"And Howard HITS the free throws to send Pittsburgh home! Eight seed Butler moves on to the final four!"
Every year you pick four teams that you think will end up in the Final Four and every year Cinderella comes in and screws up your entire bracket. Heck, last year we had two Cinderela's when Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens led VCU and Butler to the final four. It's not a matter of if a low-seeded team will make a deep run, it's a matter of which low-seeded team will make a deep run.
This year the field is as deep as ever and many of the teams seeded six through twelve could be scary matchups for the teams seeded one through five.
Without farther ado, let's take a look at which team is the most likely to be this year's Cinderella: the 10th seeded University of Virginia Cavaliers out of the West region.
Year after year, in every sport imaginable, we hear the phrase, "defense wins championships." Well, Virginia has defense.
In fact, Virginia has the best defense in the nation.
Virginia allows just 53.7 points per game—second in Division I basketball—and has the nation's most efficient defense.
This team does, however, have a kryptonite: their biggest flaw is their depth.
Only four players on Virginia's roster have played in all thirty-one of their games and over a third of their roster for about half of the season. This lack of depth has been costly in late game situations in which Virginia was dealing with foul-trouble or fatigue.
Fortunately for Virginia, their (most likely) first two match-ups in the tournament lack depth as well; so much so that it could be argued that Virginia has even more depth than those teams—Florida (round one) and Missouri (possible round two).
Florida has just one non-starter who has played in all of their games and who plays more than fifteen minutes per game. Depth has been a huge issue for Florida as well and because of that, Virginia will be operating under preferential conditions.
The possible second round matchup with one of the best teams in the nation, Missouri, is the interesting one.
While scoring 80.2 points per game, Missouri boasts one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. Their biggest weaknesses are rebounding (274th in the nation) and defensive efficiency (124th in the nation), but when you shoot 50.4 percent from the field, does it really matter?
The answer is complicated.
So far this year it has not mattered. Missouri is 30-4 with wins against Kansas and Baylor.
However, when they have played physical teams that hit the boards and rebound well, they have done poorly. For example, Missouri was beat twice by Kansas State—a middle-of-the-road Big Twelve team who doesn't do anything exceptionally well besides playing physical.
Missouri will have to measure up to Virginia, Kansas State's older bigger, and meaner twin brother.
While there are great arguments for both teams, there are a few things in particular that stand out.
For one, Missouri head coach Frank Haith has zero experience in the tournament.
Haith has made it to the round of sixty-four just once in his career—with the Miami Hurricanes—in which he lost in the second round. Haith has done a remarkable job at both Miami and Missouri in the regular seasons, but he has not proven that he can coach a team to success in the post-season. That could be a major factor.
Another major factor deciding whether or not Missouri can hang on to a win over Virginia will be Missouri's depth. With just seven scholarship players, Missouri has had to play six players for over 25 minutes per game and another one for 16 minutes per game. The remaining four players on the roster see the court for less than 10 minutes per game.
One last and very important factor in the outcome of the game will be rebounding. There is little doubt that Virginia's defense will be able to hold Missouri to a lower shooting percentage their season average, 50.4 percent, the only question is: who will get the rebounds when they miss?
Missouri's rebounding is atrocious. With Ricardo Ratliffe (6'8) and Steven Moore (6'9) being Missouri's only rebounding threats, Missouri has been one of the worst rebounding two seeds in history. They rank just 274th in the nation in rebounding while Virginia ranks 51st. Virginia is by no means an amazing team on the boards, but they'll surely pound the glass in this match-up.
Missouri could dismantle about 60 of the 64 teams in this tournament; unfortunately for them, Virginia is not one of them.
Virginia's confidence stemming from this huge win over Missouri will carry over to their game against the winner of Marquette and Murray State.
So this year when you're filling out your Final Four, make sure to look at all the matchups. And don't be surprised if you see the 10 seeded Virginia Cavaliers pulling off a "Butler."