Identifying a sleeper is never easy, but every year a team knocks off a top seed early to jump-start a deep run in the tournament. Syracuse was the team a year ago, riding Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and future NBA pick Malachi Richardson to shake off a late season losing streak and make it to the Final Four as a 10-seed.
Not every sleeper has a Hall of Fame coach and NBA talent, of course, but usually identifying these sleepers requires some combination of disappointing regular season performances (resulting in a low seed) and talent capable of getting hot and standing toe-to-toe with the best in basketball.
At the mid-season point, here are four teams to keep in mind as potential sleepers for March.
Current Jerry Palm projection: No. 6 seed
A 16-point loss at Gonzaga on Jan. 14 showed an apparent separation between the two West Coast Conference rivals that could keep the Gaels from piling up enough quality wins to earn a high seed. Beating Gonzaga on Feb. 11 or in the conference tournament could change that, but right now Randy Bennett's team is set to be a thorn in the side of a 2-seed or 3-seed in the second round. They play slow (No. 350 in adjusted tempo), are ridiculously efficient on offense (No. 6 in effective FG percentage) and have one of the top big men in the country in 6-foot-11 junior Jock Landale.
Current Jerry Palm projection: No. 8 seed
Riding a streak of four straight NCAA appearances, the ingredients for a memorable mid-major run are in place. The senior core of Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis and Kendall Pollard will be making their final run after last season's Atlantic 10 title. Archie Miller has done it already, orchestrating an Elite Eight run for the Flyers in 2014, and can be counted on to do it again with one of the winningest senior classes in program history.
Current Jerry Palm projection: No. 11 seed
Dennis Smith Jr. is too damn good to ignore the potential of him getting hot and becoming the next March Madness superstar. The fact that Mark Gottfried went on a sleeper tear the last time the Pack were in the tournament (2015 with Trevor Lacy and Cat Barber, knocking off Villanova) makes it even easier to imagine a similar run if they can make the field of 68. Terry Henderson or Abdul-Malik Abu might be the X-factors, but Smith is the star you want to bet on.