March Madness has always been made for Cinderella teams. The anybody-can-win mentality is one of the major draws of the tourney. In the past, a Cinderella team usually meant winning one round, maybe making it to the Sweet 16.
A few years ago Gonzaga started a trend by breaking past the Sweet 16; since then teams like VCU, Butler and George Mason have continued the trend and even broken down the door to the Final Four. The smaller schools are showing that they can dance with the big boys and have barged their way into the Final Four.
Which lower-seeded teams have a chance to make some noise this year? Some may only be up for one upset, others may be around for awhile.
Belmont is one of those little conference teams that people tend to ignore. Their strength of schedule is not impressive, but that took a hit once conference play started.
This is a high-scoring team which ranks fourth in the nation. They have four players that average double figures and a fifth that just missed. They also have three players who shoot over 40 percent beyond the three-point line.
They are a veteran team that has valuable NCAA tourney experience. Earlier this year they lost a heartbreaker to Duke by one point. This is not a team that will shrink under the pressure.
Their first game will be against a very beatable Georgetown team. While Georgetown is a good defensive team, they have not played any team as offensively minded as the Bruins.
Belmont may have a chance to reach the Sweet 16 as their next game will likely be against another upset-minded team, NC State.
NC State is getting hot at the right time. The Wolfpack enter the tourney on a 4-1 run. The only loss was a two-point loss—which some will argue came on a couple of interesting non-calls—to top-seeded North Carolina in the ACC Tournament final.
Sophomore CJ Leslie has gotten stronger as the season has gone on and is a big reason for their late-season resurgence. Over the past 10 games, he has averaged 17.9 points and 10.2 rebounds. He does not carry the load alone, as five players average double figures in scoring.
Their opponent will be San Diego State University (SDSU). After starting 20-3, SDSU was gaining national attention, and many wondered if the Aztecs could be this year’s Butler. A three-game losing streak lost some of the push they were having. They rebounded to finish on a 6-1 run with a 27-6 overall record.
While they returned to their winning ways, they looked very tired in the Mountain West Tournament. They struggled to get by TCU and Boise State, neither of which are very good this season. Soft wins against mediocre teams is not very encouraging at this time of year.
As already mention, the prediction here is that NC State will be facing fellow Cinderella hopeful Belmont for a chance at reaching the Sweet 16.
West Virginia has had an up-and-down season. The Mountaineers have the same amount of top 50 wins as their opponent Gonzaga does with four.
The biggest benefit for the Mountaineers is that they will be playing so close to home. Playing less than 100 miles away should make it close to a home-court advantage, especially compared to Gonzaga, who will be making the long cross-county trip from Washington.
West Virginia is led by Darryl Bryant, Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones. Jones led the Big East in scoring and rebounding this season with 20.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
Gonzaga is a good team, but the Mountaineers play such a physical, tough brand of basketball they should get by Gonzaga.
That would set up a round of 32 matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Mountaineers' style is exactly what the Buckeyes have trouble with. West Virginia looks poised for a Sweet 16 run.
The infamous 4/13 matchup has a history of upsets. This year Long Beach State looks to be the upset darling as they square off against New Mexico.
Long Beach State played the ninth-toughest non-conference schedule this year. The 49ers beat Pittsburgh and Xavier while playing impressively close games against both Kansas and North Carolina.
They get scoring from several players. Although they did not seem to miss Larry Anderson in the Big West tournament, they will need him to return for this game. He sat out with a strained knee but is expected to return.
They will play against New Mexico, which is known for solid defense. Long Beach, though, has good enough guard play to neutralize the Lobos, and the 49ers will have a shot at the Sweet 16 as well.
The other 4/13 game to watch will be former Cinderella, Davidson.
This is a dangerous team with five players who average double-digit points. Each of them has had a 20-point game this season and can be leaned on to lead the team if needed. If one gets shut down in a game, the rest can easily pick up the slack. Davidson is the 12th-ranked offense in the nation and 19th in rebounding.
The Wildcats beat Kansas earlier this year and were up on Duke in the second half of their game. This is not a team that will be intimidated. Its defense is better than it looks.
The Wildcats had 15 double-digit wins in their conference, meaning their bench players were getting a lot of time late in games and many meaningless late baskets were scored.
They will play Louisville from the Big East Conference. The Big East has gained a reputation over the past several seasons for sending many teams to the tourney, only to be bounced very early.
Louisville was the surprise winner of the Big East tournament. The Cards are a very good rebounding team but do not really excel at much else. Louisville is on the watch list to be another Big East early exit.
This would set up a round of 32 game against fellow Cinderella Long Beach State. Davidson makes another Sweet 16 run.
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