Who Is This Year's Cinderella? Four Potential Candidates
The names of players like Bryce Drew and schools like George Mason and Davidson are synonymous with March Madness.
One magical run upsetting a few major powers along the way or one player hitting a clutch buzzer-beater and you're assured of becoming part of March history, images of your one shining moment leading off CBS games every March from now until the end of eternity.
With George Mason's Final Four run of 2006 and Davidson's Elite Eight run of 2008 fresh in all of our minds, who are this year's potential Cinderellas?
Here are four teams that have a shot to make some noise and potentially destroy your chances of winning your office pool.
All RPI numbers are from CollegeRPI.com and all efficiency numbers come from KenPom.com.
Siena Saints—Nine-Seed, Midwest Region
RPI—24, SOS—77, KenPom—65 overall (49th offense, 90th defense)
Key Games: vs. Tennessee (Neutral), 14-point loss; vs. Oklahoma State (Neutral), nine-point loss; at Pittsburgh, 13-point loss; at Kansas, seven-point loss
The Siena Saints, out of the MAAC Conference, have some familiarity with upsets in March. Just last season, they upset fourth-seeded Vanderbilt by 21 points in the first round before eventually losing to Villanova in round two.
Headed into this season, the Saints went out and challenged themselves with a difficult OOC schedule, and while they came up short, they kept things close against all four opponents.
Siena is dangerous, as they have NCAA Tournament experience and return all five starters and several bench players from last year's upset of Vanderbilt.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams—11-Seed, East Region
RPI—56, SOS—120, KenPom—55 overall (75th offense, 48th defense)
Key Games: vs. Oklahoma (Semi-Away), 11-point loss; at Nevada, one-point loss; vs. Vanderbilt (Neutral), five-point loss
The VCU Rams also have a recent March upset on their resume, defeating then-No. 6 seeded Duke in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. VCU then went on to put a scare into No. 3 Pittsburgh before losing in the Round of 32.
While the cast of characters have changed at VCU, they still have two key components from their 2007 team: star PG Eric Maynor and head coach Anthony Grant.
Maynor, the two-time reigning CAA Player of the Year, had a spectacular season, averaging 22.4 PPG and 6.2 APG.
Grant is seen as an up-and-coming star in the coaching ranks and was likely the favorite to take over at Florida two years ago if Billy Donovan left for the NBA.
While Maynor and Grant are the most recognizable names to college basketball fans, the Rams also have a big man worthy of recognition in Larry Sanders. The 6'10" sophomore center contributed 11.3 PPG 8.5 RPG, and 2.7 BPG for the Rams and gave them someone who protected the rim throughout their season.
Utah State Aggies—11-Seed, West Region
RPI—27, SOS—134, KenPom—56 (13th offense, 169th defense)
Key Games: vs. Utah, two-point win; vs. BYU (Neutral), five-point loss
The Utah State Aggies come into the tournament sporting a 30-4 record, and at one point this season ran off a 19-game winning streak.
As you can tell from their offensive rankings, Utah State is an extremely efficient team, as they led the nation in FG percentage, at 49.8. The Aggies also shot well from three on the season, at 39.8 percent.
The Aggies are led by WAC Player of the Year Gary Wilkinson, who averaged 17.1 PPG and 6.9 RPG, and stands in at 6'9", giving the Aggies some nice size in the middle.
While Utah State may have some defensive issues, their offense runs so efficiently that they are a potentially dangerous first-round opponent for Marquette.
North Dakota State Bison—14-Seed, West Region
RPI—94, SOS—300, KenPom—71 (32nd offense, 139th defense)
Key Games: at Minnesota, 14-point loss; at USC, four-point loss
The North Dakota State Bison made a big splash in their first year in Division I, making the NCAA Tournament as champions of the Summit League. Similar to Utah State, the Bison were a very efficient offense, ranking third in the country in FG percentage (48.9) and fifth in the country in three-point FG percentage (41.2).
The Bison are led by Summit League Player of the Year Ben Woodside, who averaged 22.8 PPG and 6.3 APG, while shooting 42.7 percent from three on the season.
Woodside also gained some national attention in December when he scored 60 points to go along with eight assists and eight rebounds in a triple-OT classic against fellow NCAA Tournament team Stephen F. Austin.
Will these Cinderellas wear the glass slipper or will they simply flame out, just another team that was one and done in March?
We'll all find out starting Thursday.
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