VCU coach Shaka Smart signs autographs during a Final Four practice.
Every year, Cinderella teams surprise us. Just last year, eighth-seeded Butler and 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth shocked us all and advanced to the Final Four.
This year, tiny schools have picked up bids to the biggest basketball event on Earth: the NCAA Tournament. Detroit, UNC-Asheville, Murray State, Lehigh, Montana, Davidson, LIU-Brooklyn, Crieghton, Harvard, Loyala (MD), VCU (again), South Dakota State, Western Kentucky, St. Mary's, and Belmont have all locked up bids to the tourney.
All of those schools, and the 60 others that make the tourney, have one goal: to win the championship. Six games stand in each school's way, and while many have won six in a row over the course of the season, only one will win their last six games.
And then, there will be the sleepers.
Bubble teams (VCU, for example), teams that only made the tournament because of their auto bid, or lower-seeded teams could make a big splash. The No. 1 seed may miss out on the Sweet 16. A 12 or 13 seed might crack the Elite 8.
Sometimes, you may know what's coming. In March Madness, you truly never know.
Here are three teams that may surprise you in March.
Murray State standout Isaiah Canaan takes a shot during Murray State's win over Morehead State.
When you're ranked in the top 10 during championship week, it's usually a sign that you're going to make the tournament.
Unless you're Murray State.
The Racers have had to battle all season, and without a win over Tennessee State in the OVC Finals, the Racers likely would've been placed on the bubble, or they would've landed in the Dance as a 10th or 11th seed.
Instead, Jewaun Long's bucket gave Murray a 54-52 win, and the Racers sealed a tourney bid.
Now, the Racers need to prove what they can do against the best teams in the country. Murray already beat Southern Miss, St. Mary's, and Memphis, who are all likely headed for the tourney, and they beat Western Kentucky, who won the Sun Belt (with a losing record) and will be playing in March.
Isaiah Canaan, Ivan Aska, and some other Racers have tourney experience from 2009-10, where the Racers stunned Vanderbilt in the first round, before losing to runner-up Butler in round two.
This team wins close games, has a solid resume, and tournament experience. Don't be surprised to see the Racers standing in the field when only 16, 8, 4, 2, or 1 remain.
VCU players huddle together before their Final Four game against Butler.
Who doesn't love a Final Four game between two mid-major schools with no team seeded higher than eighth?
Last year, VCU was a bubble team no one thought deserved to make the tourney. So, the Rams went out, beat USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas, before losing to Butler in the Final Four.
This year, the Rams made the Dance by beating Drexel (still likely to make the Dance) in the CAA Finals. VCU also beat Western Kentucky and South Florida (bubble team, but unlikely to make the tourney).
Darius Theus, Bradford Burgess, Juvonte Reddic, and Rob Brandenberg return from last year's team. The Rams have a similar resume to that of last year's team, and when they play well, VCU can beat anyone.
Shaka Smart is a proven coach, and about half of last year's team (only a few are mentioned in the prior paragraph) return. Experience is key for VCU, and the players know how to use it to their advantage.
All it takes to take the title is six wins. VCU can certainly win six in a row.
Jorge Gutierrez fights for a basket in Cal's Pac-12 Tournament win over Stanford.
Yes, yes, I know. The Pac-12 is not one of the premier conferences this year.
However, I see something in the Golden Bears, a touch of Jorge Gutierrez, a pinch of Harper Kamp and a dab of Justin Cobbs, David Kravish, and Allen Crabbe.
Cal struggled during the end of the year, losing back to back games against Colorado and Stanford, but during the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals, the Bears bounced back, beating the same Stanford team 77-71.
Andrew Zimmermann scored 22 points for Stanford, and the Cardinal kept up surprisingly well with California. However, Jorge Gutierrez scored 19 in the second half (22 overall), and the Golden Bears, who made 21 of 27 second-half free throws, prevailed.
The competition has been turned up a notch, and Cal responded. Top-seeded Washington (who Cal beat) lost to lowly Oregon State, and longtime power UCLA failed to defeat Arizona. However, Cal has the talent to keep up with the competition.
Cal has beat good teams, and when they face weak competition, they blow the weak team out. Gutierrez, the 2011-12 Pac-12 Player of the Year, is ready to lead Cal far, along with capable shooters, passers and rebounders in Crabbe, Kamp, Kravish and Cobbs.
So don't be surprised if Cal makes a splash.