Mid-majors that can bust your bracket

For all that 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 often go hand in hand, with some of college basketball’s most overlooked teams reminding folks every spring that anything can happen in a single-elimination tournament.

We saw that first-hand last year, when No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s shocked the world with a historic run to the Elite Eight.

Which teams can make that sort of run this year? Here are five mid-major sleepers to watch in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, with odds courtesy of FanDuel:

No. 9 Florida Atlantic

  • 1st-round opponent: Memphis (-1.5)

If you weren’t already impressed by Florida Atlantic’s 31-3 record – tied for the best mark in the country – then one look at the Owls’ statistical profile should grab your attention.

Just 13 teams rank in the top 40 in adjusted efficiency on offense and defense, a list that includes all four No. 1 seeds, two No. 2 seeds … and Florida Atlantic, which ranks in the top 20 in effective field-goal percentage on both ends of the court and excels at limiting easy looks for opponents.

The Owls boast a seemingly endless rotation with nine players averaging 15-plus minutes, which helps them remain in attack mode for 40 minutes. What this group lacks in size, it makes up for in chemistry and creativity, which is a dangerous combination in March.

No. 10 Utah State

It feels like every year brings us at least one mid-major that advanced metrics love far more than the selection committee.

This year, that team is clearly Utah State, which ranks 18th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency despite its No. 10 seed.

Max Shulga of the Utah State Aggies
Max Shulga of the Utah State Aggies
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The Aggies aren’t built like your typical mid-major: they rank 11th in 3-point percentage (38.5 percent) but have the size to hang with better-seeded foes.

They’re also one of the most experienced teams in the country and have cut their teeth against one of the toughest schedules for any mid-major.

Your mileage may vary on whether the Mountain West runners-up qualify as a true “mid-major,” but Utah State is built to bust your bracket either way and is sure to be one of the trendiest picks to make a deep run among the non-power conferences.

No. 12 Oral Roberts

  • 1st-round opponent: Duke (-7.5)

Two years after its stunning run to the Sweet 16, Oral Roberts is back in the tournament with an even better team than the one that knocked off Ohio State and Florida in 2021.

Former tournament hero Max Abmas – who ranks sixth nationally in scoring (22.2 PPG) – leads one of the most efficient offenses in the country, which ranks first in turnover rate (13.2 percent) with top-10 marks in 2-point percentage (56.6%) and free-throw percentage (78.4%).

Oral Roberts star Max Abams
Oral Roberts star Max Abams
Getty Images

That’s a key reason why this team owns the nation’s longest active win streak (17 games), which should terrify Duke and every other team in the East Region. We’ve seen Oral Roberts wreak havoc before in the tournament, and this team is better equipped for a deep run.

No. 12 Drake

  • 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 they’re sure to be among the most popular picks to pull off a first-round upset, too.

Leading scorer Tucker DeVries (19 PPG), son of Drake coach Darian DeVries, was the best player in the Missouri Valley Conference and is a legitimate NBA prospect thanks to his size (6’7″), silky smooth jumper and elite shot-making ability at all three levels.

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

If DeVries gets hot and avoids getting picked on defensively, watch out.

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No. 13 Iona

  • 1st-round opponent: Connecticut (-11)

I feel compelled to include Iona on this list, if only because it’s led by one of the best coaches in the entire field with a history of making deep runs in the tournament.

That hasn’t happened yet for Rick Pitino in his latest stop, but these Gaels are his best yet thanks to an aggressive defense that’s holding opponents to 29.2 percent from deep with a 14.7 percent block rate – both ranking in the top 10 nationally.

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

Fade Pitino at your own peril.