Potential NCAA Tournament Cinderella Teams
by Alan Matthews - 3/15/2011
Already here at Doc’s we previewed the No. 5 vs. No. 12 second-round matchups (it still feels weird saying second round but that’s what the NCAA calls the former first round now that there is a “First Four” on Tuesday and Wednesday). So for this story on potential Cinderella teams for the NCAA Tournament, I will forgo any No. 12 seeds, although there are two very good potential Cinderellas in that group (Utah State and Richmond).
I would argue there are two types of Cinderella teams.
One is a team that has a legitimate shot of winning it all despite being overlooked by most. For example, Butler last year as a No. 5 seed. Some might argue that a No. 5 seed is too low to be considered a Cinderella, but no one expected the Bulldogs to get to the title game. The highest seed to win the Big Dance was No. 8 Villanova with its epic 1985 win over Georgetown.
The other type of Cinderella is a team that can win at least a few rounds as the higher seed and maybe, just maybe, pull out one of those George Mason runs as when the Patriots reached the Final Four as a No. 11 in 2006. A No. 11 remains the highest seed to reach the Final Four, with LSU in 1986 being the other school to do it.
I would love to pick a Cinderella No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1, but it hasn’t happened yet and it’s hard to picture it this year.
Let’s start with a Cinderella that could possibly win it all. Bodog lists a prop option where you can bet on which seed the eventual National Champion comes from. Obviously, No. 1 is a huge 5/8 favorite, but the value really starts at No. 5 at 20/1. Surprisingly, a No. 5 has never won it all but a No. 4 and No. 6 have. Among this group in 2011, No. 5 Arizona and No. 6 Georgetown might be worth a flier.
I’m a huge believer that you need a superstar to win it all, and the Wildcats (75/1 to win it all) have one in Derrick Williams, the Pac-10 Player of the Year. But the problem is that he doesn’t get much help as Williams is the only double-digit scorer in the lineup. And it’s worrisome that Arizona hasn’t beaten a ranked team all year.
The Hoyas (90/1), on the other hand, might have the best backcourt in the nation now that Chris Wright will return from an injury. When he went out the Hoyas were playing as well as anyone, but they lost four straight without him. GU gets a break in that it will face the winner of the First Four matchup between VCU and USC, meaning practically no turnaround time for the winner of that one. Likely waiting in the second round would be No. 3 Purdue, which ended the regular season with back-to-back bad losses (even at full strength). Once you get to the Sweet 16 anything can happen and by then Wright should be back to 100 percent in rhythm.
When looking at some higher seeds that could make some noise, how can you not take a chance on No. 10 Michigan State at 100/1? Clearly it has been a very disappointing year for Sparty, which was preseason No. 2 in the nation. And Kalin Lucas tweaked his ankle in the Big Ten Tournament but played through it. In that tourney, MSU showed both its Jekyll and Hyde faces. The Spartans easily handled Purdue in the second round, but then they were outclassed by Penn State in the semifinals. But this is Tom Izzo’s club and no team plays better when it’s one and done.
No. 11 Gonzaga at 100/1 is another club that knows how to play come tourney time. The Zags also had been a disappointment this season, but they are coming on strong, having won nine in a row on the way to the WCC Tournament title. Seven-foot center Robert Sacre can make life miserable around the bucket vs. any team. The bracket seems to set up well for the Zags, as they open against a St. John’s team without starter D.J. Kennedy and then likely would face a BYU team down starter Brandon Davies. The top seed in that sub-bracket is Florida at No. 2, which is putting way too much stock in the Gators. Gonzaga in the regional final would be no surprise at all. Unfortunately both the Zags and Michigan State can’t make it too far as Cinderellas, as they may play each other in the Sweet 16.
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