Every year, there will be a Cinderella team the country gravitates to, and the underdog story is the heartbeat of the NCAA Tournament. Through the years we’ve seen plenty of examples with George Mason, VCU, Florida Gulf Coast and most recently the Sister Jean-led Loyola-Chicago Ramblers advance to places hardly anybody predicted.
While it’s fun to learn about these teams and hear their stories, it’s incredibly difficult to identify who will be that team in a one-game scenario, which makes the NCAA Tournament so great. Below are a list of potential Cinderella teams we are buying and selling before the madness begins.
I’m all in on the 13th-seeded Liberty Flames to make the Sweet 16. There is so much to like about this team that makes them an incredibly tough out in the NCAA Tournament. The Flames play one of the slowest styles of basketball in the country, and can get a more talented team out of rhythm. They rank No. 5 in the country with the fewest amount of assists per game, allow the third fewest points per game, and shoot the sixth highest three-point percentage.
I’m less confident in this than I am with Liberty, but let’s go with the No. 12 seed Winthrop Eagles to create some havoc and get to the second weekend with their biggest strength with rebounding. They will get the Villanova Wildcats, which have been one of the most unlucky teams this season with injuries and illnesses. They will go into the tournament without one of their best players Collin Gillespie with an injury. Winthrop didn’t play a difficult schedule but established a winning culture, going 23-1 this season. They’re going to beat Villanova before a tough matchup with Purdue, but I’m buying this team.
This is strictly a case of the opponent and not with the actual Cinderella team, but let’s go with the No. 14 seed Eastern Washington Eagles to upset the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas had to pull out of the Big 12 Tournament due to COVID-19, and while David McCormack will be available for the first round, Jalen Wilson will not be. They’ll also be rusty without much practice time. Eastern Washington is worth a look.
No. 12 seed UC-Santa Barbara is a trendy pick to do some damage in this tournament, but they could be without sixth man Ajare Sanni who left the conference championship game with an ankle injury. He is a big part of the Gauchos success this season as the team’s third-leading scorer shooting nearly 40% from the three-point line. They’ll match up with the fifth-seeded Creighton Bluejays, who have their own issues, and maybe the Gauchos win that one, but anything more than that is a stretch.
Over to another No. 12 seed that isn’t worthy advancing in your bracket is the Georgetown Hoyas. They came into the Big East Tournament with a 9-12 overall record before going on a four-day run to win the conference title. It was a fun ride and Patrick Ewing is easy to root for, but the run stops in the first round against the No. 5 seed Colorado Buffaloes. They are solid on each end of the floor and do too many things right to not take care of the Hoyas in Round 1.
Much like Georgetown, it’s hard to get on the Oregon State Beavers bandwagon if there’s anyone aboard. Oregon State needed a Pac-12 title to get to the NCAA Tournament, and they got it as a 12 seed. They actually get a rather favorable matchup in the first round with the Tennessee Volunteers, who do not have a deep bench and struggle to score. Still, there’s no reason to trust Oregon State to do much of anything in this tournament. They don’t excel at one particular area aside from three-point shooting defense, but that won’t be enough for a tournament win.