NCAA Tournament 2018: The Biggest Potential Cinderella Teams in the Field of 68

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2018

NCAA Tournament 2018: The Biggest Potential Cinderella Teams in the Field of 68

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    Joe Chealey
    Joe ChealeyPeter Aiken/Getty Images

    Who won the men's college basketball national championship in 2006? Oh, you mean the year George Mason made the Final Four!

    The ultimate goal is cutting down the nets, but Cinderella stories are sometimes even more memorable than title-winning teams. (Don't worry, we know 2006 was your year, Florida.)

    Now, we must remind you there's a difference between a sleeper and a Cinderella. Last season, South Carolina reached the Final Four as a No. 7 seed. That's a sleeper. In 2013, however, 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast became the tournament's darling with a pair of victories. That's a Cinderella.

    For clarity's sake, we're looking at double-digit seedsand the higher, the better. While a handful of power-conference teams are positioned in this area, the focus is mid-major schools.

    These aren't the only possible significant upsets, but the following programs are most likely to provide a stunner.

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

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    Clayton Custer
    Clayton CusterAssociated Press

    Record: 28-5

    Conference: Missouri Valley

    Best wins: Florida, Illinois State (twice)

    NCAA tournament seeding: 11

    Opening-round opponent: Miami (Florida)


    Sure to be a popular upset choice, Loyola-Chicago excelled in 2017-18 thanks to a balanced offense guided by Clayton Custer.

    The Iowa State transfer leads the Ramblers with 13.4 points and 4.3 assists per game, as well as a 44.0 three-point percentage. Loyola is 26-2 with him in the lineup this season.

    Each of Donte Ingram (11.6), Marques Townes (11.2), Aundre Jackson (10.9) and Cameron Krutwig (10.5) average double figures, while Ben Richardson provides 3.8 assists per game. Ingram, Townes, Richardson and Lucas Williamson all shoot 37-plus percent beyond the arc, too.

    Loyola's offensive efficiency is a huge appeal opposite a Miami team that has ceded a 48.9 field-goal percentage over the last 10 games.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits

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    Mike Daum
    Mike DaumPeter Aiken/Getty Images

    Record: 28-6

    Conference: Summit League

    Best wins: Buffalo, South Dakota (twice)

    NCAA tournament seeding: 12

    Opening-round opponent: Ohio State


    Last year, South Dakota State put a decent scare into top-seeded Gonzaga. The Jackrabbits only trailed by four points at halftime of their opening NCAA tournament game.

    But that team finished 18-17. This squad is 28-6and a key reason is David Jenkins Jr., the league's Freshman of the Year.

    Although Mike Daum shredded opponents for 25.1 points per game in 2016-17, the next three scorers averaged 11.7, 9.5 and 8.1. This year, Jenkins is at 16.1 to follow Daum's 23.8, while Reed Tellinghuisen (12.0) and Tevin King (9.3) have lifted the third- and fourth-option contributions.

    Throw in a 50.5 percent three-point shooter in Skyler Flatten (55-of-109), and SDSU must be respected on the offensive end. While the Jacks have scored 75-plus points in 28 games, Ohio State is only 2-5 in games where its opponent reached that mark.

Buffalo Bulls

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Record: 26-8

    Conference: Mid-American

    Best wins: Toledo (twice)

    NCAA tournament seeding: 13

    Opening-round opponent: Arizona


    Buffalo doesn't have a singular dominant option. No, four different players could become a nightmare in the Big Dance.

    Each of CJ Massinburg (16.9), Nick Perkins (16.6), Jeremy Harris (15.4) and Wes Clark (14.6) averaged 14-plus points while attempting between 11 and 13 shots per game. Plus, they all launched at least three attempts from long range per contest.

    Heading into the tournament, 40.2 percent of the team's shots occur from beyond the arc. The Bulls are 18-3 when connecting on 35-plus percent of their triples but just 8-5 below that clip.

    Buffalo has committed the sixth-most fouls in the country, so controlling that physical nature opposite a dominant force in Deandre Ayton is imperative. But if the Bulls can limit free throws and shoot efficiently, they'll be a menace.

College of Charleston Cougars

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    Grant Riller
    Grant RillerPeter Aiken/Getty Images

    Record: 26-7

    Conference: Colonial Athletic

    Best wins: Northeastern (three times)

    NCAA tournament seeding: 13

    Opening-round opponent: Auburn


    College of Charleston has three players who could explode for 30-plus points on any night. Grant Riller, Joe Chealey and Jarrell Brantley all reached the mark in 2017-18.

    Each member of that trio contributes at least 17 points per game on average and must be respected from long distance. While the team's three-point efficiency is average (.363), six rotation players attempt at least two threes per contest.

    Additionally, C of C does an excellent job protecting the ball. The Cougars rank fourth nationally with only 318, and they're a perfect 14-0 when committing eight turnovers or fewer.

    It's essential for Charleston to be successful at shooting from the perimeter because Auburn is so effective offensively, but there's plenty to like about this squad.

Murray State Racers

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    Jonathan Stark
    Jonathan StarkDaniel R. Patmore/Associated Press

    Record: 26-5

    Conference: Ohio Valley

    Best wins: Belmont, Illinois State

    NCAA tournament seeding: 12

    Opening-round opponent: West Virginia


    Murray State checks the boxes of a prototypical Cinderella choice: big time-scorer, two passing guards and an upperclassman-heavy rotation.

    Senior guard Jonathan Stark ranks 16th nationally with an average of 21.8 points, shooting a tremendous 41.0 percent from downtown while hoisting 8.6 trifectas per game. He also dishes 3.9 assists, second on the team to freshman Ja Morant's 6.4.

    Six of the eight rotation players are either a junior or senior, including first-team All-OVC forward Terrell Miller. The 6'8" senior offers 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and knocks down 39.2 percent of his triples.

    Protecting the three-point line and limiting offensive rebounds will be imperative, but the Racers are a prime upset pick if their methodical tempo slows down a fast-paced West Virginia club.

Marshall Thundering Herd

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Record: 24-10

    Conference: Conference USA

    Best wins: Middle Tennessee (twice), Western Kentucky

    NCAA tournament seeding: 13

    Opening-round opponent: Wichita State


    Marshall plays a whole lot of offense and not much defense.

    Behind two 20-point scorers in Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks, the Thundering Herd display the country's 12th-most productive offense at 84.3 points per game. Conversely, they allow 78.8 per night, which is 321st among 351 Division I teams.

    Although Ajdin Penava protects the paint by leading the nation with 3.9 blocks per contest, Marshall has ceded a 35.4 percent mark from three-point range. The C-USA tournament winners can be defeated from the outside.

    Wichita State is 21-3 when hitting at least one-third of its trifectas but is otherwise 4-4. If those shots aren't falling, the Herd have the scorers to keep up.

New Mexico State Aggies

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    Sam Wasson/Getty Images

    Record: 28-5

    Conference: WAC

    Best wins: Miami, Davidson

    NCAA tournament seeding: 12

    Opening-round opponent: Clemson


    New Mexico State plays tenacious defense on the perimeter and is physical in the paint. That's a frightful combination.

    En route to a 28-5 record and WAC title, the Aggies ceded the ninth-lowest three-point percentage (30.8) in the country. Plus, they secured 56.0 percent of all available rebounds, ranking sixth nationally. That includes an impressive 34.5 rate on the offensive end.

    NMSU shoots a dreadful 64.3 percent at the charity stripe, and that weakness may be detrimental in clutch moments. Clemson, on the other hand, is 40th with a 75.7 percent clip.

    Clemson's tempo is 297th in the country, according to KenPom. But with a 7-2 record when scoring 70 points or fewer, the Aggies are comfortable playing a low-scoring game.

Davidson Wildcats

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Record: 21-11

    Conference: Atlantic 10

    Best wins: Rhode Island (twice), St. Bonaventure (twice)

    NCAA tournament seeding: 12

    Opening-round opponent: Kentucky


    Davidson finished off a bid-stealing run in the Atlantic 10 tournament with a 58-57 triumph over Rhode Island.

    Considering the team's performance lately, it wasn't a huge surprise. Since the Jan. 31, the Wildcats are 11-2 and have posted eight double-digit margins of victory. The only losses happened against Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, both of which they also defeated during the stretch.

    Including Sunday's win, 48.2 percent of Davidson's total field-goal attempts are threes. More impressively, the Wildcats knock them down at a 39.1 clip, a top-30 mark nationally. That's a product of excellent ball movement, as four players averaged two-plus assists.

    They also boast a 79.7 rate at the charity stripethird-best in the countrywhile Kentucky is 244th.

    Although the A-10 champs are highly dependent on perimeter success and capitalizing on free-throw opportunities, they'll be a major challenge to put away.


    Stats via Sports Reference and unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.