2011 NCAA Tournament: Finding a George Mason in a Crowd of 68
Over the years, the term "Cinderella" has become more recognizable through the annual NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament than Disney Princesses. There are 12 seed vs. five seed upsets, 13 seed vs. four seed upsets and the inevitable "small school" who makes a deep run, slaying tournament giants along its path.
The two most memorable stories in tournament history tell very different tales. Current perennial Big East powerhouse Villanova won it all in 1985, and a Colonial Athletic Association member named after a Founding Father of our nation, George Mason, made the 2006 Final Four after upsetting one seed UConn in the Elite Eight. These two runs, along with many others, give us more reason to let college hoops consume our being for three weeks out of every spring.
The following is a list of 10 teams, all ranked 23 or lower, that may have what it may take to produce a memorable run in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Cleveland State Vikings
Most people remember 13-seed Cleveland State for the 15-point trouncing it put on four-seed Wake Forest in the first round of the 2009 Tournament. What most people don't know is that record-wise, this team is very good. Sitting at 22-5 (11-4 in Horizon League), the Vikings start four players who played on the 2009 team, led by senior guard Norris Cole (left), who is averaging 21.1 points per game.
Now, winning the Horizon League tournament absolutely assures the Vikings a spot, and a victory this Sunday at Old Dominion could make a strong case for the Vikings receiving a coveted at-large bid.
Projected Seeding: 13 Seed, Southwest Region
Eight legs that can creep through two or three wins come March. Richmond is 20-6 and has a 9-2 record in the Atlantic 10 conference, one of basketball's Power Six. The Spiders shoot the three-ball extremely well, led by senior Justin Harper, who shoots 50 percent from behind the arc.
The Spiders are most likely going to snag an at-large bid, so a bid isn't assured, but this team definitely has the credentials to take a spot and do something with it on the court. Richmond has a big game this Thursday against conference foe, Temple.
Projected Seeding: 10 Seed, West Region
Utah State Aggies
The Aggies have all but locked up the WAC with a commanding 12-1 conference record. An at-large bid took a hit after a rough loss to Idaho last week, but it is safe to say Utah State is a tournament lock. The Aggies have a matchup with St. Mary's this weekend.
Projected Seeding: 9 Seed, East Region
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Okay, so good wins are hard to come by in the Big South conference, but Coastal Carolina's two losses this season are to two eventual tournament teams, so you can easily see the silver lining. Coastal Carolina is a very good team that hasn't lost since November 18th.
They're top 20 in the nation in PPG, RPG and FG%. Guard Desmond Holloway will lead this team to a strong showing come March.
Projected Seeding: 13 Seed, West Region
Missouri State Bears
The jury is still out on whether or not the Bears will even make The Big Dance, but their chances are very good. They're tied for first in the Missouri Valley Conference with Wichita State, whom they've already beaten once and just so happen to face in the regular season finale.
A Saturday game against Valparaiso on BracketBusters will ultimately put Missouri State to the test. If this team gets in, sharpshooting Kyle Weems can lead them to a tournament run.
Projected Seeding: 12 Seed (Play-In), Southwest Region
St. John's Red Storm
The Red Storm has their fair share of big wins this season: West Virginia, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke and Connecticut. They very well may need a solid run in the Big East Tournament before they make the NCAA Tournament. One more bad loss by the Red Storm, and they can most likely kiss away their hopes.
Looks like the hire of former UCLA Bruins coach Steve Lavin is paying dividends in year one in NYC.
Projected Seeding: 8 Seed, Southeast Region
College of Charleston Cougars
It seems like every year, C of C takes down a dominant basketball program. This year it was Tennessee, by 13. The Cougars also have two losses to tournament contenders North Carolina and Maryland by a combined six points. Add in the fifth-leading scorer in the nation, Andrew Goudelock, and Charleston has the equation of a team with tourney-run potential.
Projected Seeding: 14 Seed, West Region
Old Dominion Monarchs
The Monarchs have a schedule littered with good wins. They've beat fellow tournament hopefuls such as Xavier, Richmond, George Mason, VCU and also played a very close game with Georgetown. ODU is the eighth-best rebounding team in college basketball and is a tournament-tested squad, beating Notre Dame in the first round of last year's tournament.
Projected Seeding: 10 Seed, East Region
Saint Mary's Gaels
Senior Mickey McConnell (far left) and the Gaels are a safe choice to be on this list because they're usually good for at least one win in the dance. The Sweet Sixteen participant from a year ago is 22-4 right now, and three of their four losses are to current Top 18 teams. They can shoot themselves in or out of a game, and my guess is they'll be shooting themselves back to the Sweet Sixteen again.
Projected Seeding: 8 Seed, Southwest Region
George Mason Patriots
What is more fitting than having George Mason on a list of teams in a slideshow titled: "Finding a George Mason in a Crowd of 68"? The Patriots have four scorers that average over 10 PPG, much attributed to how well they shoot the ball from the field. This team may be even better than the one from 2006, who went to a Final Four and became the modern day poster children for what it means to be an underdog.
Projected Seeding: 9 Seed, Southeast Region
The idea of this slideshow wasn't to convince anyone that these teams are the ones you should inking on three lines of your bracket, but rather highlight a few squads that will be exciting to watch come March; albeit they get in the field.
Selection Sunday is exactly one month from this past Sunday. This means only one thing: College basketball's golden stage of the season is upon us.