March Madness 2023 sleepers: Five top middles who can break your bracket

For what makes the NCAA Tournament the most exciting three weeks in sports every year, there’s no denying the two best things about March Madness: mid-majors and upsets.

Those two tend to go hand-in-hand, with some of college basketball’s most forgotten teams reminding them every spring that anything can happen in a single-playoff tournament.

We saw that firsthand last year, when No. 15 San Pedro shocked the world with a historic run to the Elite Eight.

Which teams can do that race this year? Here are five top mid-majors to watch in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, with picks from FanDuel:

No. 9 in Florida Atlantic

1st round opponent: Memphis (-1.5)

If you weren’t impressed with Florida Atlantic’s 31-3 record – tied for the best mark in the nation – then a look at the Owls’ statistical profile should get your attention.

There are just 13 teams in the top 40 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, four No. 1 seeds, two No. 2 seeds … and Florida Atlantic, which ranks in the top 20 in field goal efficiency. excels at both ends of the court and limiting easy looks to opponents.

The Owls have a seemingly endless rotation with nine players averaging more than 15 minutes, which helps them stay in attack mode for 40 minutes. What this team lacks in size, it makes up for in chemistry and creativity, a dangerous combination in March.

No. 10 Utah State

Every year seems to bring us at least one mid-major, the advanced measures love him far more than the selection committee.

This year, that team is Utah State, which is ranked 18th despite having No. 10 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency.

Max Shulga of the Utah State AggiesGetty Images

The Aggies aren’t your average mid-major — they’re 11th in 3-point percentage (38.5 percent), but they have the size to hang with better foes.

They’re also one of the most experienced teams in the country and have cut their teeth against one of the toughest schedules of any middle school.

Your mileage may vary on whether or not the Mountain West runners-up qualify as true “mid-majors,” but Utah State is built to top your bracket either way and is sure to be a trendy pick to make a deep run. conferences without power.

No. 12 Oral Roberts

1st round opponent: Duke (-7.5)

Two years after going to the Sweet 16, Oral Roberts returns to the tournament with a better team than the one that knocked off Ohio State and Florida in 2021.

Former tournament hero Max Abmas – sixth nationally in scoring (22.2 PPG) – is one of the most efficient offenses in the country, leading in turnover rate (13.2 percent), 2-point percentage (56.6) . % and percentage of free throws (78.4%).

Oral Roberts star Max AbamsOral Roberts star Max AbamsGetty Images

That’s the reason this team has the longest winning streak in the nation (17 games), which should scare Duke and every other team in the East Region. We’ve seen Oral Roberts wreak havoc in the championship before, and this team is better equipped to make a deep run.

Drake number 12

1st round opponent: Miami (-3.5)

The Bulldogs were one of the first teams to punch their ticket to the Big Dance last weekend, and are sure to be one of the more popular picks to pull off a first-round upset.

Leading scorer Tucker DeVries (19 PPG), son of Drake coach Darian DeVries, was the MVP of the Missouri Valley Conference and is a legitimate NBA prospect due to his size (6’7″), smooth jumper and elite shooting. ability at three levels.

He has been the catalyst for this team’s 13-1 run since late January, with nine of those wins coming by double figures.

If DeVries gets hot and avoids getting caught on defense, watch out.

Bet on college basketball?

No. 13 Iona

1st round opponent: Connecticut (-11)

I feel compelled to include Iona on this list because it is led by one of the best coaches in the entire area with a history of making deep runs in the championship.

That hasn’t happened yet for Rick Pitino in his last stop, but these Gaels are still his best thanks to an aggressive defense that holds opponents to 29.2 percent shooting with a 14.7 percent block rate, both ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Iona’s defense has fueled a 14-game winning streak, the third-longest in the country, but its offense holds the keys to a potential upset in the first round and beyond.

Disappear Pitino at your peril.

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