March Madness Sleepers 2024: Which Sweet 16 Underdogs Offer Futures Value?

© Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK - Oddspedia tips Iowa State and Creighton as two possible March Madness sleepers 2024
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We have found ourselves a game with the national championship on the line between UConn and Purdue, leaving no room for sleepers. Regardless, let’s take a look at some of our best plays from throughout the tournament.

So much for a second straight March Madness dominated by chaos.

One year after Cinderella stories comprised exactly half of the Sweet 16 field, all but two top-three seeds survived the opening weekend of the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

Not only that, but this year’s Sweet 16 features just three true long shots: No. 5 seed San Diego State, No. 6 Clemson, and No. 11 North Carolina State.

However, just because the 2024 NCAA Tournament has turned into a chalk fest doesn’t mean there aren’t a handful of March Madness sleepers still out there. The question is: How many of these sleepers offer betting value in the Final Four and national championship futures market?

Our current answer: three.

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© Samantha Laurey / Argus Leader / USA TODAY NETWORK

Top Sleeper Picks for March Madness 2024

March Madness sleeper: Iowa State

Iowa State topped this list when we first updated our March Madness sleepers three weeks ago. And the Cyclones did nothing during the opening weekend of this year’s NCAA Tournament to rattle our confidence.

After cruising to the Big 12 Tournament championship — which included a 69-41 beatdown of regular-season league champ Houston in the semifinals — Iowa State tipped off the Big Dance with a pair of comfortable victories.

The No. 2 seed in the East Region followed an 82-65 opening-round rout of No. 15 seed South Dakota State with a 67-56 victory over No. 7 seed Washington State in the Round of 32.

The Cyclones covered the spread in both games and are now on a 5-0 SU and ATS roll (with all five wins being by double digits).

Iowa State — which currently has the No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency rating in the nation per college basketball analytics expert KenPom — has held 10 consecutive opponents to 65 points or fewer. 

Perhaps more importantly, though, the Cyclones’ hit-and-miss offense has been hitting in the postseason. In five games since the start of the Big 12 Tournament, they’re averaging 74.6 points.

That offense will need to keep clicking if Iowa State hopes to continue playing. Because up next is a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 3 seed Illinois — which happens to boast KenPom’s No. 1 adjusted offensive efficiency rating.

Should the Cyclones get past the Illini on Thursday in Boston, their reward likely wo;; be an Elite Eight clash with No. 1 overall seed, defending national champion, and 2024 national championship favorite UConn.

In other words, Iowa State still has to climb two huge mountains just to get to the Final Four. Daunting? Yes. Impossible? Not as far as we’re concerned. Because Iowa State has a roster and a defense-first mentality that’s built for March.

Remember, the Cyclones finished second to Houston in what was inarguably the nation’s toughest conference this season. Then they rolled through that league’s postseason tournament, beating three quality teams — Kansas State, Baylor, and Houston — by 19 , 14 , and 28 points, respectively.

In fact, Iowa State has been proving doubters wrong for nearly four solid months — those doubters being college basketball bookmakers. Because the team’s current five-game SU and ATS winning streak is part of a 24-5 SU and 20-7-2 ATS run that dates to Dec. 1.

Which of course begs the question: Why do seven other March Madness teams still have consensus national championship odds shorter than the Cyclones?

The simple answer is because mighty UConn stands in their way in the East Region. Most college basketball fans, bettors, and pundits simply can’t envision Iowa State taking down the defending champs.

We don’t share that opinion. Which is why Iowa State remains our top March Madness sleeper pick.

Best 2024 National Championship odds: +2000 (BetMGM, BetRivers, Caesars, DraftKings & FanDuel)

Best odds to win the East Region: +425 (DraftKings)

Best bet: To win the national championship

March Madness sleeper: Creighton

Creighton has been on our March Madness sleeper radar since we began this exercise back in mid-February. And just like with Iowa State, we’re still firmly on the Bluejays’ bandwagon.

Yes, the Midwest Region’s No. 3 seed got a big-time scare Saturday night, needing overtime to dispatch No. 10 seed Oregon in the second round. But look at how Creighton dominated that extra session — it surrendered the first basket, then scored the game’s final 15 points.

After banking that 86-73 victory over the Ducks — which followed an easy 77-60 blowout of No. 14 seed Akron in the first round — the Bluejays are now on a 9-2 SU and ATS roll.

The mission does not get any easier Friday, when Creighton takes on No. 2 seed Tennessee in a Sweet 16 matchup in Detroit. But the Bluejays absolutely have the horses to go toe-to-toe with the regular-season SEC champs.

They also have the been-there, done-that experience: Last year, Creighton blew out Cinderella story (and No. 12 seed) Princeton in the Sweet 16, then came within a basket of knocking off San Diego State in the Elite Eight.

Among the Bluejays’ top four scorers and rebounders, three — center Ryan Kalkbrenner, and guards Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander — were part of last year’s team that suffered that stinging 57-56 loss to San Diego State. 

Together, Kalkbrenner, Scheireman, and Alexander are averaging a combined 60 points and 27.7 rebounds in three postseason games (one in the Big East Tournament, two in the NCAA Tournament). 

Toss in guard Steven Ashworth’s 15.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, and Creighton’s top four players are averaging 75.6 points and 31.4 rebounds per game. That’s better than the 63.6 points and 25.2 rebounds that the quartet averaged during the regular season.

As has been the case for most of the season, Creighton will have a depth disadvantage against Tennessee (the Bluejays don’t get much production beyond their top four). Also, the Vols’ tenacious defense is no picnic to deal with.

Dealing with perennially underachieving Vols coach Rick Barnes, however? That’s a different story.

Barnes has not gotten Tennessee past the Sweet 16 in his eight previous seasons at the helm (the Vols’ last Elite Eight appearance was in 2011 under Bruce Pearl). What’s more, you have to go back 16 years for the last time a Barnes-coached team won a Sweet 16 game (that being Texas in 2018).

So there’s a lot of reason to believe that Creighton can pull off a modest upset Friday night in Detroit. Could the Bluejays then make amends for last year’s near Final Four miss by taking out No. 1 seed Purdue or No. 5 seed Gonzaga in the Midwest Region final?

We’re still betting on it.

Best 2024 National Championship odds: +2500 (BetMGM, Caesars & DraftKings)

Best odds to win the Midwest Region: +450 (BetMGM, Caesars, DraftKings & FanDuel)

Best bet: To win the Midwest Region/make the Final Four

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March Madness sleeper: Clemson

If one team in our most recent March Madness 2024 sleepers update had done its job in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Clemson wouldn’t be on this list.

That team? New Mexico.

The Lobos’ run to the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship was super impressive — four wins in as many days, with the final three victories coming against March Madness at-large teams Boise State, Colorado State, and San Diego State.

New Mexico’s stock was so high entering the Big Dance that it took the court as a slight favorite over Clemson in an opening-round West Region matchup — even though the Lobos (No. 11) were seeded lower than the Tigers (No. 6).

Clemson seemed to take exception that slight, as it ran a gassed New Mexico squad out of the arena in a 77-56 victory. And with that, our Final Four futures wager on the Lobos was obliterated.

If the Tigers’ thorough drubbing of New Mexico opened our eyes, their ensuing second-round upset of No. 3 seed Baylor opened our minds — to the possibility that Clemson just might fit into Cinderella’s glass slipper.

Although they had to hold off a late-game charge, the Tigers led wire to wire during their 72-64 second-round upset of Baylor as a 4.5-point underdog.

Clemson is now 9-4 SU and 8-4-1 ATS since Feb. 6, when the Tigers went to North Carolina and scored an 80-76 upset as a 6.5-point underdog.

Which team is the No. 1 seed in the West Region? North Carolina.

Which  opponent will Clemson probably face if it gets past No. 2 seed Arizona on Thursday? North Carolina.

Obviously, the odds of the Tigers eliminating a No. 3, No. 2, and No. 1 seed in successive March Madness games aren’t great. Which is why their odds of getting to the Final Four — let alone winning the whole enchilada — are quite long.

However, none of the teams standing between Clemson and its first Final Four appearance are infallible. Not only did the Tigers win at North Carolina six weeks ago, but they also own a convincing road victory over the team the Tar Heels will face in their Sweet 16 game Thursday (No. 4 seed Alabama).

Arizona, meanwhile, is less than two weeks removed from a 67-59 Pac-12 Tournament upset loss to Oregon (which was a No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region). The Wildcats also lost their regular-season finale 78-65 at USC as a 9-point favorite.

As for North Carolina, it has looked strong during an ongoing 10-1 SU run. However, that one defeat definitely stands out: 84-76 to South Region No. 11 seed North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament title game.

In other words, Clemson’s path to winning the West Region might be treacherous, but it’s not unnavigable. Given how they performed in the first two rounds, it’s quite possible the Tigers are this year’s “got hot at just the right time” team.

If nothing else, they’re worthy of a Final Four futures bet at a very generous price.

Best 2024 National Championship odds: +10000 (BetMGM)

Best odds to win the West Region: +1000 (DraftKings)

Best bet: To win the West Region/make the Final Four

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March Madness Sleepers FAQs

What is a sleeper pick in March Madness?

A sleeper pick in March Madness refers to a lower-seeded team with long shot odds to win the men’s basketball national championship. Traditionally, March Madness sleepers are defined as being seeded No. 5 or lower and/or have odds of +2000 or longer to win the NCAA Tournament.

Since 1986, only four March Madness sleepers have won the national championship after entering the NCAA Tournament as a long shot of 20-to-1 or greater: Kansas in 1988 (+2000 pre-tournament odds), Florida in 2006 (+2000), UConn in both 2011 (+9500) and 2014 (+2500).

Also, only two teams seeded No. 5 or lower have won it all since 1986: No. 6 Kansas in 1988 and No. 7 UConn in 2014.

How do you identify a March Madness sleeper pick?

There are two ways to identify a March Madness sleeper pick. One involves how teams are seeded in the NCAA Tournament bracket.

The bracket consists of four quadrants of 16 teams, each of which is assigned a ranking (i.e. seed) by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Generally speaking, any team seeded from No. 5 to No. 16 is considered a March Madness sleeper.

March Madness sleeper picks also can be identified by their national championship betting odds right before the NCAA Tournament tips off. Teams with pre-tournament odds of +2000 (20-to-1) or longer are usually labeled sleepers.

How often do sleeper picks succeed in March Madness?

Sleeper picks succeed quite frequently in March Madness in the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. However, as the tournament progresses, the vast majority of surviving teams usually have higher seeds and shorter national championship odds.

There are exceptions, though. In fact, at least one team seeded No. 5 or lower has reached the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four in 10 consecutive years. Also, the 2022-23 Final Four featured a No. 4 seed (UConn), two No. 5 seeds (San Diego State and Miami, Fla.), and one No. 9 seed (Florida Atlantic).

What impact do Cinderella teams have on the popularity of March Madness?

Cinderella teams have a tremendous impact on the popularity of March Madness — hence the word “madness”. Millions of sports fans across the country (and beyond) fill out NCAA Tournament brackets each year, predicting the results of 67 games that are played in the span of three weeks.

Because upsets are the norm in the NCAA Tournament — especially in the early rounds — many fans look to identify Cinderella teams they believe can win one or more games in the tournament. Most teams seeded between No. 10 and No. 16 are considered Cinderellas, as are teams that sportsbooks list as significant betting underdogs.

Have any Cinderella teams won the NCAA Tournament?

Most college basketball historians would acknowledge that four Cinderella teams have won the NCAA Tournament since the sport first instituted the seeding process prior to the 1979 event.

The first was North Carolina State. The Wolfpack entered the 1983 NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed and had national championship odds of +2500.

Two years later, Villanova stunned college basketball by winning the first 64-team tournament as a No. 8 seed. The Wildcats began the 1985 tournament with +3500 title odds.

The other two Cinderella teams to win the national championship were Kansas, which was a No. 6 seed in 1988, and UConn, which was a No. 7 seed in 2014.

What is the most famous Cinderella team?

The most famous Cinderella team in NCAA history is Villanova, which won the 1985 national championship with a stunning upset of a heavily favored Georgetown squad that was led by future Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing.

However, based on betting odds, UConn is by far the biggest underdog to win an NCAA men’s basketball championship. The Huskies won it all in 2014 despite their pre-tournament odds of +9500 (or 95-to-1).

By comparison, Villanova went into the 1985 NCAA Tournament with +3500 odds to win it all. The Wildcats had the 20th longest pre-tournament odds in 1985, while UConn had the 27th longest pre-tournament odds in 2014.

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