Sleepers to Make the Sweet 16 (2023 NCAA Tournament)

Mar 15, 2023 - 3:08 PM

It’s that time of year again, March Madness has finally returned. One of the most exciting aspects is this week leading up to the tip-off of the games when you have to fill out your bracket. If you’re like me, you will stress over every little decision. If you aren’t like me, you will trust my advice and use this article to build your brackets. In this article, I will discuss some of my favorite sleepers to make the Sweet 16. 

In this instance, I consider sleep as a double-digit seed In 14 straight tournaments, at least one double-digit seed has made the Sweet 16. Successfully predicting who that team might be can be the difference between winning and losing your bracket.

Here are my favorite Sweet 16 sleepers.

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(10) Utah State

Coming out of the Mountain West, Utah State’s metrics are a lot better than its double-digit seeding. The Aggies rank inside the top 25 on a lot of analytical websites. Their perimeter-based offense was a big reason they started the year with nine straight wins, with Steven Ashworth being one of the best shooters in the nation.

The Aggies are one of the most consistent teams in the country, ranking in the top 50 in the consistency metric. Utah State is also playing its best basketball right now, ranking in the top 50 in the momentum metric. On defense, the Aggies allow very little inside, ranking in the top 30 in opponents’ near-proximity percentage, and they eliminate second-chance looks. Where they struggle is on the perimeter, allowing teams to shoot above 35 percent from beyond the arc.

If you want to blindly trust the numbers, Utah State is a fair bet for a couple of upsets. But Utah State’s soft strength of schedule and sub-75th-ranked defense makes me hesitant to blindly trust the Aggies.

The Mountain West is going to not get much love due to their recent play in the tournament but Utah State lines up quite well with Mizzou and Arizona is one of the more inconsistent teams in the tournament.

(11) North Carolina State

There might not be a lower-seeded team with a higher ceiling than North Carolina State in this tournament. I could highlight how well NC State takes care of the ball, its effectiveness at defending the perimeter, or how well it has played in neutral-court games this season. However, there is one primary reason I believe in the Wolfpack this March, and that reason is Terquavion Smith. The NC State guard has willed this team to victory in some games, doing exactly that with a 30-point outing against Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament. His ability to score and dish to other shooters like Casey Morsell is simply a privilege to watch.

North Carolina State is capable of a 2017 South Carolina-like run as a lower at-large seed. Considering that the Wolfpack gets a shot off nearly every offensive possession, I trust this team for the high variability that goes with this tournament. There is a reason, however, that NC State is seeded the way it is, with 10 losses entering the tournament. The Wolfpack can get into foul trouble and does not have the best interior defense. If Smith is off, this team will be in trouble. Its only neutral-court defeat was to Kansas by six points in a game where the Jayhawks shot 47 percent from beyond the arc.

As Smith goes, NC State goes. I would not be surprised if the Wolfpack busted some brackets. Their ability to get off shots is meaningful against Creighton who doesn’t force turnovers. Volume is king and the Wolfpack will get plenty of shots while their second-round matchup isn’t too scary either.

(12) Drake

If you’re looking for a hot team entering March Madness, consider the Drake Bulldogs. Not only did Drake finish the year on a 13-1 run, but the Bulldogs rank in the top 15 on Bart Torvik over the last month of play. The Bulldogs have been handling their opponents with ease of late, and they ran through the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, winning by double digits in each contest.

Head coach Darian DeVries presides over a defense-first team that can handle opponents on the glass and allows no easy looks. If opponents get looks inside the arc, they’ll rarely be near the rim, as the Bulldogs rank in the top 25 at limiting opponents’ shots from near proximity. Offensively, Drake can shoot from beyond the arc with a trio of good shooters — Tucker DeVries, DJ Wilkins, and Sardaar Calhoun. Drake takes care of the ball well but doesn’t get offensive boards at a high clip.

Drake has a bottom-300 consistency ranking, so the Bulldogs are capable of pulling off a major upset or losing by 20 points. But the Bulldogs have been hot, and if they can keep up their recent play, we might just be calling them Cinderella.

Their draw in Miami and then the winner of Indiana-Kent State is phenomenal and really makes me love the value offered of having them in the Sweet 16. Jay Bilas agrees too!

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