March Madness 2011: Which Cinderellas Have What It Takes to Keep Dancing?
Despite the fact that there are no shortage of story lines to go around in the NCAA Tournament, it always seems that some of the most entertaining developments come from the teams no one thought very highly of before the big dance kicked off.
It's certainly hard to pinpoint the exact reason why cinderella teams always seems to permeate the nation's consciousness at this time of the year.
Maybe it's because these teams are the reason why most people have already given up on their bracket, or it could just be America's obsession with the underdog.
Whatever it is about these teams who have seemingly come out of nowhere to be major players in late March, it's definitely become clear that they need to be taken seriously not just because they're great stories, but also because they're legitimate players to continue their success in the tournament.
If Butler's amazing run last season taught us only one thing, it's that well coached smaller schools can hang with the big boys and shouldn't be overlooked, regardless of what round it happens to be in the tournament.
Butler, Marquette, Richmond, VCU, and Florida State have all taken very different paths to the Sweet 16, but the one thing they all have in common is that most people never saw them making it this far in the tournament.
The question now becomes, which of these teams has what it takes to keep dancing?
Before We Get Started
I've come up with five points which I think will play a huge role in whether or not these teams will continue their success in the Sweet 16 and beyond.
These five points don't come from any statistical analysis; they're simply five of the most crucial things that stick out in my mind which more often than not seem to determine whether Cinderella-type teams continue to win in the tournament.
1. Depth: It might be because these teams are playing so many games in so few days or because every team invariably ends up in foul trouble during the tournament, but depth generally plays a huge factor down the stretch of most hotly contested games.
You could argue that having adequate depth is even more important for the Cinderellas who don't have as much star power as the blue bloods of the tournament, and therefore these teams need to rely more on their depth in order to be successful.
It can make a huge difference in the tournament for any team if they're able to get productive minutes from their bench.
This becomes especially true when you don't have a roster which features three or four McDonald's All-Americans.
2. Having At Least One Cold-Blooded Shot Maker: It always seems that every close tournament game comes down to the final minute in which each team will have the ball with a chance to hit that big shot which cripples the other team.
In almost every one of these situations, the team who usually emerges victorious is the one which has that cold-blooded shot maker.
If you've ever played basketball, chances are you've had a guy like this on your team.
He probably wasn't your favorite teammate considering he never saw a shot he didn't like, but when it was crunch time, this guy didn't feel the pressure and could suddenly do no wrong.
These are the types of players who shine in March and can help pull off some huge upsets.
3. Coaching/Intangibles: People can downplay the importance of coaching all they want and we've all heard the saying that coaches get too much blame when their team loses and too much credit when their team wins.
But when you're talking about tournament games which literally come down to the last second, it's a huge advantage to have players on your team who have a clear idea of what they want to do and can stay calm while trying to do it.
In my opinion, this has a lot to do with coaching.
While these games obviously come down to how well 18-21 year-old kids make pressure filled decisions, more often than not the teams which are led by great coaches generally make the right decisions, execute well, and come out on top.
Most of these higher seeded teams don't possess as much talent as the Dukes or Ohio States of the world.
Great coaching (which includes installing the proper game plan and mindset) can potentially narrow the gap in talent.
As for intangibles, they're hard to describe, but you know them when you see them, and we will get into these more with each specific team.
4. Matchups: It might be the most obvious of everything on this list and it also might be the most important factor in determining if these Cinderellas can advance.
The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups and regardless of how good a given team is, they can be doomed by a bad matchup in any round.
There's little doubt that some of the teams on this list face a much more daunting task of advancing simply because of the teams who stand in their way.
It's difficult to win any tournament game, especially after the first two rounds, but it's hard to deny that the road certain teams will face is simply tougher than others.
5. Next Level Talent: At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how well coached or what kind of intangibles a team possesses if they don't have the necessary talent on their roster.
It's become a bit of a cliche to talk about next level talent and how important it is in March, but you really can't argue that having one or two elite players on your roster makes a huge difference.
It's pretty shocking that Marquette is one of the last Big East teams standing in the tournament but they've certainly earned their spot in the Sweet 16.
What the Golden Eagles lack in five star recruits and size, they make up for with effort and toughness. Because of this, Marquette is rarely outworked by anyone they play.
The fact that Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom, and Dwight Buycks are all junior college transfers is the perfect example of this squad's underdog nature and willingness to persevere.
Depth: Marquette has solid depth and they definitely rely on more than just five players.
Buzz Williams has switched his starting lineup around during the season and regularly gives seven players their share of time on the court.
They're an undersized team but Williams has the luxury of relying on Chris Otule, Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner who have all shown that they are capable of playing tough around the basket.
In the backcourt, Darius Johnson-Odom and Dwight Buycks have been steady for most of the season but Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue have also been able to give Marquette solid minutes off the bench.
The Golden Eagles don't have any stars in their reserves but they do have a fair amount of interchangeable parts who all play hard when given the opportunity.
Cold-Blooded Shot Maker: I think it's pretty safe to say that Darius Johnson-Odom fits into this category after his three-pointer broke a 59-59 tie against Syracuse with just 27 seconds remaining in Marquette's last game.
Though not nearly as impressive as his preposterous 47 percent from beyond the arc last season, DJO still managed to connect on 37 percent of his three-pointers as a junior and can get hot in a hurry from downtown.
Johnson-Odom's range and ability to create his own shot make him the type of player who can certainly be relied on at the end of a game if Marquette should need some more late heroics as they try to continue their run through the tournament.
Coaching/Intangibles: Buzz Williams might not be your typical Big East coach, but his intensity is certainly contagious and a big reason why Marquette is an extremely hard working team.
It's a common sight to see Williams on the sideline sweating through his dress shirt while living and dying with every play.
Williams' players feed off his attitude and passion for the game, which has helped a somewhat under-manned Marquette team fight and claw their way through the always tough Big East and into the Sweet 16.
As far as intangibles go, the Golden Eagles always seem to be able to rise to the level of their opposition and they've become accustomed to playing in extremely close games against top competition all season long.
They've gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Duke, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, UConn, and have given each team a tough game.
This lineup is certainly battle tested having played against some of the best teams in the nation, and they aren't likely to fold under the pressure of a late game situation, as Syracuse found out just a few days ago.
Matchups: Unfortunately for Marquette, they've got probably the toughest draw of the teams on this list. They play UNC in the Sweet 16 and would face the winner of Ohio State vs. Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
Marquette's weakness is certainly around the basket where they lack the ideal height to matchup with the post players of teams like North Carolina or Ohio State.
In their Sweet 16 game against the Tar Heels, Marquette will have its hands full with Tyler Zeller and John Henson, who have established themselves as one of the best front courts in college basketball.
The Golden Eagles will need 6'11'' Chris Otule to stay out of foul trouble, while the rest of their forwards will have to hit the glass especially hard if they're going to have a shot at advancing.
Next Level Talent: This certainly isn't a Marquette roster that's overflowing with next level talent, but Jimmy Butler's versatile play can effect a game in many different ways.
We saw his defense essentially shutdown Xavier's Tu Holloway in the first round, and it was Butler who set up Johnson-Odom for the game winning three-pointer in their victory over Syracuse.
Johnson-Odom might be a little too small to be considered a true shooting guard at the next level, but his combination of strength, quickness, and range make him a very good collegiate player who can be a catalyst for this Marquette offense as long as he's making good decisions with the ball.
After defeating a very good Old Dominion team in the first round and taking down the No. one seeded Pittsburgh Panthers in the second round, it appears that Butler still has some magic leftover from last season's tournament run.
Truth be told, the Bulldogs don't rely on any magic, just smart play from a team whose players compliment each other very well and are the beneficiary of some extremely good coaching.
Depth: Butler doesn't have the greatest depth—especially in their front court where only one player besides Matt Howard and Andrew Smith sees more than eight minutes per game.
Matt Howard has gotten better at staying out of foul trouble, but the fact remains that if he or Smith (who is also foul prone) are forced to miss any extended periods of time due to foul issues, this Butler team definitely suffers.
The 6'11" Smith has really emerged as a valuable player for the Bulldogs, and although his numbers aren't anything special, he can be a difference maker around the basket for Butler.
As has been the case with Butler for the last two seasons, they need their bigs to stay out of foul trouble.
They really don't have much size coming off the bench that can compete with the major programs that they're going to be matched up against for the rest of the tournament.
Cold-Blooded Shot Maker: Perhaps because of Gordon Hayward's absence, Shelvin Mack has seen both his overall field goal percentage and three point percentage drop significantly this season.
However, after witnessing his performance during last season's tournament and his most recent 30-point explosion against Pittsburgh, it's pretty clear that Mack can hit that late game-changing shot.
The 6'3'' junior was Butler's second leading scorer, and his ability to create his own looks as well as set up teammates off the bounce is certainly a luxury that Butler can turn to at the end of close games.
Mack might not have had the season many thought he would after what he did last year, but a player who is this talented and battle tested can be the reason why Butler continues to advance through the tournament.
Coaching/Intangibles: It's almost impossible to say enough about what Brad Stevens does for Butler.
The Bulldogs are extremely well prepared for every team they face and partly because of how calm and collected Stevens is on the sidelines, the team rarely seems to get flustered or make poor decisions (Shelvin Mack's foul on Gilbert Brown notwithstanding).
Stevens focuses his game plan on defense and getting his guys to play together.
His success in the tournament is the perfect example of how good coaching can put a less talented team on a level playing field with some of college basketball's elite.
Because of their incredible run last season, this Butler team is as experienced as any in the country when it comes to playing in the tournament.
Their experience should be a big help as they try to reach another Final Four this season.
The Bulldogs have that rare ability to make their opponents play the game at their pace and obviously they've displayed a knack for winning close, hard fought contests.
Matchups: Butler and Wisconsin are very similar teams who rely on defense and generally don't like to push the tempo.
Because these teams are so similar, it would be extremely surprising if either one were to run away with this game in what will no doubt be another low scoring, defensive minded affair.
Ronald Nored is one of the best defenders in college basketball and his potential to limit Jordan Taylor could seriously affect what the Badgers can do offensively.
The Badgers are the bigger and more talented team, but that hasn't stopped Butler before.
This game could easily come down to the last seconds once again, where Butler has proven that their ability to execute in late game situations is second to none.
If they're able to survive Wisconsin, Butler will face either Florida or BYU who are both good teams, but after what we've seen from the Bulldogs, neither one would figure to have a huge advantage in that matchup.
Next Level Talent: Big man Andrew Smith could be included in this category in a few years, but for now Shelvin Mack is really the only potential next level talent on Butler.
Posting 30 points against one of the best defensive teams in the country in his last game against Pittsburgh, Mack showed just how explosive he can be and he's absolutely capable of going off again.
The ultimate darlings of the 2011 tournament thus far, Virginia Commonwealth was a team that many didn't think deserved to be included in the field of 68.
After winning their first three tournament games by a combined 49 points, it's not a stretch to say that the Rams have been perhaps the hottest team in the field who will no doubt be dangerous as the Sweet 16 kicks off later this week.
Depth: When you like to run as much as VCU does, you better have plenty of depth to give your guys a breather.
It's not uncommon for the Rams to give eight players 10-plus minutes per game, and everybody who sees floor time for VCU contributes to their uptempo style of play.
Besides Jamie Skeen, VCU is a guard oriented team and they have plenty of back court depth, which includes five legitimate three-point shooters who can make opposing teams pay.
When it comes to their bigs, VCU has an extremely talented player in Skeen.
Although they don't feature another serious threat in the post, they have no shortage of big bodies like Juvonte Reddic and D.J. Haley who are capable of giving them some quality minutes.
Everyone on the VCU team helps out on the boards, and although this team generally plays a smaller lineup, it usually works more to their advantage as it enables them to fly up and down the court and play their fast paced brand of basketball.
Cold-Blooded Shot Maker: As I mentioned above, pretty much everyone on this VCU team looks for their long distance shot and can hit it at a good rate.
VCU has plenty of guys who could potentially sink that game deciding bucket, but Bradford Burgess has really blossomed into a dangerous offensive player.
His 40 percent three-point shooting leads the team, and thanks to his 6'6'' size he's able to get his shot off over smaller players.
Burgess contributes in a lot of different ways to this VCU team, but he's flashed the ability to be an explosive shot maker during his junior season and he has the tools to be a late game hero for the Rams.
Coaching/Intangibles: Shaka Smart is quickly becoming one of the most sought after young coaches in college basketball and many major programs will come calling once VCU is eliminated from the tournament.
Smart has utilized the personnel on this VCU team very well after losing stars like Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders to the NBA in the past few seasons.
He has opted to play a team brand of basketball which is paying off in the tournament.
Smart and his players have thrived off the negative comments that many expressed after VCU was included in the field of 68, and the extra motivation gained from all that negativity is working wonders for them.
Fresh off dismantling Purdue, VCU might just be the hottest team in the tournament, and after losing 11 games during the regular season, it's clear that they're peaking at the right time.
Having an experienced point guard like Joey Rodriguez is really invaluable at this time of year because we've already seen some bonehead plays cost teams close games in the tournament.
A senior leader like Rodriguez directing VCU's offense is a huge advantage.
Matchups: VCU is going to push the ball, look to score in transition, and try to turn you over with their press.
All of these tactics have baffled their opponents in the tournament thus far, but they will be facing off against a Florida State team in the Sweet 16 that plays a much different brand of basketball.
These contrasting styles will definitely make for an interesting game, and it might come down to how well the Seminoles can handle the press and if they're able to stop VCU from getting out in transition.
If VCU can get past Florida State's suffocating defense, they'll move on to face the winner of Kansas vs. Richmond.
Both will be tough tests for the Rams, but they could have an especially difficult time with Kansas, whose depth and veteran leadership won't be easily worn down or flustered by VCU's frenetic pace.
Next Level Talent: Unlike their teams in the past few seasons, VCU doesn't have that sure-fire NBA talent on their roster, but you have to like both Joey Rodriguez and Jamie Skeen's skill sets.
Skeen's 6'9'' frame and versatile offensive game are definitely coveted at the next level and although he's not really on anyone's draft board, he can carry this team.
Rodriguez has great quickness, play making ability, and vision—all of which make him a great leader on the court who is also capable of knocking down a few shots.
Because of his size and versatile game, Burgess might emerge as a pro prospect next season, and what he's been able to do for VCU on the court this season is certainly impressive.
Florida State has proven that when you have a team this physical, athletic and defensively gifted, you don't need too much offense to advance past the first two rounds of the tournament.
Both Notre Dame and Texas A&M were smothered by the Seminoles defense and despite the fact that Chris Singleton has only played 26 combined minutes thus far, Florida State has been very impressive as they enter the Sweet 16.
Depth: It's a testament to the depth on this Florida State team that they've managed to survive injuries to Chris Singleton, Xavier Gibson, Terrance Shannon, Ian Miller, and Jon Kreft throughout the season.
Their front court is especially deep, and Leonard Hamilton has a wide range of players that can give him productive minutes under the basket.
This front court depth was a big reason why Florida State was able to defeat a Notre Dame team that really only has two big guys who see much time on the court.
Hamilton also has plenty of options in the back court especially with the recent solid bench play of Luke Loucks and Ian Miller.
Cold-Blooded Shot Maker: For all the depth this Florida State team has, they really don't possess that offensive assassin who keeps opposing coaches up at night.
They absolutely have some capable offensive players like Chris Singleton, Derwin Kitchen, Deivdas Dulkys, Michael Snaer, and Bernard James who have all taken turns stepping up this season.
Even so, it remains to be seen who will be taking the clutch shot at the end of a hard fought tournament game.
With their leading scorer, Chris Singleton, still working his way back from a broken foot, it's certainly not a sure thing that he can be the player who scored 13 points per game during the regular season.
The time may very well come when Florida State needs a clutch shot to go down late in a game but as of right now no one has truly emerged as that player.
Coaching/Intangibles: Leonard Hamilton has had his ups and downs at Florida State but this has been his most successful season with the Seminoles.
Hamilton might be the perfect example of the old adage that coaches get too much credit when their team wins, but he's certainly had to weather his share of injuries to key players as well as juggle a deep rotation.
It's Hamilton's defensive game plan that has allowed this team to play to their strengths and it's hard to argue that Florida State guards are better than any team in the nation.
The Seminoles are an older team that has plenty of upperclassmen leadership and they've also played against some of the best teams college basketball has to offer.
They've already squared off against Ohio State, Florida, Duke, Butler, and North Carolina this season, all of whom are still alive in the tournament.
While their appearance in the Sweet 16 is certainly unexpected, they won't be intimidated by playing against any big time programs they may run into from here on out.
Matchups: When you have a team like Florida State who can defend as well or better than any team in college basketball, they certainly have the ability to stifle even the most potent of offensive attacks.
Their defense alone should be able to keep them in any tournament game they play, but there are certainly questions about their offense and ability to take care of the ball.
Playing against a VCU team that will definitely pressure their ball handlers, it will be crucial that Florida State limits their turnovers in what could be a potential pitfall in their attempt to advance to the Elite Eight.
If they're able to hold onto the ball and slow down VCU's blistering offensive attack I think their size and depth will be able to do as good of a job on the Morris twins as any team left in the tournament, although getting enough scoring to beat the Jayhawks is a different story.
Next Level Talent: Chris Singleton has an NBA body and skill level but after recording just 26 minutes and five points combined in his first two games back from a broken foot, he might not be completely healthy.
Even so, having Chris Singleton at 90 percent is better than most other players at 100 percent.
However, as Florida State tries to advance in the tournament it would make things a lot easier if they could get a little more scoring from the 6'9'' junior.
The Richmond Spiders have once again made everyone take notice and they've reached the second Sweet 16 in school history after beating Vanderbilt and Morehead State.
They feature probably the best duo on this list in Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson, both of whom have next level potential.
Depth: Harper and Anderson carry a fair amount of the scoring load but Richmond has a solid cast of supporting players who surround their two stars.
Francis-Cedric Martel, Kevin Smith, and Darrius Garrett aren't flashy players but they give Chris Mooney valuable minutes and do the little things that help a team win.
Dan Geriot is a euro-style center who doesn't hit the glass all that hard but can really make a difference with his ability to shoot and is also a great passing big man.
The Spiders are a little thin at guard depth, but when you consider how good Anderson is and that Richmond has four players who shoot over 40 percent from three and two more who shoot over 38 percent, it has yet to really get in their way.
Cold-Blooded Shot Maker: You really can't go wrong taking either Kevin Anderson or Justin Harper to fill this role but I'll go with Anderson after the senior guard hit the game winner against Vanderbilt with just 20 seconds to play.
There's a reason why a guy who's probably not even 6'0'' tall is attracting some attention from NBA scouts, and Anderson's mentality, which always has him looking to attack, makes him the perfect player to have the ball in his hands at the end of a close game.
He can score in a variety of ways, and Anderson's ability to play the pick and roll to perfection or take his man one-on-one to the basket makes him very tough to defend when the clock is winding down.
When you consider everything he brings to the table, it really wouldn't be surprising if Anderson made a few more clutch plays before the tournament comes to an end.
Coaching/Intangibles: Chris Mooney wasn't a very well known coach before the tournament began, but he's done a very good job of rebuilding a once proud Richmond program back into a team that needs to be taken seriously in March.
Mooney, a Princeton graduate, employs Pete Carril's famed offense at Richmond, but this team is more than capable of putting points on the board if necessary thanks to their abundance of great shooters.
One of Mooney's calling cards is his match up zone, which hasn't allowed a team to reach 70 points in over a month and can cause problems for teams who haven't seen it before.
Under Mooney, the Spiders are a disciplined team who take good care of the basketball and generally don't beat themselves.
Richmond has an experienced roster which starts four seniors and this team has plenty of momentum as they enter their matchup with Kansas thanks to a nine game winning steak which includes winning the A-10 Tournament.
Matchups: Drawing a team like Kansas isn't really an ideal matchup for anyone, but it will be extremely interesting to see if Richmond's match up zone can make a difference against the Morris twins.
It might not bother them very much, but the fact that it's so different from the way most teams play defense should at least give Richmond a chance to slow down a very efficient Kansas offense.
One of Richmond's major concerns in this game will be trying to keep the rebounding battle close.
Perhaps the Spider's biggest weakness is on the glass, where they actually sported a negative rebounding margin on the season and could really be taken advantage of by a Kansas team which hits the glass as well as anyone in the nation.
Unfortunately for Kevin Anderson, Kansas has a very deep collection of guards that Bill Self will no doubt utilize to try and tire out Richmond's second leading scorer.
There's no denying that Kansas is the more talented team, but if the Spider's Princeton offense can take advantage of the Jayhawks aggressiveness and the combination of Anderson and Harper get hot, who knows what could happen.
If Richmond is able to shock the world and take down Kansas, they will face the winner of VCU and Florida State, which is certainly a favorable draw for them as opposed to playing another powerhouse team like Ohio State or Duke.
Next Level Talent: If you've been following college basketball at all in the past few days, you've obviously heard about Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper.
Because of his size, fluidity, and polished offensive game, it seems almost certain that Harper will be a first round pick in this year's NBA Draft.
Harper's shooting numbers (53 percent overall and 45 percent from three) put him amongst elite company at the collegiate level and his size (6'10'') makes him incredibly difficult for most teams to contain.
On the other hand, Anderson's size certainly takes away from his ceiling at the next level but he's a pure scorer who can really take over a game.
Both Anderson and Harper give Richmond some very exciting next level talent who have the potential to lead this team to greatness.
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