These 3 March Madness deep sleepers have NCAA Championship potential (if they make the tournament)

By Nick Ballistreri

Deep sleepers that could be busting March Madness brackets later this month.

  • Each season, there are a few teams that advance in the tournament out of nowhere.
  • The key to being a profitable sports bettor is maximizing value, and these three teams all have +7,500 or worse odds to win the NCAA Championship (DraftKings Sportsbook).
  • Injuries, bad luck, and slow starts have plagued these teams. Why the perception around these teams is all wrong in regards to their tournament potential.
  • Analyzing the team that has the potential, and the player, to go on a Kemba-like UConn run.

Wisconsin Badgers The Wisconsin Badgers are no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, but this season none of the people who make college basketball expert picks had them going very far, and now they have a shot to make some noise. They’ve qualified in every season since 1999 except for their 2018 campaign, and made the Final Four in both 2014 and 2015.

Led by a balanced attack from Nate Reuvers, Micah Potter, Brad Davison, Kobe Kong, and D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin has a 19-10 record, and are in 2nd place in a loaded Big Ten Conference with a 12-6 record. With all these things working in the Badgers favor, why are they criminally undervalued to win the NCAA Tournament with their odds set at +10,000?

Much of this is due to the fact that Wisconsin struggled early on this season. They had disappointing non-conference losses to the likes of Saint Mary’s, NC State, New Mexico, and Richmond. They also lost their first road Big Ten game against a Rutgers team that was historically bad in the conference up until this season. The Badgers rightfully fell off the national radar.

Those results are history at this point. Wisconsin has built up their resume to stack up against the nation’s best, and can expect to be seeded in the NCAA Tournament in the five to seven range. They’ve compiled impressive road wins against Tennessee, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan, as well as home wins against Michigan State and Maryland. They are currently on a six game winning streak, and have a chance to tie for the Big Ten regular season title.

Because of all these things, getting the Badgers at +10,000 odds is too good to pass up. They’ve shown the ability to compete with the top teams in the country, and are entering the most important period of their season on a hot streak. If the Badgers win the Big Ten Tournament, their odds will only lose value, so if you plan on being a savvy bettor this tournament, the time to jump on Wisconsin is right now.

Oklahoma Sooners The Oklahoma Sooners are a battle tested team that can go on a deep run in this NCAA Tournament. While their 18-11 record is not going to stand out in the national rankings, they play in a stacked Big 12 Conference that has two potential No. 1 seeds in Baylor and Kansas.

The Sooners are undervalued to win the NCAA Tournament. Their current college basketball odds of +10,000 with the likes of Harvard, UPenn, and Liberty, and they are slotted in the eight to nine seed range. Oklahoma has momentum going for them. They’ve won two straight games against ranked opponents, defeating Texas Tech emphatically at home, and going on the road in a tough environment and beating West Virginia. With a couple more wins to close the season out, and a run in the Big 12 Tournament, Oklahoma can see their seed, as well as their championship odds, increasing.

The reason for my optimism for the Sooners is simple. They’re battle tested, have good wins, and a balanced scoring attack. They have three players who are averaging better than thirteen points per game, and in a tournament setting when games slow down, having players who can get a bucket in the half-court setting is paramount. Oklahoma has not backed down against tough competition, losing a close four point game to Baylor on the road, showing that if they match up with a top contender early in the tournament, they won’t back down. At their current odds, you could do a lot worse than Oklahoma as a potential dark-horse contender.

North Carolina Tar Heels Okay, I admit that UNC haven’t been a historical sleeper, but bear with me for a second. The Tar Heels chances of making the NCAA Tournament are fully contingent on them winning the ACC Tournament. Their record sits at an unimpressive 12-17 mark, and are in the midst of their worst ever season under Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams. There’s a reason that North Carolina is not a college basketball consensus pick, and oddsmakers agree giving the Tar Heels almost no chance of winning the tournament (+20000), much less making it, but if we dive a little deeper, the Heels have been playing much better basketball than their record indicates.

North Carolina started the season ranked No. 9. They welcomed a star-studded recruiting class that included five-star recruits Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot, as well as two sought after graduate transfers, Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce. After a 2018-19 season that was unexpectedly cut short in the Sweet 16, the Heels looked poised to continue their success when they started the season 6-1 with a win over then No. 11 Oregon.

Then, disaster struck, and every scholarship player that donned a UNC jersey has missed at least one game due to injury this season. The most notable injury was to freshman Cole Anthony, who missed 10 games due to a partially torn meniscus in his knee. The Tar Heels went 3-7 in his absence, and their record dropped to 10-10. Since that point, the Heels have dropped seven of nine games to their current mark of 12-17. Why again is this team a potential sleeper?

I mentioned the injury troubles to UNC’s scholarship pool of players. As a team, they’ve missed the most combined games under a Roy Williams led team. The Tar Heels have also been unusually lucky this season. They’ve lost eight games by six points or less, and are 0-3 in OT games. In the span of six games, they lost four of them on a go-ahead bucket with 15 seconds or less. Now, bad luck is sometimes indicative of a bad team. However, if the Heels won even half of those close losses, they’d be in the conversation for a bubble team.

Lastly, the Tar Heels are finally healthy for what feels like the first time all season. In their last two games against NC State and Syracuse, UNC had their top seven rotation players healthy for one of the few times all season. It’s no surprise that the Tar Heels put together complete performances to win both of those games, including in a tough environment in the Carrier Dome.

Looking at this team, the presence of Cole Anthony healthy and finding his groove reminds me of what Kemba Walker did at Uconn. Anthony is averaging 19.7 points per game, and has improved his efficiency as the season has gone on. Again, North Carolina is the ultimate long-shot, having to win the ACC Tournament to have a chance. But, with their health finally intact, Roy Williams coaching, and Cole Anthony’s potential to take over a stretch of games, the Tar Heels have a better shot than you think.

 

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