March Madness Predictions: Potential Cinderellas
by Trevor Whenham - 3/9/2011
Every year there are teams that are surprisingly strong at the NCAA Tournament. They might not get a whole lot of attention coming in, but they are ready to play, they are talented, and they make some noise. Obviously it’s not always easy to see these Cinderella teams coming -- if it were then they wouldn’t be surprises. You can make a guess about who will come through, though. Here are my March Madness predictions for four teams that look to me like they have the potential to shine:
Michigan - I’m a massive Michigan fan, so there is some clear bias involved with having this team here. That being said, you would be making a mistake to ignore this squad.
They are likely to be a 10 or 11 seed -- assuming they can stay off the bubble like they are right now -- so they are in a good position to do some damage as a lower seed.
This is a team with a whole lot of heart. They started conference play at 1-6. Most teams would have quit, but they fought back and finished up 9-9, including a sweep of hated rivals Michigan State.
Considering they have little older leadership -- there are no seniors on the squad -- that’s impressive. Also impressive s how tough they played some good teams -- they lost to Syracuse by just three, took Kansas to overtime, played Ohio State tough, and only lost to Wisconsin thanks to an impossible three pointer at the buzzer from the Badgers.
They really raise their game when the stakes are the highest, and that bodes very well for tournament time. On top of it all, they have two players that have proven to be special, and who are only getting better with experience. Sophomore Darius Morris has been a revelation, and freshman Tim Hardaway Jr. would have been conference Rookie of the Year if it weren’t for the freak of nature that is Jared Sullinger.
This is just the kind of team that can win a couple of tournament games, led by a coach that knows how to get a lot out of not very much when the chips are down.
San Diego State - Continuing with the Michigan connection you have to take a good look at the Aztecs and former Wolverines Coach Steve Fisher. Remember, Fisher is the guy who took over Michigan in 1989 in the final week of the season as an interim coach and led them to a national title. He obviously knows how to prepare a good team for the dance.
It’s hard to consider a team ranked No. 6 in the country a surprise, but after the second loss to BYU it seems like the Aztecs are an afterthought. While the losses to BYU weren’t good -- especially the second one -- you have to remember that those are the only games they lost all year. They have a top-level talent in Kawhi Leonard, and a very nice supporting cast.
After the misstep against the Cougars this team could be poised to be media darlings all over again in the tournament.
Belmont - Belmont would only be a surprise if you aren’t paying a lot of attention to mid-majors this year. They are getting a lot of buzz from people who follow the smaller leagues, and they have all year.
The Bears have a whole lot going for them that they will need to pull of some big wins.
Experience- - check. This is their fourth tournament appearance in six years, and they have come close to making a big splash more than once.
Depth -- check. They can go 11 deep effectively, and can mix up size and speed depending on who is on the court, so matchups can be tough. What they look like at any time bears little resemblance to what they will look like later in the game, so game planning is tough, and teams will be frustrated.
Shooting -- check. They can make the three pointers rain down.
Success this year -- check. They have already won 30 games and their conference championship this year. If they get the right matchups in the tournament these guys have the chance to wreck more than a few brackets.
Arizona - For much of Lute Olsen’s time at Arizona this team was a real tournament force. Unfortunately, things turned into a soap opera in Olsen’s later years with the program, and they have been climbing out of a big hole.
They hired the right guy in Sean Miller, and after some growing pains last year and early this year he has this team right on track. They are coming out of the Pac-10, and that conference gets as much respect as it deserves right now -- not much -- so people won’t be giving them a lot of credit.
Miller is a master at tournament preparation, though, and he has his team playing well right now. Miller has an elite player in Derrick Williams, and a back court that is very deep and potent from beyond the arc.
That’s a lot for him to work with, and more than enough for him to make some noise.
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