Cinderella Teams to Watch in This Year's NCAA Tournament
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Every year we fall in love with a Cinderella team that was not supposed to accomplish anything in the NCAA tournament. They keep finding ways to win games and no one quite understands how it keeps happening.
Who will be this year's Cinderella team that will be talked about for years to come?
Cinderella teams are never forgotten and are the ones that made March Madness that much more exciting to watch. Schools like Gonzaga in 1999, George Mason in 2006, Butler in 2010 and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011, have all been apart of this exclusive club.
How can anyone forget Gus Johnson's "The slipper still fits" line when Gonzaga upset Florida to move onto the Elite Eight in 1999?
You can't write this stuff. It's unbelievable, and after the first weekend of the NCAA tournament fans of college basketball are pulling for some no name school trying to become the next Cinderella.
This year has been different with so much parity and upsets occurring but here are six teams that could surprise the nation when it's all said and done.
6. Montana Grizzlies
Montana senior guard Will Cherry. (US Presswire)
Not many people know exactly what this Montana team is all about. The Grizzlies went 25-6 overall this season and were 19-1 in Big Sky Conference play.
There were hopes of Montana pulling the upset off against fourth-seed Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year.
Unfortunately, the Grizzlies came out completely flat and shot just 38.3 percent from the field and left former player Art Steward to do all the work. Montana was embarrassed and ended up losing 73-49.
This time, things are going to be different when they take on No. 4 seed Syracuse on Thursday.
The Orange are coming off a difficult loss in the Big East Championship game. Louisville stormed back in the second half and ended up blowing them out 78-61. Could Syracuse be on upset alert and in a position to experience the 2005 nightmare?
Syracuse, of course, lost to No. 14 seed Vermont in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2005.
Senior forward Mathias Ward, who is the Grizzlies leading scorer, went out with a foot injury against Idaho State on Feb. 16 and needed surgery. Unfortunately, he is done for the season, but junior Kareem Jamar and senior guard Will Cherry have stepped up.
Jamar averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two Big Sky Conference tournament games. Cherry averaged 19.5 points per game as well, along with three assists per game.
The Grizzlies will need to be able to make shots from beyond the arc, because if they don't, points are going to be hard to come by if they have to score in the paint every possession.
Syracuse has a tough zone defense.
Expect the Grizzlies to hang around all game long, and if Cherry can make three-pointers down the stretch, Montana will have a legitimate chance of knocking off the Orange.
If Montana pulls off the upset, they will be in the hunt for a Sweet 16 birth against either UNLV or Cal.
5. Bucknell Bison
Bucknell senior center Mike Muscala against Purdue on Nov.9.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
There is a lot of hype surrounding Patriot League Champion Bucknell. The Bison seem to be a trendy No. 11 over No. 6 pick.
Bucknell, who is 28-5 this season, almost went in and knocked off Missouri on Jan.5, losing just 66-64. Not saying Missouri is the best team this season, but for them to go into that type of hostile environment and almost pull off the upset is impressive.
The Bison are led by 6'11"senior center Mike Muscala.
Muscala is averaging an impressive 19.0 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this season. In his past three games, he has recorded double-doubles.
Muscala is the main reason why Bucknell is a threat to upset Butler in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Expect Bucknell to give Butler a really close game and potentially pull off the upset. If there is a time for this team to do any damage in the tournament, it's this year, because Muscala and Johnson will graduate after this season.
If Bucknell were to win, they would advance to the third round for the first time since 2006.
The furthest this Bison team will make it this year is to the Sweet 16, though.
A win over Butler and a win over either Marquette or Davidson in the third round would be quite an accomplishment for this mid-major.
4. Belmont Bruins
Belmont players celebrate their Ohio Valley Conference title. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Belmont, champions of the Ohio Valley Conference, are back in the dance for the third year in a row.
The Bruins have had tough outings in their past two NCAA tournament matchups against Wisconsin and Georgetown.
This year is going to be different though.
They match up well against an Arizona team that has struggled down the final stretch of the season. Belmont is 4th in the nation with a field goal percentage of 49.4. They also are 15th in the nation in points per game with 77.2.
Basically, this Bruin team can shoot from just about anywhere on the floor and are solid from beyond the arc. Arizona has had trouble defending the three all season, so it could be what gets Belmont it's first NCAA tournament win in school history.
The Bruins are led by senior guard Ian Clark, who is averaging 18.1 points per game and shooting 46.3 percent from beyond the arc. Senior guard Kerron Johnson has played a role in the Bruins' success this season by averaging 13.7 points and 4.8 assists per game.
If Belmont does the unthinkable and knocks sixth-seed Arizona out of the tournament, they would have to face a tough New Mexico squad in the third round.
3. Oregon Ducks
Oregon senior forward E.J. Singler against UCLA Saturday night.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
One of the most asked questions after the brackets were released on Selection Sunday was how Oregon could possibly be a No. 12 seed?
The Ducks finished tied for second in the Pac-12 regular season standings and defeated UCLA for the second straight time this season in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship.
UCLA somehow managed to receive a six seed, even though, they lost to Oregon in both meetings and lost Jordan Adams for the rest of the season with a broken foot.
With all the controversy surrounding the Ducks' seeding, it presents an opportunity for Oregon to play a very talented Oklahoma State team in the second round of the NCAA tournament. It forces the Ducks to be focused right off the bat after coming off a big Pac-12 tournament title win.
If Oregon plays the way they did against Utah and UCLA this past week, specifically by dropping three-pointers, playing faster offensively and taking care of business on the boards, they are going to be tough to beat. If the Ducks come out flat, they will be out of the tournament in the blink of an eye.
The most important aspect to this Oregon team is their bench.
Junior guard Johnathan Loyd shot lights out against UCLA on Saturday, recording a season-high of 19 points. Senior forward Carlos Emory has emerged as one of the best players off the bench in the Pac-12, and has averaged 15.0 points in his last two games.
The Ducks are going to have their hands full against Oklahoma State and freshman sensation Marcus Smart, who is averaging 15.4 points per game this season.
You can't count out Dana Altman's "Fighting Ducks", though, they have a chance to be a Cinderella team if they can knock off the Cowboys.
If Oregon knocks off Oklahoma State, they would play their third round game against—most likely—Saint Louis for a trip to the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis.
2. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota sophomore guard Andre Hollins. (credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Tubby Smith's Minnesota Golden Gophers are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
Minnesota has a lot of talent, but they have been an inconsistent team for the most part this season.
The Golden Gophers are 3-7 in their last ten games, but two of those wins came against No. 20 Wisconsin and No. 1 Indiana.
The win against Indiana basically earned them a bid into the NCAA tournament.
Even though, they have struggled down the stretch in the toughest conference in college basketball this season, the play from sophomore guard Andre Hollins and junior guard Austin Hollins has been impressive. Andre Hollins has averaged 15.6 points in his last five games and Austin Hollins has averaged 14.0 points in his last two games.
Senior forward Trevor Mbakwe is also one of the main reasons why the Golden Gophers are dancing. Mbakwe was red hot against Indiana on Feb. 26, as he scored a season-high 21 points and recorded 12 rebounds.
He is a force to be reckoned with in the paint, and gives his opponents all they can handle on the boards.
What's fortunate for Minnesota when the seeds were announced on Sunday, is that they were paired up against UCLA.
UCLA is not necessarily deserving of a sixth-seed and will not have one of their top scorers in the lineup, Jordan Adams, because of a broken foot.
The Golden Gophers, as a No. 11 seed, are predicted as one of the favorites to score an upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament. If Minnesota drops UCLA, they will get Florida in the third round and give the Gators a run for their money.
If the Golden Gophers keep the game close against Florida, they will pull off yet another upset. The Gators have lost six of their seven games by six points or less.
Minnesota is a talented team and could very well make the Sweet 16.
1. Virginia Commonwealth Rams
VCU junior forward Juvonte Reddic. By Dean Hoffmeyer, AP
Here we go again with Shaka Smart's VCU Rams. They are a talented team and looking to make a splash in the NCAA tournament this year.
VCU is in their third straight NCAA tournament and are going to be on a mission after failing to defeat Indiana in a close game last year in the round of 32.
Graham is averaging 15.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game this season. Reddic is averaging 14.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on the season.
The nation knows VCU is one of the best mid-major schools in college basketball right now.
The Rams received a fifth-seed, meaning they aren't the underdogs they once were, but their path to the Final Four is going to be difficult.
VCU will get 12th-seeded Akron in the second round and should be a clear favorite to win.
Their second matchup against Michigan is going to be the real test. If VCU somehow knocks off the Wolverines in Auburn Hills, they would likely get Kansas in the Sweet 16.
VCU is a team that could find themselves in the Elite Eight if everything goes according to plan.