Every year, some lower seeds pull stunning upsets on opening weekend of March Madness – hence the “Madness” aspect of the moniker.
This could be the year the bracket goes chalk. But it’s far more likely that we continue to see upset heroics from the likes of the Horizon League, the Southland Conference, and the WCC.
Here’s a quick look at a potential Cinderella team from each region:
WEST – (11) BYU Cougars (25-9, 13-5 WCC)
There’s a lot of talk that No. 14 Georgia State can upset No. 3 Baylor in the West Region. Sure, the Panthers are led by a former Louisville guard (Kevin Ware) and a former Kentucky guard (Ryan Harrow), but Baylor did defeat Iowa State twice. They are a solid team from top to bottom.
Nevertheless, neither team is going much further as a matchup with No. 2 Arizona looms.
Now, No. 11 BYU is a different story. If the Cougars get by Ole Miss in the First Four, they have a great shot at upsetting No. 6 Xavier in the second round. Beating the winner of Georgia State/Baylor is also plausible. BYU has all the hallmarks of a Cinderella team. Not only did BYU boast a 25-9 record and beat the Zags in Spokane, but they also have a top-ten offense that can light up any opponent on any given night.
The Cougars are also upperclassman heavy; leading scorer Tyler Haws (senior, 21.9 PPG) pairs with triple-double machine Kyle Collinsworth (junior, 14.0 PPG, 8.7 RPG, and 5.8 APG) in the backcourt. After facing Gonzaga six times over the last two years, the pair won’t be in awe of anything Xavier or Baylor have to offer.
MIDWEST – (13) Valparaiso Crusaders (28-5, 13-3 Horizon)
Considering the Longhorns’ deep roster, No. 11 Texas could make a run in the Midwest. They went 0-9 against Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, but were also ranked in the top-25 for part of the season and certainly boast top-25 talent.
But it’s hard to consider a team as big and gifted as Texas a “Cinderella”, even though they are a No. 11 seed.
Instead, we’ll focus on a true underdog in the Midwest: No. 13 Valparaiso. The Crusaders begin the tourney by taking on No. 4 Maryland. Valpo plays great defense, keeping opponents to 42.1-percent shooting from inside the arc (good enough for 13th in the nation) and grabbing 37.7 boards per game (33rd in the nation); add in the fact that Maryland struggles on offense at times (shooting just 43.8-percent on the year) and isn’t as good on the glass (136th in the nation) and this has the potential for a low-scoring Valpo upset.
EAST – (13) UC Irvine Anteaters (21-12, 11-5 Big West)
No. 15 Belmont, which faces No. 2 Virginia, would be a great Cinderella story. The Bruins’ Taylor Barnett made a buzzer-beating three-point shot to defeat Murray State for the automatic Big West bid. Barnett is a former Cavalier and would love nothing more than to stick it to his old team and end Virginia’s unprecedented season; however, a more likely Cinderella story in the East Region is No. UC Irvine facing No. 4 Louisville.
Post-play is huge in the tournament, which is why the Anteaters, who are making their debut in the dance, could go far with 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. His dominance in the team’s zone defense kept opponents to 42.3-percent shooting from inside of the arc, and Louisville doesn’t have the likes of Luke Hancock anymore to stroke it from three. (Indeed, the Cardinals shoot a paltry 30.4-percent from behind the arc.)
SOUTH – (12) Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (29-4, 17-1 Southland)
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin will face No. 5 Utah in their first game. The Lumberjacks have won 28 of their last 29 games and can fill the basket as well as any team in the country; they shot 55.6-percent from inside the arc and 38.1-percent from outside the arc. Granted, they failed to beat another tourney team all year (losing to UNI, Baylor, and Xavier), but they did beat Memphis on the road and are getting Utah at the right time. The Utes have struggled of late, alternating wins and losses in their last eight. Utah has a solid defense and will force tough shots, but if Stephen F. Austin is feeling it early, the glass slipper may just fit.
(Photo credit: aaronisnotcool (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo may appear cropped.)