Finally, March Madness has arrived. The 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament officially tips off Thursday as 64 teams look to survive and advance their way to the Final Four.
Even though the First Four play-in games took place on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the madness doesn’t truly begin until the first round of action starts with 16 games each on Thursday and Friday.
Plenty of local teams have earned their way into the field, although it appears not many of them have a real chance to get very far. Villanova is likely the best option for any of the teams in the area to reach the tournament’s second weekend.
Others like Seton Hall and Syracuse will have a difficult time causing much damage because of their low seeds.
On the other hand, there are several highly seeded schools that are expected to make a deep run this year. Programs like Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Michigan and Michigan State are all projected to contend for a championship.
Let’s examine a sleeper team in each region that has a chance to make some noise this March. Since picking among the favorites is far too easy, each of these teams will be seeded third or worse.
East Region – No. 4 Virginia Tech
The fourth-seeded Hokies are one of the least talked about teams in the nation. Despite a tremendous regular season, Virginia Tech doesn’t get much respect due in large part because of the other powerhouse teams in their conference.
Even though they finished behind the likes of Duke, Virginia and North Carolina, the Hokies are a talented team quite capable of keeping pace with the big dogs.
Tech finished the year with a 24-8 record and more importantly, 12-6 in the very difficult ACC. In its most recent games with Duke and Virginia late in February, the Hokies beat the Blue Devils (albeit Zion Williamson was out) and only lost to the Cavaliers by six on the road.
It’s clear that Tech has the players to compete with the top-seeded teams in this tournament.
What will be a huge spark as well is the return of star point guard Justin Robinson. The senior helped lead the Hokies to a 17-3 start until he injured his foot. His return will be crucial if he’s fully ready to go.
Tech’s first-round game is against Saint Louis on Friday night.
West Region – No. 4 Florida State
A similar team that isn’t regarded as a true challenger for the Final Four is Florida State. The Seminoles are also from the ACC and actually performed even better than Virginia Tech this season.
In fact, the Hokies last two losses were against FSU.
Florida State finished the year with an impressive 27-7 mark, including 13-5 in conference. It played well down the stretch as well, only losing to Duke in the ACC Championship game to snap a streak of 14 wins in 15 games.
In a region where Gonzaga and Michigan are the top two seeds, it seems like FSU has a real shot to continue their quality play and shock a lot of people by advancing.
DraftKings Sportsbook has the Noles as +5000 to win the championship. If you’re looking for a sleeper pick, Florida State may be the team.
They open with Vermont on Thursday afternoon.
South Region – No. 3 Purdue
In the South region, Purdue is a team to look out for. Overshadowed by Big 10 schools Michigan and Michigan State, the Boilermakers have been consistently good the last few seasons.
This year, Purdue finished 23-9 overall with a 16-4 record in conference. They finished only behind the Spartans and were awarded the second seed in the Big 10 tournament.
After a terrible start that had them at 6-5, Purdue showed plenty of reasons for optimism throughout the remainder of the schedule.
Led by guard Carsen Edwards, the Boilermakers have a lot of depth and will be a tough out for any opponent they face. With the way Virginia played in last year’s tournament, there’s no reason to think Purdue doesn’t at least have a chance to beat the top seed in its region.
Purdue is +3900 on FanDuel Sportsbook to win it all. It starts the tournament with a battle against Old Dominion Thursday night.
Midwest Region – No. 5 Auburn
The squad severely under the radar in the Midwest is the Auburn Tigers. In what turned out to be a very good SEC Conference, Auburn finished fourth behind three teams who believe this is their season to make a run.
The Tigers ended the year at 26-9, with an 11-7 record in the SEC, only behind LSU, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Auburn played incredibly through the final part of their schedule. They won eight straight games including the SEC Championship against the Volunteers.
Led by coach Bruce Pearl, the Tigers could easily cruise into the Sweet 16 where they would most likely get a very stern test in North Carolina. If they can somehow knock off the Tar Heels, there’s no reason Auburn can’t beat anyone else.
FanDuel Sportsbook has them at +4500 to win the tournament. The Tigers start their quest for the Final Four on Thursday afternoon against New Mexico State.