Year in and year out there are teams that enter the NCAA Tournament that no college basketball fan thinks can win it all. But after the brackets are announced, the records disappear. It is a clean slate for everyone. All teams have zero wins. Along with the beautiful month of March that rolls around every year, with that comes new Cinderella stories.
Wichita State in 2013, VCU and Butler in 2011, and who can forget George Mason in 2006. These are some of the Cinderella stories to make it all the way to the Final Four, but even making it to the Sweet Sixteen is a big accomplishment if you are the underdog. This year in college basketball, there is very little gap between the top and the bottom of the field, so this tournament could see the most upsets and the most Cinderella stories in it’s history.
Here are some of the schools that could make some noise:
This team was overlooked all year because of Monmouth rolling through the the regular season conference schedule, but in reality, they are a legitimate threat. They own two wins over Monmouth and pretty much everyone on the team can score. Led by AJ English at 22 points per game, Iona won the MAAC Tournament. Plus, they got a good draw in an Iowa State team that only plays six men since Naz Long went down with a season ending injury earlier this year.
The Zags feed off of being in the NCAA Tournament. Eighteen consecutive years of being in the tournament and this year they are coming in hot. They won five in a row to end the regular season, including three straight wins in the West Coast Conference Tournament. St. Mary’s controlled this conference for most of the year, but the Bulldogs ran through the tournament beating 3-seed BYU and 1-seed St. Mary’s.
Where would this school be without Tubby Smith? Everywhere he goes, he wins. The Red Raiders went 9-9 in regular season conference play against some of the nation’s elite in the Big 12. Tubby has led the boys from Lubbock to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his era, and for the second time in ten years. In my opinion, I think that the Red Raiders have one of the best coaches in the nation, and he can lead this team far. In his career, he has taken Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, and now Texas Tech to the Big Dance. If Tubby is all in, watch out for this team.
In recent years, the Flyers have been a handful in this tournament. Two years ago they made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen, upsetting Ohio State and Syracuse on their journey. In a preseason tournament this year, they took down Iowa and Monmouth. They also beat NCAA Tournament teams, Vanderbilt and VCU. The A-10 was no joke this year with three teams in total getting in, and Dayton tied for the regular season title.
The Pirates are coming into the Big Dance as hot as anyone in the nation, winning eight of nine, including the Big East Tournament. They defeated three, top five teams this year and four more ranked in the Top 25. Seton Hall is led by 6-4 guard Isaiah Whitehead, who is a handful for any opponent. He is averaging 18.5 points and 5 assists per game, and proved to be one of the best players in the Big East. There may not be a single player in the nation who is more important to their team than Whitehead.
If you are lucky enough to be selected into the NCAA Tournament field, your team better not get matched up against UNI. The Panthers were tournament darlings in 2010, when they upset #1 overall seed Kansas in the round of 32. This year’s team has won 12 of 13 games, including an MVC Tournament championship. They also own two of the more impressive wins all year by mid-major schools. In November, the Panthers knocked off then #1 ranked North Carolina and followed that up by defeating #5 Iowa State in December. Head coach Ben Jacobson is led by springy 6-1 point guard, Wes Washpun, who has as much heart as anyone in the country. The Panthers will go as far as Washpun takes them.
Everyone loves a Cinderella story, and this year’s NCAA Tournament should be chocked-full of them. The top of the field is not that far ahead of these teams listed above. A lot of these aforementioned teams have proven they can beat elite teams in the regular season. There is no reason to believe that the NCAA Tournament will be any different.