March Madness 2023 Sleepers: Dark Horse NCAA Tournament Contenders

Eddie Griffin

Written by: Eddie Griffin

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Read Time: 5 minutes


March Madness is nearly upon us, and come March 14, Kansas will embark on a quest to become the first team to cut down the nets in back-to-back years since Florida in 2006 and 2007.

As has been the case in many years under Hall of Fame coaches Larry Brown, Roy Williams, and now Bill Self, the Jayhawks are one of the top March Madness favorites this season.

But March Madness is often full of surprises, and there are typically at least a few teams who go further than expected.

Last year’s losing finalist, North Carolina, was one such team, as the Tar Heels were the #8 seed in the East Regional.

Who could be some of this year’s March Madness sleepers?

Who Can Be Considered a March Madness Dark Horse Team?

There isn’t a uniform definition for what is and isn’t a sleeper, but for the purpose of this article, no team whose March Madness odds are +10000 or shorter will be included.

But who makes the cut? Let’s get to it. Please note that the odds listed for each team are not recommended bets.

That said, when it comes to actual March Madness picks, you can expect to see plenty of those here. And if you are looking for picks for the games we don’t cover, including the 2023 NIT, there are a number of sports handicapping services that we recommend.

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2023 March Madness Sleepers

Listed odds are via BetOnline as of Tuesday, March 14, 2023.

South Region

#13 Furman (+790 to reach the Sweet Sixteen)

Chattanooga vs Furman Basketball Prediction & Picks (2023 SoCon Championship) cover

For the first time since 1980, the Paladins are dancing. And they won’t be in the bracket just to make up the numbers either.

The Paladins are high on experience and cohesion, as seven of their top eight scorers were on last year’s team. Leading the way are SoCon Player of the Year Jalen Slawson (15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.2 APG) and Mike Bothwell (18.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.0 APG),

They are also one of the highest-scoring teams in college basketball. They average 82.1 PPG and have been held below 70 points only five times in 34 games this season.

Also, Furman will enter the NCAA Tournament with six straight wins and a 14-1 mark in their last 15 games.

The Paladins like to fire away from outside, but they rank first in the country in two-point field goal percentage (59.1% in Division I games).

They can seriously challenge #4 seed Virginia in Thursday’s matchup in Orlando (12:40 pm ET, truTV), and if they can get past the Cavaliers, a second-round matchup with either #5 seed San Diego State or #12 seed Charleston is very winnable.

East Region

#10 USC (+410 to reach the Sweet Sixteen)

Arizona vs USC Basketball Prediction, Odds & Picks cover

Two years ago, the sixth-seeded Trojans reached the Elite Eight, where they lost to Gonzaga in the West Regional final.

Can they make a similar run this year? The East Region could be pretty wide open, just as it was last year when #8 North Carolina and #15 Saint Peter’s upset their way to the regional final.

USC is one of just 20 teams ranked inside the top 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency at KenPom. Entering the NCAA Tournament, they rank 43rd in offensive efficiency and 48th in defensive efficiency.

The Trojans also have a high-volume scorer in Boogie Ellis, who has been pouring in the points recently.

Ahead of USC’s matchup with #7 seed Michigan State on Friday (12:15 pm ET, CBS), Ellis has scored 20+ points five times in his last seven games.

That includes a 35-point effort in a loss to Arizona and 33 in a win over Stanford, and he has made four or more threes in each of those 20-point performances.

When you have a guy who can take over a game like that, you can go far in March. And if Ellis can continue his scoring exploits into the NCAA Tournament, USC could make some serious noise.

Midwest Region

Mississippi State (+7000 to win the Midwest Region)

If you subscribe to the motto that defense wins championships, then one of the most interesting March Madness sleeper possibilities is Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs have to get past a First Four matchup with Pittsburgh, but if they are able to beat the Panthers, they will like their chances against sixth-seeded Iowa State (first one to 40 wins?)

In their first year under Chris Jans, the Bulldogs have been one of the best defensive teams in college basketball.

It’s helped them pick up notable wins over Marquette, TCU, Texas A&M, and at Arkansas, and they lost at Alabama by three.

Offensive struggles cost them dearly in a stretch in which they lost five straight and eight of nine, but they worked their way back into the conversation thanks to largely improved results on that end.

Entering the SEC Tournament, MSU is 16-3 this season when shooting 40% or more from the field, losing only at Alabama and Vanderbilt and at home against Kentucky.

And when the Bulldogs have allowed fewer than 65 points, they are 17-3, compared to just 4-9 when they have allowed 65 or more points.

Offensive struggles could certainly doom Mississippi State, but this team is very capable of making it past the first weekend of March Madness.

West Region

#7 Northwestern (+440 to reach the Sweet Sixteen)

The other teams in this piece are all double-digit seeds, but I am going with a single-digit seed in the West.

After more or less locking up a spot in the March Madness bracket, the Wildcats lost five of six games. But I’m still a big believer in their potential to wreak some havoc in the Big Dance.

In Boo Buie and Chase Audige, Northwestern has two guys who can combine to put up a lot of points. Buie has scored 20+ points 13 times this season, while Audige has scored 15+ points 15 times this season.

The Wildcats are also one of the best defensive teams in college basketball. They have allowed fewer than 65 points 21 times this season, and they are 20-1 in those games (1-10 when allowing 65+ points).

They also own an impressive collection of wins that show that they aren’t going to be scared of anyone: Indiana (home and away), Purdue (home), Michigan State (away), Wisconsin (home and away), Rutgers (away), Iowa (home), and Illinois (home).

Other March Madness Content at Betting News

If you’d like to check out our other March Madness betting content (which you can also find at our March Madness hub), here’s a rundown of what we have put together to help you with your NCAA Tournament betting.

Where to Bet on March Madness

Here are four legal sports betting sites that we highly recommend and have reviewed, where you can bet on March Madness.

March Madness is one of the most widely bet on sporting events every year, and you can get in on the action at any of the top sports betting sites out there. But these four books are all reputable names, and you can trust them with your betting funds.

Eddie Griffin
Eddie Griffin

Eddie Griffin has been writing about and betting on sports for over a decade and has been with Betting News since 2021. For more of his thoughts on sports and sports betting, you can follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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