We’ve officially entered March, which means the NCAA Tournament is right around the corner. Much of the focus is at the top, where Kansas and Villanova have likely solidified No. 1 seeds, while Baylor, North Carolina, Oregon, UCLA, and West Virginia are battling for the other two top seeds.
Of course, what makes March Madness betting so special is all of the upsets and Cinderellas that arise as the tournament unfolds. That said, let’s look at potential sleepers, bracket busters, and mid-major teams that could excel this year. Also, don’t forget to check out our 2017 March Madness futures.
5 Sleepers – Watch Out for Miami and Minnesota
1. Miami (Fla.) (20-9, 10-7 ACC); GTBets March Madness Odds +20,000 – Just two weeks ago, the Hurricanes were a bubble team fighting to make their case. But they’ve since won six out of the past eight ACC contests to solidify their tournament bid. Recent victories over Duke and Virginia, as well as a 15-point win against UNC on Jan 28, show that this Miami team can beat anybody.
2. Minnesota (22-7, 10-6 Big Ten); GTBets Odds +20,000 – The Gophers’ tournament hopes looked dead when they lost fvie games in a row in January. But Rick Pitino’s team has since gone 7-0 in February, putting them back in the March Madness conversation. If they continue winning, coupled with Purdue and Wisconsin faltering, they could earn a share of the conference title.
3. Southern Methodist (25-4, 15-1 AAC); GTBets Odds N/A – With coach Larry Brown stepping down this season over a contract-extension dispute, Tim Jankovich has stepped in and put this team on an 11-game winning streak. The likely American Athletic Conference winners play five guards in what should make for a dangerous style for tournament opponents.
4. Oklahoma State (20-10, 9-8 Big 12); GTBets Odds +20,000 – The Cowboys’ season didn’t start off great, with the team going 0-6 to begin Big 12 play. But they’ve since won 10 of 11 and are rolling as March Madness approaches.
5. Michigan (19-10, 9-7 Big Ten); GTBets Odds +12,500 – The Wolverines round out our top 5 because they’re not yet guaranteed a tournament slot. But they’ve looked great recently, knocking off Purdue and winning five of their last six contests.
Bracket Busters – Wichita State Poised for Another Run?
1. Wichita State (27-4, 17-1 MVC); GTBets March Madness Odds +10,000 – The Shockers have had a good enough season that they’ll still get an at-large bid even if they don’t win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. This is surprising, given that the team’s roster looked largely inexperienced going into the year. But they’ve played excellent as of late, beating co-MVC champ Illinois State by 41, Southern Illinois by 42, and Northern Iowa by 29. It’s been four years since Wichita State went to the Final Four in 2013. Can they surprise everybody again and do it again this season?
2. Virginia Tech (21-8, 10-7 ACC); GTBets Odds +35,000 – The Hokies were on the outside looking in, but then they beat Miami on Monday. Virginia Tech has now won five of their past six games and, as of now, look like an at-large team. This is one of Buzz Williams’ best coaching jobs after losing starter Chris Clarke for the season.
3. Northwestern (20-9, 9-7 Big Ten); GTBets Odds N/A: First the Cubs win the World Series, now Evanston-based Northwestern has a chance at their first-ever tournament bid? Chris Collins has created a strong defensive team that can hang with higher seeds in the tournament.
4. Middle Tennessee State (25-4, 15-1 C-USA); GTBets Odds N/A: The Blue Raiders won’t bust as many brackets as they did last year after beating Michigan State as a No. 15 seed. In fact, they could potentially get in as an at-large team if they don’t win Conference USA. If this holds true, watch for this Middle Tennessee State to go deeper than last year.
5. Vanderbilt (16-14, 9-8 SEC); GTBets Odds N/A – A glance at Vanderbilt’s overall record won’t impress you. But the Commodores have the nation’s toughest non-conference strength of schedule, and they’ve won eight of their last 12 games. Throw in a 29-point beat-down of Mississippi State and a road win over Florida, and Bryce Drew’s squad has a rapidly improving resume.
Mid-Majors that could Make Noise
1. Monmouth (26-5, 18-2 MAAC) – The Hawks were a major snub last season, but they should get in as a No. 12 or 13 seed this year. 5’8″ point guard and senior Justin Robinson leads this team with 19.7 points per game.
2. Vermont (26-5, 16-0 America East) – The Catamounts are the first team to go undefeated in American East Conference play. They don’t have a go-to player, but they do utilize a good team-based approach that makes them a tough first-round draw.
3. UNC-Wilmington (26-5, 15-3 CAA) – The Seahawks have a top-40 RPI, which could help them land an at-large bid if they fail to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. Of course, the best path forward for UNC-Wilmington is to win the CAA tourney, which could net them a No. 11 or 12 seed. They almost beat Duke last year in the first round and will be more dangerous this time around.
4. Princeton (19-6, 12-0 Ivy) – Princeton didn’t fare so well in non-conference action but has won 15 in a row and is unbeaten in the Ivy League. The Tigers already clinched the conference title, although they’ll need to win the Ivy tournament this year to make the Big Dance
5. Bucknell (23-8, 15-3 Patriot) – The last time that Bucknell won the Patriot League tournament was 2013, and there’s no automatic bid coming here. But if the Bison can win the tourney, they have a deep team that can wear opponents out, given that coach Nathan Davis plays 12 guys.