If you are a fan of Cinderella stories when it comes to college basketball, the 2014 NCAA tournament was certainly a treat.
After all, we saw victories from the likes of Harvard, Stephen F. Austin, North Dakota State and of course Mercer against the mighty Duke Blue Devils. What’s more, the No. 11 seed Dayton Flyers advanced all the way to the Elite Eight and shocked Ohio State and Syracuse on their way there.
If you want, you could call a national title game showdown between a No. 7 and No. 8 seed something of a Cinderella tale as well, although it’s probably too much of a stretch to lump Connecticut and Kentucky in that category given their status among the blue-chip programs in all of college basketball.
We are sure to see plenty of Cinderella runs in the 2014-15 season. With that in mind, let’s look at a few candidates who could play their way deep into the postseason next year.
No team received more sympathy on Selection Sunday than Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs.
After all, they racked up 23 wins and beat Cincinnati and Memphis. Oh yeah, they also knocked off the eventual national champion Huskies both times they played but were still left out of the field of 68.
The Mustangs will be better during the 2014-15 season thanks to the return of leading scorer Nic Moore and leading rebounder Markus Kennedy. In fact, both Moore and Kennedy were only sophomores last season, so there should be plenty of growth in both of their games, which will serve the team well going forward.
What’s more, Brown landed super-prospect Emmanuel Mudiay.
Mudiay is an absolute scoring machine who can blow past defenders with his explosive first step and formidable ball-handling skills, hit from the outside and even convert from mid-range. His athleticism and overall quickness help on the defensive side, and his versatility allows him to play either guard position.
SMU featured the No. 17-ranked defense in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive ratings this year, and now it will have an elite scorer in Mudiay running the show. With no Louisville in the American Athletic Conference, the league will be SMU’s to lose.
It’s easy to look at Colorado’s season and only see the last two games.
After all, the Buffaloes were blown out by Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament to the tune of 63-43 and then embarrassed in a 77-48 loss to Pittsburgh in the round of 64 in the Big Dance. It was a crushing blow to end a campaign that at one point had so much promise.
Colorado started the year with a 14-2 record and had victories over Harvard, Oregon and Kansas on its resume. Ultimately, it was that stretch that got the Buffaloes into the NCAA tournament in the first place, but there was one important piece on that team that wasn’t there in the season’s second half—Spencer Dinwiddie.
The team’s leading scorer and best overall player tore his ACL against Washington in January, and the rest of the year was an up-and-down affair that featured far more losses than it would have if he stayed healthy.
Colorado’s presence on this list is solely because Dinwiddie will be back on the floor next year. However, that is working under the assumption that he won’t be in the NBA, which, as Sports Illustrated points out, is a real possibility:
It may not be fair to call a Pac-12 team a Cinderella story, but if Colorado gets Dinwiddie back and sees solid production from the likes of double-double threat Josh Scott, it could make a deep and unexpected run, a la the one Stanford had this year.
Eventually, if Harvard continues to rack up NCAA tournament wins, we won’t be able to call it a Cinderella.
Don’t be surprised if the Crimson are back wrecking brackets again next season like they did against New Mexico and Cincinnati in 2012 and 2013. Head coach Tommy Amaker has instilled a sense of confidence in the program that simply wasn’t there before, as Jonah Travis said after the team almost knocked off Michigan State in the NCAA tournament, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
"That's one thing Coach Amaker talks about, that we're not just built for the Ivy League, we're built to go past that. That's one of our main goals, to match up with teams like that and beat teams like that."
Harvard will return its main core and three leading scorers in Wesley Saunders, Siyani Chambers and Steve Moundou-Missi and should receive significantly more production from Zena Edosomwan as a sophomore.
This veteran-laden team has proven what it is capable of the past two years. Now that the key contributors have another year of experience under their belt, expect even better things in 2014-15.
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