We’re one day removed from Selection Sunday and the full 68-team field for the 2023 NCAA Tournament has been set. As you’re mulling over your bracket, you may be pondering which mid-major program could be the Cinderella of this year’s tournament. We saw 15-seed Saint Peter’s shock the world and streak all the way to the Elite Eight on year ago and there’s an opportunity for someone to replicate that in this year’s tourney.
Below, we’ll go over which potential Cinderella you should take stock in and which ones to you should steer clear.
Cinderella teams to buy
No. 12 Oral Roberts
If you remember, the Golden Eagles stunned Ohio State in a rare 15 over 2 upset in 2021 and eventually made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Max Abmas was the leader of that team and is still carving opposing defenses up, averaging 22.2 points heading into the tournament. The high tempo offense of Oral Roberts is one of the best units in the nation and its is carrying a nation-leading 17-game win streak into the big dance.
They get No. 5 Duke in the first round of the East Region and while the Blue Devils are riding high off an ACC Tournament title, there’s always the chance that their young squad could fold in the face of the Golden Eagles’ experience. If Oral Roberts is able to clear that hurdle right out the gate, watch out.
No. 13 Furman
Furman is in the big dance for the first time since 1980 and punched its ticket by winning the SoCon Tournament Championship last week. Led by SoCon Player of the Year Jalen Slawson, the Paladins operated a quick tempo offense that leads the nation in two-point shooting percentage at 59.1%. Defensively, they were average, but still forced opponents to take their time to find adequate shots.
That combination is what makes them a trendy pick to take down No. 4 Virginia in the first round of the South Region. We’ve become accustomed to the glacial pace that Tony Bennett Cavalier teams operate at over the years but if Slawson and company can establish a little bit of offensive momentum in this one, they’ll be ripe for the upset. Afterwards, they would be matched up with a pair of fellow mid-majors in either San Diego State or Charleston in the second round, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see Furman playing into the second weekend.
Cinderella teams to sell
No. 9 Florida Atlantic
FAU has been a mid-major darling all season long and dominated Conference USA. The trio of Alijah Martin, Johnell Davis, and Vladislav Goldin led an Owls squad that ranked in the top 30 nationally in both NET and KenPom metrics, making them one of the early Cinderella candidate for the big dance this year.
The problem here is that they drew the nine-seed in the East Region and will immediately be matched up against No. 8 Memphis in the first round. The AAC Tournament champions match up well with their future conference mates and will have the best player on the floor in senior guard Kendric Davis. Even if FAU clears that hurdle, it will immediately run into No. 1 Purdue in the second round and taking down Zach Edey and the Boilermakers is a lot to ask. Don’t buy too much into the Owls hype because of their tough draw.
No. 14 Iona
By all intents and purposes, this will be the swan song for Iona head coach Rick Pitino, who has been heavily linked to the St. John’s opening in recent days. The legendary head coach led the Gaels to another MAAC Tournament title over the weekend and has MAAC Player of the Year Walter Clayton Jr. leading the charge.
However, they will be matched up in the West Region against a No. 3 UConn team that is considered a sleeper pick for the Final Four. The Huskies statistically outclass the Gaels on both sides of the floor, have more experience, and have the size advantage in this first-round matchup. Those banking on Pitino to take down an old Big East rival should think twice. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to do that in Queens over the next few years.