NCAA Tournament 2013: Cinderella Rankings for March Madness Hopefuls at Week 15

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 15, 2013

NCAA Tournament 2013: Cinderella Rankings for March Madness Hopefuls at Week 15

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    Few things more embody the spirit of March Madness than trying to find this year's Cinderella.

    To make sure we’re looking for her in the right place, here are the four criteria used to identify the Cinderella candidates, and a potential team eliminated by each one.

    1) Cannot be from a BCS conference or the Atlantic-10. Sorry, Saint Louis.

    2) Cannot have been ranked in the AP Top 25 at any point this season. Sorry, Wyoming.

    3) Cannot have won a tournament game in the past five seasons. Sorry, Saint Mary’s.

    4) Cannot be better than a No. 10 seed in the latest projected bracket. Sorry, Colorado State.

    After applying those precedents and weeding out the teams that don’t belong, 15 teams remain which could potentially fit into that glass slipper. Let’s first take a look at those who missed the top 10, then build up to the best looking Cinderella this week.

Honorable Mentions

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    North Dakota State

    The Bison have lost by double-digits in three of their four games against the RPI Top 100, and it’s unlikely that they would secure the Summit auto-bid ahead of Western Illinois and South Dakota State.


    Air Force

    The Falcons are a long-shot to make the tournament, and are 1-7 away from home against the RPI Top 200 this season.



    If the Titans get in, they could be dangerous (wins over Akron and Canisius, close losses to Syracuse, St. John’s and Valparaiso). However, the Horizon appears to be Valparaiso’s to lose, and Detroit won’t be worthy of an at-large bid.



    Harvard was No. 7 in these rankings last week before losing to Columbia (RPI 228) by 15 points.


    Stony Brook

    The representative from the America East has received a No. 15 or No. 16 seed in each of the past five NCAA tournaments. The Sea Wolves haven’t defeated an RPI Top 100 team this season, let alone one of the 10 best teams.

No. 10: Stephen F. Austin

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    Last Tournament Win: Never

    RPI Top 100 Wins: Oklahoma

    Previous Cinderella Rank: No. 6

    Current Projected Seed: No. 14

    Coming into play on Thursday, three teams in the nation have suffered fewer than three losses.

    Can you name them?

    Duke is 22-2 and unanimously a No. 1 seed in projected brackets. Gonzaga is 23-2 and either a No. 2 seed or No. 3 seed depending on who you ask. The last team is Stephen F Austin with a record of 20-2 and absolutely no chance at an at-large bid if it doesn’t win the Southland conference tournament.

    The Lumberjacks have had one of the 20 weakest schedules this season, and are just 1-2 in their three opportunities against the RPI Top 100. They have some nice team statistics (50 percent of opponents held under 50 points, 1.27 assists per turnover and 4.14 blocks per game), but those numbers come with that SOS grain of salt.

No. 9: Louisiana Tech

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    Last Tournament Win: 1989

    RPI Top 100 Wins: Southern Miss, New Mexico State

    Previous Cinderella Rank: No. 9

    Current Projected Seed: No. 12

    Despite a 13-game winning streak that has them in sole possession of first place in the WAC, the Bulldogs have the worst shooting percentage of any team currently projected for the field of 68. At 40.6 percent, they’re a full 10 percent behind the nation’s leaders (Creighton and Gonzaga both shoot 50.7 percent).

    They’ve been able to win their games behind a better-than-average defense (allowing 62.7 PPG) and a lot of three-point shooting (23 attempts per game) against a poor-scoring conference (only Texas State and Louisiana Tech average better than 70 PPG).

    The minimal loss total is largely due to not having played against a power conference team since the season-opening loss to Texas A&M, but shooting 40 percent won’t cut it against the No. 4/5 seed they would face in their first game.

No. 8: Valparaiso

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    Last Tournament Win: 1998

    RPI Top 100 Wins: Detroit, Murray State

    Previous Cinderella Rank: No. 8

    Current Projected Seed: No. 14

    Little has changed for the Crusaders since the last update, picking up a pair of road wins behind the senior leadership of Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk. Their success in the NCAA Tournament will depend heavily upon the strength of the interior defense of the team(s) they draw.

    In each of Valparaiso’s six losses, either Broekhoff or Van Wijk has failed to score more than 10 points.

    With the exception of LaVonte Doritywho isn’t even averaging three made field goals per gameno one else on the team has shown a willingness to step up to the plate when one or both of the bigs isn’t producing.

    Drawing a team like Georgetown or Arizona in the first round would be a nightmare for Valparaiso.

No. 7: Indiana State

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    Last Tournament Win: 2001

    RPI Top 100 Wins: Miami, Wichita State, Creighton, Ole Miss, Northern Iowa (x2)

    Previous Cinderella Rank: Not Ranked

    Current Projected Seed: No. 13

    Indiana State has to be the most unpredictable team in the country.

    In the span of 14 days, the Sycamores lost road games to Drake (11-14) and Missouri State (8-18), needed a last-minute comeback to win at home against Southern Illinois (10-15), and beat Creighton (20-6) and Wichita State (21-5) by a combined total of 32 points.

    When they want to win, they’re capable of shutting down their opponent’s best player. In their three best wins of the season, they held Doug McDermott (eight points), Carl Hall (two points) and Durand Scott (12 points) to 27.3 points under their collective season average.

    They have a neutral-court win over the No. 2 team in the RPI rankings (Miami), an overtime loss against the No. 3 team (New Mexico) and four losses against the RPI Sub 150. Can anyone make sense of this team?

    If Indiana State finds a way into the tournament, which Indiana State will show up?

No. 6: Boise State

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    Last Tournament Win: Never

    RPI Top 100 Wins: Creighton, UNLV, Wyoming (x2)

    Previous Cinderella Rank: No. 5

    Current Projected Seed: No. 12

    What’s left that hasn't already been said about the definitive bubble team of 2013?

    Led by Anthony Drmic (40 percent), Jeff Elorriaga (46 percent) and Derrick Marks (50 percent), the Broncos are the 12th most accurate three-point shooting team in the nation.

    As Indiana (42.7 percent), Duke (40.8 percent) and Michigan (40.3 percent) have demonstrated all season, when you have three three-point shooting threats on the court at all times, it stretches defenses and opens up the rest of the offensive game.

    However, shooting is just one aspect of the game, and in order to make any sort of run in the NCAA Tournament, the Broncos will need to pick up the defensive intensity. In nine conference games, they’ve allowed their opponents to score 71.8 PPG.

No. 5: South Dakota State

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    Last Tournament Win: Never

    RPI Top 100 Wins: New Mexico, North Dakota State

    Previous Cinderella Rank: Not Ranked

    Current Projected Seed: No. 13

    Once every half decade or so, the college basketball gods give us a player on a mid-major team that can single-handedly keep his team in any game until the bitter end. In the early 2000s, it was Adam Morrison. In 2008, it was Stephen Curry.

    In 2013, it’s Nate Wolters.

    C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), Ray McCallum (Detroit) and Isaiah Canaan (Murray State) were early-season candidates for the honor, but an injury for McCollum and disappointing seasons for Detroit and Murray State have defaulted it to the 6’4” Jackrabbit.

    Scoring 53 points in a game last week may also have something to do with it.

    If you want impressive team stats to help make your decision, South Dakota State is eighth in the nation in assist/turnover ratio, 10th in free-throw shooting and 32nd in three-point percentage. Let’s be honest, though: this team goes as far as Nate Wolters can carry them.

No. 4: Bucknell

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    Last Tournament Win: 2006

    RPI Top 100 Wins: La Salle, New Mexico State

    Previous Cinderella Rank: No. 2

    Current Projected Seed: No. 13

    Though they certainly should’ve beaten Army (RPI 238) and Colgate (RPI 259) more comfortably than they did, it wasn’t anything the Bison did which caused them to drop two spots in these rankings.

    Another team which was ineligible last week leapfrogged them this week. And since Lehigh won’t go away without C.J. McCollum, Bucknell’s stock drops by comparison, as their odds of getting into the NCAA Tournament may well come down to a coin flip in the Patriot League Tournament.

    Assuming Bucknell does get in, though, Mike Muscala will be a massive headache for the coach who has the misfortune of game-planning against him. The 6’11” senior has averaged 19.0 PPG and 11.4 RPG while racking up 18 double-doubles. He’s also averaging 2.8 assists and 2.7 blocks per game.

    Just to give some context to those numbers, they’re 2.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.6 APG and 1.4 BPG better than Cody Zeller’s numbers for the year.

    You can’t stop him and you can’t even hope to contain him. Your best bet is to relentlessly attack him and hope he gets into foul trouble, which would still leave you the task of figuring out how to guard the other three guys averaging better than 10 PPG.

    Pick against Bucknell at your own risk.

No. 3: Belmont

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    Last Tournament Win: Never

    RPI Top 100 Wins: Middle Tennessee, Stanford, South Dakota State, Eastern Kentucky (x2)

    Previous Cinderella Rank: Not Qualified (projected seed too high)

    Current Projected Seed: No. 10

    Though they’re the best team on this list by virtually any conventional metric, it wouldn’t be right to make the Bruins the top Cinderella team since so much has already been written about themA true Cinderella story needs to be unexpected.

    That doesn’t take away from what they’ve done or make them any less dangerous in the Big Dance.

    However, recent losses to Murray State and Tennessee State do take away what was once a guaranteed trip to the NCAA Tournament. Had they run the OVC table in the regular-season and faltered in the conference tournament, they more than likely would’ve made it.

    That’s no longer the case. A loss in the OVC Tourney would now give them (at least) seven losses, which virtually never translates to an at-large bid for a team from a conference like the Ohio Valley.

    It would be foolish to assume they should win the OVC Tourney, because Eastern Kentucky, Murray State and Tennessee State will all present significant challenges.

    It would be a crime to not include Ian Clark (51.2 percent three-point shooter) in the NCAA Tournament, though. He’s earned his moment in the spotlight.

No. 2: Akron

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    Last Tournament Win: Never

    RPI Top 100 Wins: Middle Tennessee, Ohio

    Previous Cinderella Rank: No. 3

    Current Projected Seed: No. 13

    Time for an obligatory blind resume comparison!

    Team A: RPI 52, SOS 164, 20-4 overall, 3-3 vs. RPI Top 120.

    Team B: RPI 30, SOS 116, 22-4 overall, 3-3 vs. RPI Top 120.

    Team C: RPI 47, SOS 179, 21-4 overall, 4-3 vs. RPI Top 120.

    Team A is Akron and Team B is coming up on the next slide, but neither A nor B has been given much consideration in the at-large discussion. Team C is Saint Mary’s, generally regarded as a No. 11 or No. 12 seed prior to Thursday night’s game against Gonzaga.

    This isn’t meant to drag Saint Mary’s down, but rather to uplift the perception of a few mid-majors.

    Behind the senior leadership of Zeke Marshall (12.5 PPG, 68.6 FG%, 6.7 RPG, 3.5 BPG), Akron has rattled off a 16-game winning streak, and seems poised to pull off an upset or two in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 1: Middle Tennessee

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    Last Tournament Win: 1989

    RPI Top 100 Wins: Ole Miss, Central Florida

    Previous Cinderella Rank: No. 1

    Current Projected Seed: No. 11

    Middle Tennessee was already the No. 1 team in last week’s rankings, and responded by beating the next best team in the Sun Belt conference (Arkansas State) by 13 points and completely embarrassing Troy in a 93-41 rout on Saturday.

    Twelve different players scored in the win over Troy – only one of which scored more than 11 points – reinforcing the argument that the Blue Raiders might be the most balanced team in the nation.

    Marcos Knight is the only Blue Raider averaging better than 9.1 PPG or more than 22.3 minutes per game. Yet, as a team, they’re outscoring their opponents by an average margin of 12.8 PPG.

    There will be considerably more popular upset picks when the brackets are released, but until we know the draws that these teams receive, Middle Tennessee is the smartest upset pick.