NCAA Tournament Bracket 2013: Projecting Best Cinderella Candidates

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIMarch 17, 2013

Selection Sunday is finally here for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Before that exciting show takes place and everyone prints out their brackets, it's worth looking into which teams are the best candidates to be Cinderellas in this version of March Madness.

As incredibly competitive and unpredictable as the season has been, the time is as right as ever for mid-majors to take center stage. A couple of these squads have made shocking deep runs in recent years, but are still being underrated as the Big Dance approaches.

Here is a breakdown of the best candidates to bust brackets and generate great, underdog storylines by matching up well with power conference foes.


Butler Bulldogs

Yes, Brad Stevens coached the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament final two years in a row, but Butler didn't even make it to the tournament last year.

In the Atlantic 10 conference, Top 25 teams Saint Louis and VCU are currently overshadowing the Bulldogs and will square off in the conference tournament final on Sunday. Butler lost to the Billikens in all three encounters this season, and got blown out 84-52 at VCU a couple of weeks ago.

All of those results are precisely what make the Bulldogs a perfect sleeper candidate. They may not be ranked, but their RPI ranking of No. 19 shows that Butler took on an ambitious schedule and play in a difficult conference.

Butler always plays strong defense, although it typically struggles to score. That's not as much the case this time around, as senior Rotnei Clarke pours in 41.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and takes an average of 8.5 per game.

When he's hot, the Bulldogs are tough to stop.

The unique skill set of forward Roosevelt Jones is also a matchup problem. He scores in double figures, but also leads the team in rebounds despite being just 6'4" and assists.

This still isn't a wonderfully efficient team offensively across the board. However, there are enough scorers on this team to keep opponents off balance.

Quality wins over Indiana, Gonzaga and Marquette give the Bulldogs a sparkling tourney resume. Even though it hasn't been as pretty lately, Butler will be a very tough out once again and could easily pull off a run to the Sweet 16.


Belmont Bruins

Just ahead of the Bulldogs with an RPI ranking of No. 18 are the Bruins, who boast one of the most explosive offenses in the country. 

They couldn't keep either game against marquee opponents VCU and Kansas within single digits, but that was early in the season—before this team really started to gel.

Ian Clark is simply one of the most prolific guards in college basketball, shooting a ridiculous 54.1 percent from the floor and 46.3 percent from beyond the arc in averaging 18 points per contest. Backcourt mate Kerron Johnson can also fill it up and leads the team in assists as well.

Johnson was clutch in the conference tournament final win over Murray State, sinking a three-pointer to force overtime and nailing a pull-up jumper in the extra frame to spur the Bruins to a 70-68 victory.

Junior sharpshooter J.J. Mann gives the Bruins a huge lift and spreads the floor with his length, and Trevor Noack can also stretch out to the three-point line.

Belmont makes roughly 8.5 three-pointers per game, and that can be such an equalizer no matter who the opposition is. In this win-or-go-home format, the Bruins have a senior-laden team filled with scorers.

As long as Belmont doesn't get too overwhelmed on the boards, the Ohio Valley Conference champions have a wonderful chance of making some magic happen as a likely double-digit seed.


Davidson Wildcats

Bob McKillop's bunch was put on the map after an Elite Eight run in 2008 sparked by current Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry. There is plenty of reason to believe that the Wildcats can get through the first few rounds once again this time around.

Although an Elite Eight may not be in the cards, an upset in the opener and possibly a trip to the Sweet 16 are distinct possibilities. Davidson has won 17 consecutive games, and dominated the Charleston Cougars in the Southern Conference championship game 74-55.

Many players from last year's squad are still around, and no doubt remember the close call in Round 2 against eventual Final Four team Louisville, whom the Wildcats lost to by only seven points.

Their RPI isn't all that impressive, but Davidson can't apologize for the opponents it has had to play. A 17-game winning streak is nothing to scoff at in college basketball, especially with how many upsets there have been this season.

From a scoring standpoint, the Wildcats go seven deep, but are led by two-time conference player of the year Jake Cohen.

Even with him confined to 19 minutes in the previous contest due to foul trouble, Davidson had three others step up and score in double figures. Junior forward De'Mon Brooks was most impressive, pouring in 24.

The starting five is composed of three seniors and two juniors. All the guards and Cohen are capable of filling it up from beyond the arc, too.

Few are even paying attention to the Wildcats right now, but based on their experience and recently impressive form, they are a prime candidate to shock the nation once again.


    Kansas Fires AD Sheahon Zenger

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    Kansas Fires AD Sheahon Zenger

    Staff Report

    Report: Jontay Porter Likely to Return to Mizzou

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    Report: Jontay Porter Likely to Return to Mizzou

    SEC Country
    via SEC Country

    Calipari Supports Legalizing Sports Gambling in Kentucky

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    Calipari Supports Legalizing Sports Gambling in Kentucky

    A Sea Of Blue
    via A Sea Of Blue

    Report: Knicks 'Have the Hots' for Young

    College Basketball logo
    College Basketball

    Report: Knicks 'Have the Hots' for Young

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report