NCAA Tournament 2013: Cinderella Rankings for March Madness Hopefuls at Week 14

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 6, 2013

NCAA Tournament 2013: Cinderella Rankings for March Madness Hopefuls at Week 14

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    In just a few weeks, a thousand experts will come to a million different conclusions on who is most likely to become this year's VCU and why. With a little over a month left to be played, here's how those potential Cinderellas rank.

    The criteria used to determine the Cinderella candidates:

    1) Cannot be from a power conference or the Atlantic-10.

    2) Cannot have been ranked at any point this season.

    3) Cannot have won a tournament game in the past five seasons.

    4) Must be no better than a No. 10 seed in my latest projected bracket. (This excludes No. 7 Belmont and No. 7 Colorado State from Cinderella potential.)

    You'd be surprised how many teams that didn't eliminate from contention, but it does get us down to a list of real sleepers. No Gonzagas or Butlers on this list; the team coming in at No. 10 should make that abundantly clear.

No. 10 Florida Gulf Coast

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    Last Tournament Appearance: Never.

    Last Tournament Win: Never.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: vs. Miami.

    Current Seed: No. 15.

    The Eagles get an honorable mention for scoring easily the biggest win of any team on the list, but they’re only 8-3 in their last 11 games against teams with an RPI of 200-plus. I highly doubt they can pull another miracle upset over a team in the RPI Top 25.

No. 9 Louisiana Tech

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    Last Tournament Appearance: 1991.

    Last Tournament Win: 1989.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: vs. Southern Miss, vs. New Mexico State.

    Current Seed: No. 13.

    Louisiana Tech is 10-0 in WAC play, but, with the exception of Boise State, this is the team on the list that I’m least confident will actually win its conference tournament. Denver, New Mexico State and Utah State will all be legitimate threats to the Bulldogs’ automatic bid.

    If they can run their record to 30-3 before a loss in the conference championship, I suppose an at-large bid would at least be possible, but it’s unlikely. That’s one of my justifications for having them this low, despite their respectable RPI (47).

    They shoot three-pointers at a rate that puts them tied for 18th in the nation in that category. Unfortunately, they only make 31 percent of them, which is good for 270th in the nation; in their three losses they’ve only made 26 percent of their long-range shots.

    Even the best shooting teams are susceptible to poor percentages on the big stage. How much more will it affect the teams that can hardly shoot in a familiar environment?

No. 8 Valparaiso

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    Last Tournament Appearance: 2004.

    Last Tournament Win: 1998.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: at Detroit.

    Current Seed: No. 14.

    The Crusaders are a No. 14 seed in my latest bracket, so while they probably have more talent than most of the teams ahead of them, the fact of the matter is they’ll likely end up with the most difficult draw of the bunch. If they can get up to a No. 13, I’ll like them a lot more.

    Valparaiso has two foreign senior forwards who could cause matchup nightmares. Hailing from Australia, Ryan Broekhoff leads the Horizon in rebounding and trails only Ray McCollum in scoring. He is shooting 48 percent from the field, 44 percent from long-range and 90 percent from the charity stripe.

    Alongside Broekhoff, the Crusaders have Netherlands’ version of Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Van Wijk. Over the past two seasons, Van Wijk is shooting 62 percent from the field and averaging better than five rebounds per game.

No. 7 Harvard

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    Last Tournament Appearance: 2012.

    Last Tournament Win: Never.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: at California.

    Current Seed: No. 14.

    The Crimson played an admirably difficult non-conference schedule, with six road games against the RPI Top 100. However, by the time the tournament begins it will have been two months since they played anyone in the RPI Top 200 aside from Princeton.

    Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers have been a great one-two punch as backcourt underclassmen, but I’m concerned they’ll have the same issue as last season and will come out flat in the first half of their first challenging game in several moons.

No. 6 Stephen F Austin

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    Last Tournament Appearance: 2009.

    Last Tournament Win: Never.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: at Oklahoma.

    Current Seed: No. 14.

    Back in 2009 when the Lumberjacks were putting together a 24-7 record, I was their most annoying supporter, trolling message boards and begging for them to be included in the bubble discussion.

    They got the auto bid anyway, went on to lose by double digits to Syracuse and subsequently disappeared from relevance for three full years before pulling off an upset of Oklahoma earlier this season.

    By no means am I putting them in the bubble discussion (an 18-2 record is nice; a 341 SOS is not), but if they drew the right opponent (they’d be a matchup nightmare for New Mexico), they could conceivably make a run to the Sweet 16.

    The strength of schedule helps, but they have held 50 percent of their opponents under 50 points this season. As a team, they have averaged 1.25 assists per turnover, good enough for the top 10 percent in the nation. And Taylor Smith is a force to be reckoned with in the lane, with 15.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game.

No. 5 Boise State

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    Last Tournament Appearance: 2008.

    Last Tournament Win: Never.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: at Creighton, vs. UNLV, at Wyoming.

    Current Seed: First Team Out.

    In the past month alone, Boise State has gone from everyone’s favorite sleeper team to completely off the bubble and back again. The Broncos probably have the most cohesive, talented team on this list, but the fact that they aren’t even in my latest projected bracket keeps them from being any higher up. 

    If they do make the tournament, be prepared to watch a team that shoots a lot of threes and commits a ton of fouls. Over the course of their past six games, they’re averaging 18.7 three-point attempts per game and have had at least one person foul out in five of those six contests.

    Derrick Marks is their X-Factor. He loves to drive to the bucket and will make you pay for fouling him (87 percent free-throw shooter), or will make you pay for not guarding him closely enough (46 percent three-point shooter.) The stat-stuffer leads the teams in points, assists and steals, and if he decides to score 30 points, good luck stopping him.

No. 4 Southern Miss

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    Last Tournament Appearance: 2012.

    Last Tournament Win:  Never.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: None.

    Current Seed: No. 11.

    Eventually the Golden Eagles will have to put some names on that RPI Top 100 Wins list, unless they want to play Cinderella in the NIT.

    Here’s the good: They are a well-balanced, ball-hawking team. With eight guys averaging better than one steal per game, only VCU forces more steals. They’re ninth in the nation in field-goal percentage at 49.2 and are shooting 40 percent from three-point range as a team.

    And the bad: Those statistics are inflated by destroying Non-D1 opponents William Carey and Dillard. In their four losses, they’re shooting 36 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc. They’re 0-4 against the RPI Top 100 and 18-0 against everyone else.

    They’ll need to prove they can compete with the best teams before they’re a true Cinderella.

No. 3 Akron

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    Last Tournament Appearance: 2011.

    Last Tournament Win: Never.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: vs. Middle Tennessee, vs. Ohio, vs. Western Michigan.

    Current Seed: No. 13.

    The Zips lost their season-opener to Coastal Carolina, which has been hurting their computer profile ever since. Still, they’re up to 53 in RPI, have won 13 straight games and should probably have a win over Oklahoma State on their resume if not for some tough luck in the final seconds of both regulation and overtime.

    Senior Zeke Marshall is fifth in the nation in blocks per game and leads the country in field-goal percentage at 70.9. They’ve forced the offense to run through him a bit more in their past six games, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever demand the defensive attention of an elite big man.

    If the perimeter scoring can step up when it matters—32 percent from beyond the arc in their four losses—Akron could be a real threat to the No. 4/5 seed it’s paired against.

No. 2 Bucknell

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    Last Tournament Appearance: 2011.

    Last Tournament Win: 2006.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: vs. La Salle, vs. New Mexico State.

    Current Seed: No. 13.

    It was only a month ago that Bucknell nearly knocked off Missouri on the road. Granted, Missouri’s stock has dropped considerably since then thanks to a trio of road losses, but at the time Mizzou was 12th in the nation and it put Bucknell on the Cinderella map.

    But then the Bison lost a lot of respect by dropping a game at home against a CJ McCollum-less Lehigh. Now they’re 0-2 against the RPI Top 200 in 2013 with only one such game left on their schedule (the rematch at Lehigh).

    As such, Mike Muscala and company are flying under the radar as a four-loss team with a poor computer profile. They have virtually no shot at an at-large because of their 183rd ranked SOS (which will only get worse), but if they win the Patriot Tourney, they’ll be a popular pick for the annual No. 12 over No. 5 upset, and rightly so.

No. 1 Middle Tennessee

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    Last Tournament Appearance: 1989.

    Last Tournament Win: 1989.

    RPI Top 100 Wins: vs. Ole Miss, at Central Florida.

    Current Seed: No. 12.

    If you haven’t yet had a chance to watch the Blue Raiders in action, do yourself a favor and find them on ESPN3 against Arkansas State on Thursday. In comparing them to a more well-known team, MTSU reminds me of a poor man’s version of what Oregon used to be (or significantly better than what Oregon has been since losing Dominic Artis).

    They don’t have one specific player they rely too heavily upon—though Marcos Knight sure does force a lot of shots—nor do they have one specific statistical category that they dominate. Nevertheless, they play exceptional team ball on both ends of the court and crash the offensive glass like their lives depend on it.

    Kermit Davis has his team prepared for a deep run in the tournament. And if the tournament plays out as insanely as the regular season has over the past few weeks, I could see them knocking off a No. 1 seed on the way to the Elite Eight.