2012 March Madness Predictions: Potential Cinderellas
by Darin Zank - 3/13/2012
Watching ESPN Sunday night almost made me sick, with that band of squares, also known as their board of “experts” going so top-heavy with their Final Four picks they laughed at themselves. How much do you need to know to take Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse and North Carolina to go to the Final Four? There's no big challenge in that.
I hate taking top seeds. Yeah, I know 28 of the last 48 Final Four berths have been claimed by one and two seeds. But 10 of the last 48 Final Four spots have been won by teams seeded outside the Top 4. I figure there's about a 20 percent chance a team seeded fifth or lower will make the Final Four this year.
So what I'm looking for here on this page are some longer shots, some better betting possibilities, some potential “Cinderellas,” on which we might gamble a little. Hey, if we're going to watch the tournament anyway, we might as well have something to root for, right?
Here's a quick look at four teams I think have the potential to be this year's Virginia Commonwealth, one from each region.
A Shocker in the South?
Wichita State comes out the Missouri Valley as the five seed in the South Region, a date with 12th-seeded VCU set for Thursday. If the Shockers can get by the Rams they'll then meet the winner of the Indiana/New Mexico State game. So I don't see any reason Wichita State, which has lost just five games this season and starts four seniors, can't make the Sweet 16. They'll probably then run into Kentucky, which of course might be a problem. However, a team that can throw it in the hole like the Shockers always has a shooter's chance.
Sagarin (at USAToday.com) ranks Wichita State 10th on his computer ratings, ahead of both Duke and Baylor. But while TopBet is listing the Dukies and Bears both at +600 to win the South, they've got the Shockers lined at +1,000.
Bettin' on the Beach
Head Coach Dan Monson has resurrected his career at Long Beach State, where one of the most experienced teams in the country lurks as the 12 seed in the West. The Niners did the early grunt work this season of playing a tough nonconference schedule, which included games vs. Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina, Xavier and Kansas State. And they later lost a close game at Creighton. So these guys didn't shy away from anybody. The Beach starts four seniors who together have started more than 400 college games, including a point guard that can both score and dish. And I like teams with extensive experience and battle-readiness.
The Niners play fifth-seeded New Mexico Thursday, and if they can get by the Lobos they'll then meet the winner of the Louisville/Davidson game. I could easily see the 49ers getting through to the second weekend of the tournament. Michigan State awaits at the regional semis, but The Beach can try and cross that bridge when they get to it.
TopBet is offering +6,000 on Long Beach State to win the West Regional.
A Hoot Out of the Midwest?
Temple had four starters back this year from a team that got to the second weekend of last year's tournament, and that's a good start. The Owls got warmed up this season by playing some quality opponents, beating Wichita State and Duke and losing to Purdue and Texas. And they won 13 of their last 14 regular-season games, a run that coincided with the return of their 6-11 senior center Michael Eric.
Temple got upset in its first conference tournament game last week, but I don't mind. It just means they'll be fresher when they open the NCAA Tournament Friday against either Cal or South Florida. The Owls used to be regulars on the second weekend of the tournament, but they haven't gotten that far in a decade. I like their chances to do a little damage this year. TopBet is listing Temple at +3,000 to win the Midwest Regional.
A Crimson Slipper?
Finally, Ivy League Champion Harvard is playing in its first NCAA Tournament in more than 60 years, which already qualifies them as a Cinderella. The Crimson had everybody back from a team that won 23 games last season, and they picked up a key early-season victory over Florida State, a win that looks even better on paper now what with the Seminoles winning the ACC Tournament.
Harvard, the 12 seed in the East, runs a balanced attack, plays good defense and shoots 75 percent from the line. From my view it wouldn't come as a huge surprise if the Crimson beat Vandy Thursday, nor would it be a shock if they then knocked off either Wisconsin or Montana Saturday. And that would put Harvard in the Sweet 16. Top-seeded Syracuse would probably turn the Crimson's carriage back into a pumpkin next weekend, but hey, you never know. Cornell made a pretty good tournament showing for the Ivy League a couple years ago.
TopBet is offering odds of +3,000 on Harvard to win the East Regional.
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