The Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA tournament so much fun.
Every year, teams coming from conferences that the average fan has not heard of knock off big-time powers. Along the way, those teams pick up supporters across the country who enjoy rooting for the underdog.
Last year’s tournament featured more than its share of Cinderella stories. No. 15 Lehigh and No. 15 Norfolk State both scored shocking upsets over No. 2 seeds. No. 13 Ohio made it to the Sweet 16 after upsetting Michigan and South Florida.
This year, there are plenty of candidates that could shock the college basketball world. From Belmont to Bucknell, here is a ranking of the Cinderella hopefuls in the 2013 NCAA tournament. To be considered a Cinderella, the team had to be a double-digit seed from a non-BCS conference.
Seed: No. 14 in the South region
Matchup: vs. No. 3 Florida in Austin, Texas
Northwestern State plays at the fastest pace in the country, according to KenPom.com. The Demons lead the country in scoring at 81 points per game.
On paper, this is not a good matchup for Northwestern State, but if the Demons can get Florida to play at their pace, they could keep it close. If they do keep it close, then the Gators will have to figure out a way to pull out a tight game, something they did not do the entire regular season.
Seed: No. 15 in the West Region
Matchup: vs. No. 2 Ohio State in Dayton, Ohio
Iona is making its second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament after earning an at-large bid last year. The Gaels lost in an opening-round game to BYU, blowing a 25-point lead.
This year, Iona made it to March Madness by winning the MAAC tournament as the No. 4 seed. The Gaels are second in the country in scoring with 80.7 points per game.
Senior point guard Lamont “Momo” Jones leads Iona with 23.0 points per game. A transfer from Arizona, Jones will not be overmatched against Ohio State, and if the Gaels are hot from three, they could pull off the shocker of the tournament.
Seed: No. 15 in the South Region
Matchup: vs. No. 2 Georgetown in Philadelphia
Florida Gulf Coast played a very tough nonconference schedule with games against VCU, Miami, Duke, St. John’s and Iowa State. The Eagles even upset Miami in their second game of the year. Durand Scott did not play for the Hurricanes, but that win still carries significant weight.
Georgetown also has been susceptible to upsets in recent NCAA tournaments. The Hoyas have lost to a double-digit seed in each of their last four appearances in March Madness.
Because it won’t be shocked by the level of competition and its opponent, Florida Gulf Coast would be the best bet (not a good bet, but the best one) for a No. 15 seed to pull a shocker.
Seed: No. 14 in the Midwest Region
Matchup: vs. No. 3 Michigan State in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Bryce Drew made Valparaiso a household name among college basketball fans when he hit a shot at the buzzer to beat Ole Miss in 1998. Valpo ended up winning the next game over Florida State to advance to the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed.
This year, Drew led his alma mater to the Big Dance in his second year as the head coach. The Crusaders are a No. 14 seed and will try to take down Michigan State in Michigan.
Valparaiso doesn’t have any significant victories of which to speak, but it can shoot, ranking fourth nationally in effective field-goal percentage, according to KenPom.com. If the Crusaders can knock down a lot of shots, maybe they can experience more March magic.
Seed: No. 13 in the Midwest Region
Matchup: vs. No. 4 Saint Louis in San Jose, Calif.
New Mexico State started the season just 6-8, but the Aggies have won 18 of their last 20 to make their third NCAA tournament in four years.
Freshman big man Sim Bhullar gives New Mexico State something no other college team has in the middle. He is 7’5”, 355 pounds, and Bhullar has improved as the season has gone on. In his last two games, he is averaging 15 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game.
New Mexico State’s opponent, Saint Louis, has received plenty of praise this week, and a few analysts have pegged the Billikens as Final Four contenders. They need to make sure they don’t look past the Aggies, who are more than capable of pulling the upset.
Seed: No. 13 in the South Region
Matchup: vs. No. 4 Michigan in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Nate Wolters is one of the best players in the country, and he is certainly capable of carrying South Dakota State to an upset or two in the NCAA tournament. Wolters averages 22.7 points and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 39 percent from three.
Earlier this season, the Jackrabbits won at New Mexico, 70-65, so they have shown they are capable of beating good teams.
The key for South Dakota State will be to get stops. It ranks No. 209 nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. That could be bad news against Michigan’s high-octane offense led by Trey Burke.
Seed: No. 14 in the East Region
Matchup: vs. No. 3 Marquette in Lexington, Ky.
Davidson has won 17 consecutive games entering the NCAA tournament, and the Wildcats tested themselves in the nonconference portion of their schedule. They played New Mexico, Gonzaga and Duke, holding their own despite losing in all three matchups.
What Davidson has going for it that Marquette does not is that the Wildcats can shoot. Davidson shoots 36.9 percent from three, while Marquette is making just 30.1 percent from beyond the arc. If the Wildcats can force Marquette into shooting a lot of threes, they have a great chance at pulling an upset.
Seed: No. 11 in the Midwest Region
Matchup: vs. No. 6 Memphis in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Matthew Dellavedova is one of the best point guards in the country, and he gives Saint Mary’s a chance in almost every ballgame. He had 22 points, six rebounds and four assists in the 67-54 win over Middle Tennessee in the opening round.
The Gaels have not lost to a team not named Gonzaga since Dec. 23. They are ranked No. 11 nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
Next up, Saint Mary’s faces Memphis. While the Tigers are talented, they have not necessarily been tested throughout the year. Memphis has just one win over an NCAA tournament team, and that came against Harvard.
Seed: No. 11 in the East Region
Matchup: vs. No. 6 Butler in Lexington, Ky.
Bucknell does not beat itself. The Bison rank second nationally in turnover percentage and second in defensive rebound percentage, according to KenPom.com.
They have wins over NCAA tournament teams New Mexico State and La Salle, and they lost by just two at Missouri.
Led by big man Mike Muscala, Bucknell has a legitimate shot to make it to the Sweet 16. Muscala averages 19.0 points and 11.2 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field.
The Bison also have a favorable draw. Butler is not nearly as good as it was when it made back-to-back Final Four runs. Also, Marquette, a possible round of 32 opponent, is a vulnerable No. 3 seed.
Seed: No. 11 in the West Region
Matchup: vs. No. 6 Arizona in Salt Lake City
Arizona coach Sean Miller could not have been happy to see his Wildcats draw Belmont in the round of 64. Belmont tested itself and succeeded in the nonconference, winning at Stanford and beating Middle Tennessee.
The Bruins can really score, averaging 77.2 points per game. Belmont is shooting 57.1 percent from inside the arc, which ranks first in all of college basketball, according to KenPom.com.
Guard Ian Clark could have a national coming-out party this NCAA tournament. He is averaging 18.1 points while shooting 54.1 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from three.
Arizona has struggled lately, losing five of its last 10 games. If the Wildcats aren’t careful, they could be one and done this week.