During every March, America wants to know which underdogs they can follow through a couple of early upsets. The stories of double-digit seeds making a run to the second week are frequent, but even if a team pulls off one huge upset, some remember those outcomes as much as any in the tournament.
With college basketball being so wide open this season, many of the higher seeds have weaknesses and are susceptible to upsets if they have an off-game. Here’s a look at six potential Cinderella teams that could put together a memorable win or two in the tournament.
Middle Tennessee State: The clock has yet to hit midnight for the Blue Raiders. A year after pulling off one of the more unlikely first-round upsets in tournament history, No. 12 Middle Tennessee State is back, and with some familiar faces. Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts, two players who combined for 40 points in last year’s shocker over Michigan State, are back. The Blue Raiders also add transfer JaCorey Williams, who averaged 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. They may not shoot as well as they did last year after graduating several forwards who could stretch the floor, but you could make the case that this team is better on both ends of the floor.
East Tennessee State: T.J. Cromer could leave his mark on the NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-3 senior guard is averaging 19.1 points a game. There’s a reason why the Buccaneers can make a Cinderella run into the second week: they can light it up. They average just under 80 points per game and shoot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from three as a team. If they get hot, things could get interesting.
Vermont: The Catamounts haven’t lost a game since before Christmas. No. 13 Vermont efficient on both ends of the court. They get good shots, they have a play-making point guard in Trae Bell-Haynes and they control the pace. That could cause problems for No. 4 seed Purdue, and one of the reasons why it wouldn’t be shocking if Vermont made a run. However, the Boilermakers can counter Caleb Swanigan, a nightmare matchup who can quickly end a Cinderella fairytale.
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Rhode Island: Can a team ranked in the preseason top-25 really be a Cinderella? Maybe not. But the Rams have the best chance of a double-digit seed to make a run. For starters, a talented roster led by EC Matthews and Hassan Martin is entering the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1999 with a head of steam after winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Rams not only avoided the First Four, the selection committee slotted them against No. 6 Creighton, a team which certainly isn’t the same since losing Mo Watson back in January. No. 11 seed Rhody could also face off with No. 3 Oregon in the second round. The Ducks lost shot-blocker Chris Boucher earlier this week.
Florida Gulf Coast: Dunk City was one of the more captivating Cinderellas in NCAA Tournament history when it made a run to the Sweet 16 in 2013. No. 14 seed Florida Gulf Coast could be in line for another upset. They don’t shoot the ball well, rather they pound it inside. For all No. 3 Florida State’s talent and size, the Seminoles have been inconsistent this season. If the Eagles do pull off the upset, a run could be halted by Maryland’s Melo Trimble, probably the best closer in college basketball. Either that or Xavier, which is played much better this past week.
REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West
Nevada: Cameron Oliver, who be drafted this June, headlines the Wolf Pack’s offense that also includes Marcus Marshall and Jordan Caroline. The Wolf Pack have plenty of firepower to make a run. It may be tough to get out of the first round, though. Monte Morris and Iowa State have won nine of its last 10 games. The Wolf Pack and Cyclones should be a fun game with all the makings of a shootout.
UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks should be trendy upset pick. Kevin Keatts has done a tremendous job in his short tenure in Wilmington, and most of us remember the scare his team gave Duke in the first round a year ago. This time around, No. 12 UNC Wilmington draws another ACC opponent, No. 5 Virginia. The Seahawks are going to try and speed the game up and turn Virginia over. That’s just something the Cavaliers don’t do. While No. 12 over No. 5 has become a common upset, I just see this as a bad matchup for it to occur.