Who will wear the glass slipper? 11 potential ‘Cinderellas’ in 2013-2014

R.J. Hunter (Georgia State athletics)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Every March, the nation falls in love with a new Cinderella, as a team from off college hoops beaten path puts together a run in the NCAA tournament. Florida-Gulf Coast, Wichita State, Lehigh, Butler, VCU, George Mason. The list goes on and on and on. 

To help you prepare for your college hoops viewing schedule this season, here is a list of potential Cinderellas. We can differ on what, exactly, makes a team eligible to be a ‘Cinderella’, but here’s criteria I used to make this list:

  • Cannot be from one of the top nine conference, meaning no new Big East, no Atlantic 10 and no Mountain West.
  • Cannot be a team that got preseason top 25 consideration. So no Harvard and no Wichita State. 
  • Cannot be a program that is “known”, so send my apologies to the folks at St. Mary’s, BYU, UTEP and Southern Miss. 

Essentially, I’m just looking for a way to give you a list of teams you don’t know about that will be a double-digit seed yet have a chance to make it to the second weekend of the Big Dance. Feel free to quibble away:

Boston University: The Terriers have arguably the best back court at the mid-major level this season. D.J. Irving can score with the best of them, and his counterpart, Maurice Watson, is a terrific point guard and a former top 100 recruit that really has no business playing outside a power conference. Good guard play can take you a long way in March.

Florida-Gulf Coast: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Everyone knows about #DunkCity already so they shouldn’t be on this list. Whatever. I don’t care, because Florida-Gulf Coast brings back enough talent to once again make a run in the tournament. Bernard Thompson is back, as is freewheeling point guard Brett Comer. The Eagles have a slew of long, athletic big men that can run the floor as well. The biggest question will be whether new head coach Joe Dooley let’s #DunkCity be #DunkCity again.

Georgia State: Ron Hunter has himself as talented of a perimeter attack as you’ll find at the mid-major level. R.J. Hunter averaged more than 17 points as a freshman, and he’s not the only returnee, as Devonta White and Manny Atkins are back as well. Throw in the addition of Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow, who is eligible immediately, and the Panthers are some production from their front court away from being a real threat to make the Preseason NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

Indiana State: Jake Odum is a stud. Anyone that remembers the run he led the Sycamores on as a freshman back in 2011, winning the MVC tournament, will agree with me. Manny Arop and Justin Gant also return for a team that beat Creighton, Wichita State, Miami and Ole Miss last season. ISU lost seven of their last nine games last year, however. Can they avoid a collapse this season?

Iona: The Gaels are loaded with high-major transfers. Sean Armand and David Laury is as good of a 1-2 punch as you’ll find at the mid-major level, and Tre Bowman, Mike Poole and Tavon Sledge all started their careers playing in BCS conferences. Iona gets up and down the floor in a hurry, plays five guys that can handle the ball and shoots a lot of threes. They’ll be inconsistent, as all jump-shooting teams are, but on the nights that those shots are falling, they’ll be able to compete with just about anyone. 

Louisiana Tech: What I like about the Bulldogs is that head coach Mike White has this group playing a system that is tough to prepare for. Tech presses. A lot. They force a lot of turnovers and can overwhelm teams that don’t have strong back court play. The Bulldogs won a lot of games last season, but utterly disappointed in two marquee road games against WAC powers Denver and New Mexico State to end the regular season. Will Raheem Appleby and company be able to dominate in their first year in Conference USA?

Mercer: With all the attention that Florida-Gulf Coast got last season, would it surprise you if I told you that Mercer was actually the best team in the Atlantic Sun during the season? They also knocked off Tennessee in Knoxville during the NIT, bring back all but one contributor from last year and will have as experienced of a rotation as you’ll find anywhere.

North Dakota State: Taylor Braun returns to Fargo to lead a team that brings back all five starters from a season ago. The Bison were arguably the best team in the Summit League last season and could have knocked Nate Wolters and South Dakota State from their perch had Braun not gotten injured midway through the year. Look for NDSU to right that wrong this season.

Towson: Pat Skerry engineered one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country last season, and he did largely on the backs of transfers from high-major programs. Namely, Jerelle Benimon, a Georgetown transfer that ended up averaging 17 points and 11 boards. With sharpshooter Four McGlynn eligible this season, the Tigers could end up being even more dangerous this year. 

Weber State: The Wildcats lost Damian Lillard, Scott Bamforth and Frank Otis in the last two years, but with Davion Berry, a Big Sky Player of the Year candidate, leading a team with one of the better front lines at the mid-major level — you might have heard of Kyle Tresnak but keep an eye on Joel Bolomboy — Weber State is favored to finally win a Big Sky title.

Wright State: The Raiders were one of the most surprising teams in the country last season, finishing third in the Horizon and coming a few possessions from making the NCAA tournament after getting picked dead last in the preseason. Wright State brings back all five starters from that team.

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They have a couple dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.