2011 March Madness: Which Cinderella Teams Will Wear the Glass Slipper?
Every year, millions of Americans desperately try to identify that year's March Madness Cinderella story.
Hearts are broken, dreams shattered, and wallets emptied, all in the name of trying to figure out which low-seeded team will make a deep run.
Whether Butler in 2010, George Mason in 2006, or eighth-seeded national champion Villanova in 1986, there's nothing America loves more than a Cinderella story.
Lots of teams have designs on pulling an upset, but not all roads lead to glory. Which teams will wear the glass slipper in 2011?
5. Belmont Bruins
Belmont could ride its high shooting efficiency to a big upset.
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Two great equalizers during the NCAA tournament are turnovers and three-point field goals.
Generally, low-seeded teams with strong turnover differentials and great field goal percentages find themselves in good position to pull an upset.
Belmont fits the bill.
The statistic eFG% measures a team's effective field goal percentage by taking into account the fact that a three-pointer is worth one more point that a two-point field goal.
The Bruins rank ninth in the country in eFG%, which means that they make the most of the shots they get.
Belmont also forces more than 27 turnovers for every 100 of the opposing team's possessions, the second best rate in the country.
The Bruins drew a strong and deep Wisconsin team in the first round. If they can squeak past the Badgers, they could be on their way to a Sweet 16 berth.
4. Bucknell Bison
Bucknell excels at pulling down defensive boards.
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March Madness fans may recall 14th-seeded Bucknell knocking off third-seeded Kansas in a shocking upset in 2006.
Again holding the 14th seed, Bucknell could be poised to repeat that tournament success.
The Bison boast a strong defensive team, ranking 18th nationally in eFG% (remember that statistic?) on the defensive end. They also crash the defensive boards exceptionally well and easily rank in the top half of tournament teams in keeping opponents off of the offensive glass.
Bucknell also hits 78.6 percent of its team's free throws, third best in the country. That could be key when it comes to closing out games.
Bucknell's opponent in the first round, third-seeded UConn, is coming off a fantastic Big East tournament championship run. That could have the Huskies poised for a deep tournament run, but if they let off the gas at all, Bucknell could be in a position to make them pay.
3. Richmond Spiders
Richmond could deliver one of the seemingly annual 12-5 upsets.
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The Richmond Spiders fly way under the radar as an unheralded member of the A-10 conference, but this 27-win team is extremely well-balanced.
The Spiders not only rank 21st nationally in eFG% on offense, they also rank 15th in the country in eFG% on defense. Teams that want to beat Richmond will need to take more shots than the Spiders and capitalize on their open looks.
Of course, winning the possession battle may prove to be tough. The Spiders excel at protecting the ball, ranking 16th in the country in offensive turnover percentage.
Also working in Richmond's favor is its status as a 12-seed.
In the modern college basketball era, 12th seeds have the highest winning percentage in first-round games among seeds 11 and lower, winning nearly a third of their games.
2. Utah State Aggies
Jacob Pullen's Kansas State squad could be frustrated by Utah State.
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Utah State is another 12th seed that could post an upset. Their opponent, Kansas State, has played inconsistent basketball this year and owns only 22 wins on the season.
The Aggies' biggest liability will be their offense. They rank outside the top 40 in most statistics measuring offensive prowess, including three-point percentage, free throw percentage, and offensive efficiency.
That said, Utah State is a powerful defensive squad. They rank sixth nationally in both defensive efficiency as well as eFG% on the defensive end, and are second best in the country at keeping opposing teams off of the offensive glass.
Kansas State rebounds well but doesn't shoot the ball with particular efficiency. This game could be a knock-down, drag-out defensive struggle, and the Aggies are well-suited to winning a low-scoring matchup.
1. Oakland Golden Grizzlies
Oakland's Keith Benson (left) returns for his second consecutive NCAA tournament.
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Last year, Oakland found itself on the wrong end of a first-round drubbing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Golden Grizzlies return to the tournament this year as a 13-seed, facing the Texas Longhorns.
Last year's experience could serve Oakland well. Of the five players getting the most minutes for the Golden Grizzlies, four are upperclassmen that played on that tournament team last year.
The biggest thing the Golden Grizzlies have going for them, however, is that they can shoot the lights out.
As a team, Oakland shoots nearly 56 percent on its two-point field goals. The team is third nationally in eFG% and 13th in overall offensive efficiency.
Texas comes into the tournament as perhaps the strongest defensive team in the country, ranking first in defensive eFG% and defensive efficiency. If there's one team that may be able to break through that tough shell, it's Oakland.
Though it's all but certain that not all five of these teams will advance to the second round, there's a strong chance that one or more could shock as this year's Cinderella wonder.