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NCAA Tournament Sleepers To Back In Your 2018 March Madness Bracket

NCAA Tournament Sleepers To Back In Your 2018 March Madness Bracket March 12, 2018

Choosing which NCAA tournament sleepers will surprise the world with deep runs into March is a lot like finding a Duke Blue Devil whose face you don't want to mash persistently with your fists — damn near impossible. Honestly, you might as well gather a handful of darts, a bulletin board (or a wall you're not very fond of), and a blindfold and make your March Madness picks that way. But if putting some thought into getting your picks wrong is more your thing, here are 11 potential NCAA tournament sleepers to take deep into your bracket.

No. 12 New Mexico State

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The Aggies enter the tourney scorching hot, having lost just twice in 2018, with one of those defeats coming in overtime. They have the 16th-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation, and best among mid-major teams. First-year coach Chris Jans witnessed firsthand how to make a permanent winner out of a small school, learning under Wichita State's Gregg Marshall. They're also led by a pair of seniors in Zach Lofton (19.7 points per game) and Jemerrio Jones (13.3 rebounds per game).

No. 6 Houston

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The Cougars have something going for them that not many others do: a coach who's been there before. Back in 2002, Kelvin Sampson led the Oklahoma Sooners to the Final Four with a roster full of guys you've since forgotten about. Houston also has wins over Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, and Wichita State, a No. 4. They made it to the finals of the AAC tournament, where they fell to Cincy by a single point.

No. 11 San Diego State

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If backing the Houston Cougars doesn't sound appealing to you, perhaps you'll consider their first-round opponents. The Aztecs are just 22-10, but the returning health of Trey Kell could make them a different team. The senior guard has been limited by ankle and thigh injuries this season, but he appears to be rounding into form just in time for the tournament: In his last four games (three of them against tournament teams), he's averaging 18 points, including a 28-point effort in a win in the Mountain West title game.

No. 8 Missouri

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The argument for the Tigers is the same as the argument for San Diego State, but on steroids. Entering the season, Mizzou freshman Michael Porter Jr. was projected to go in the top five of the NBA draft. But two minutes into his college career, Porter suffered a back injury that'd require surgery. He looked rusty in his first game back, but Porter and brother Jontay, also a freshman, have the talent to carry the Tigers to a deep run.

No. 14 Bucknell

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Now this would be a ballsy pick — Bucknell's first game of the tourney comes against Michigan State, a squad that might boast more NBA-bound talent than any other in the tourney. But the Bison are led by three seniors in Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland, and Stephen Brown, who all average 14.9 points per more. They're also on fire, riding an 18-1 run following a 7-8 start to the season.

No. 6 Miami

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Like Houston, the Hurricanes have a coach who's taken a squad to the Final Four before in Jim Larranaga, who in 2006 led No. 11 seed George Mason to one of the most improbable March Madness runs in history. Unlike that George Mason squad, Miami is blessed with a potential lottery talent in guard Lonnie Walker, who's averaging 14.7 points per game after an injury-induced slow start to the season.

No. 7 Texas

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File Texas, too, under the "coaches who've led teams to shocking runs to the Final Four before" folder. In 2011, Shaka Smart took the No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth Rams to the national semifinal. Now he's in Austin, and has the luxury of one of the best defensive players in the nation in Mohamed Bamba. The freshman, projected to go in the top five or so in the upcoming draft, is averaging a ridiculous 3.7 blocks per game.

No. 12 South Dakota State

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The Jackrabbits are blessed with a walking matchup nightmare for opponents: Mike Daum. The center is sixth in the nation with 23.8 points per game, and a lot of that comes from the outside — he takes 6.4 three-pointers a game and hits a blazing 42.1 percent of them. Also in SDSU's favor: They take care of the ball, turning it over on just 13.8 percent of possessions, the lowest mark in the nation.

No. 7 Arkansas

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The Razorbacks have gotten up for big games, owning a better record against ranked opponents, 5-2, than against unranked foes, 18-9. They also have a defensive anchor in intriguing NBA prospect Daniel Gafford,who's blocking 2.1 shots per game despite averaging just 22.6 minutes. He upped his playing time to 25.7 minutes in the SEC tournament, indicating he's capable of a heavier load in must-win games.

No. 8 Seton Hall

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The Pirates have been a major letdown this season, but are finally clicking just in time. The squad entered the season ranked No. 23 in the nation and eventually reached No. 15 before a 3-7 stretch dropped them out of the top 25 entirely. But they closed strong, going 4-2 down the stretch, with each of those losses coming by a single point and to highly regarded tournament teams in Villanova and Butler. They're also balanced, with four players averaging more than 13 points per game.

No. 11 Loyola-Chicago

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The Ramblers will be far from home in the South quadrant of the bracket. Thankfully, they've got experience knocking off a big-time foe in hostile territory, claiming victory on the road against Florida in December. They play a style that lends itself to upsets, slowing the game down and forcing opponents to outshoot them — a tall task, considering Loyola-Chicago is 20th in the nation in three-point percentage and 11th from two-point range.