bracket Busters team.
The 2nd team on our NCAA Bracket Busters list hasn’t been dancing since 2001. UNC Greensboro (27-7) comes in winning the Southern Conference regular and post-season title, as well as defeating N.C. State on the road 81-76 in mid-December. Fresh off riding a modest 6 game win streak, the Spartans are led by a charismatic SG from Spain, (6’3) Francis Alonso (15.6pts). Alonso is 12th in the nation in 3 pointers made per game with 3.4. He shoots 42.3% from deep. Alonso had a trio of 30 point outbursts on the year and if he can get hot from distance then this team could crack the Sweet 16.
The Spartans also boost Southern Conference coach of the year in Wes Miller. The 35-year old has gotten his team to the promise land in year 7 of his tenure. A former North Carolina player from 2005-2008, he won a ring in 2005. Miller was unique as he transferred from James Madison to N.C. where he walked on to the team. He would go from walk on to starter over time and also wrote a book in the process. “The road to blue heaven” was a diary of sort of the final season as a Tarheel for Miller. The Spartans are a deep team as they have 9 players who average over 10 minutes per game. They look to wear teams down. While Alonso is the go to guy, sophomore PF James Dickey (8.9pts, 8.3reb) is a star in the making. The 6’10” athletic big-man forms a nice 1-2 punch with Alonso.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
The Jackrabbits will be heading to the Big Dance for the 3rd consecutive year. They got there by beating arch-rival South Dakota in the Summit League Tournament championship game, 97-87. Head Coach T.J. Otzelberger is in his 2nd year at the helm and has a very talented team that is playing its best basketball right now. They sport the league’s best player and one of the more underrated players in college basketball in PF Mike Daum (23.8pts, 10.4reb). Daum has a legitimate chance to be selected in the 2018 NBA Draft. He is a force inside and can move out to the perimeter as he has NBA 3-point range. The senior has made 91 3-pointers on the season.
SDSU (28-6) is more than a one man show, which makes them a very dangerous first round opponent. Helping Daum in SDSU’s high octane offense (avg. 85pts per game) is freshman guard David Jenkins Jr. The 6’2″ Washington native has been a very pleasant surprise as he has played like a grizzled veteran. Jenkins Jr. (16.1pts, 3.3reb, 1.6ast) is a lethal weapon in the back-court. He might be the key if the Jackrabbits are going to pull off a first round upset. This team will be ready for the NCAA tournament. They played a solid non-conference schedule, which included Kansas, Wichita State, Colorado, and a win versus Ole Miss. South Dakota State hopes that the 3rd time going back to the NCAA tournament in a row is a charm.
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