Cinderella

2014-15 Season Preview: Ten possible ‘Cinderellas’

1 Comment
source:
Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Part of the fun in filling out your bracket in March is attempting to figure out which teams are most capable of pulling off an upset (or multiple upsets) in the NCAA tournament. While some teams may be relatively obvious given factors such as their play throughout the season and the matchup in front of them, others can slip under the radar. Below are ten teams to be mindful of as the 2014-15 season moves towards its most exciting month.

1. Harvard: Tommy Amaker’s Crimson have appeared in multiple preseason Top 25 rankings, and from an NCAA tournament standpoint the program has managed to win a game in each of its last two appearances. Point guard Siyani Chambers and wing Wesley Saunders are good leaders for this group, which doesn’t lack for depth in the front court. The one question for Harvard: do they have enough perimeter shooting to get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament?

2. Georgia State: Ron Hunter’s is led by the perimeter tandem of R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow, and they’ll have the added motivation of last year’s Sun Belt title game loss to Louisiana. Kevin Ware adds depth on the perimeter, and experienced forwards Curtis Washington and Markus Krider return for another season in Atlanta. The Panthers will be a dangerous team should they get into the 68-team field.

3. Louisiana Tech: Michael White’s Bulldogs were one of four teams to finish tied for the Conference USA regular season title, and they reached the league’s tournament final as well (losing to Tulsa). Kenneth Smith and Raheem Appleby lead the way on the perimeter, and Michale Kyser is the anchor in the middle for a team that returns four starters.

4. FGCU: Joe Dooley’s team fell one win short of a return trip to the NCAA tournament last season, but with their experienced perimeter rotation the Eagles are the favorites to win the Atlantic Sun. Brett Comer runs the show, with preseason A-Sun POY Bernard Thompson and Jamail Jones on the wings. If their four front court transfers, including Demetris Morant, are ready to go FGCU could grab the nation’s attention for the second time in three years.

source: AP
Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes (AP Photo)

5. Green Bay: The Phoenix lose inside-out big man Alec Brown but they do return one of the best point guards in the country in senior Keifer Sykes. Brian Wardle’s team returns four starters, and in junior forward Jordan Fouse they likely have the best defender in the Horizon League. And like three of their four teams ahead of them on this list, Green Bay will have a conference tournament title game loss to use as fuel.

6. Toledo: Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets won a share of the MAC West regular season title, only to fall in the MAC tournament title game to Western Michigan. Four starters return, led by senior guards Juice Brown and Justin Drummond, and Mississippi State transfer Dre Applewhite will be eligible at the end of the fall semester to add depth to the perimeter.

7. Iona: There aren’t many teams that are as productive offensively as the Gaels, with senior David Laury IV and juniors A.J. English and Isaiah Williams leading the way. However Iona may have the toughest path to an NCAA tournament bid of any team on this list, with the Gaels likely having to fend off rival Manhattan and Siena (which will host the conference tournament) to win the MAAC’s automatic bid.

8. UC Irvine: Russell Turner’s Anteaters were the Big West’s best defensive team last season, and that should once again be the case with forward Will Davis II and center Mamadou Ndiaye back on campus. In total UC Irvine returns four starters from last year’s Big West regular season champion squad, with guards Alex Young and Luke Nelson being the others.

9. Murray State: Steve Prohm welcomes back four starters with three of those players (led by guard Cameron Payne and forward Jarvis Williams) being double figure scorers. Add in sixth man T.J. Sapp, who averaged 13.2 ppg once he became eligible (mid-year transfer from Clemson) and the Racers have the talent and production needed to win the OVC.

10. Northern Iowa: With the assumption being that Wichita State will once again be in the NCAA tournament, the question to be asked is whether or not the Missouri Valley can earn multiple bids. And if any team can help the league accomplish that, it’s Ben Jacobson’s experienced team. Seth Tuttle leads the way for a team that returns all five starters (reserves Deon Mitchell and Nate Buss as well), and newcomers Paul Jesperson (Virginia transfer) and Wyatt Lohaus are expected to compete for minutes as well.

FIVE OTHERS TO CONSIDER

1. UCSB
2. Yale
3. Manhattan
4. Weber State
5. Akron

Is Florida Gulf Coast the most surprising Cinderella of all time?

13 Comments
This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Every tournament needs a Cinderella. It’s one of the great recurring subplots that March Madness supplies and it usually helps shape the tournament’s identity.

No. 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast is in the midst of what could be the greatest Cinderella story in NCAA tournament history. The University was founded just 16 years ago in 1997. The men’s basketball program was formed just 11 years ago in 2002. The Eagles became a full Division I member in 2011.

And now, in just their second year of postseason eligibility, Florida Gulf Coast is headed to the Sweet Sixteen, having defeated No. 2-seed Georgetown 78-68 and No. 7-seed San Diego State 81-71.

But it’s not just getting to the Sweet Sixteen, which the Eagles are doing as the first No. 15-seed this far in NCAA tournament history (until this season, 15 seeds were 6-112 overall in the NCAA tournament). It’s how they’re doing it, with highlight-reel dunks and a run-and-gun game plan, winning by an average of 10 ppg. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the wife of the head coach is a former-supermodel.

MORE: Get to know Florida Gulf Coast

With the exception of the Final Four runs from VCU, Butler and George Mason, it can be argued that the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles are putting together the most impressive Cinderella performance of all time. Sure, there are Cinderella teams that had better seasons and better teams than FGCU, like Cornell’s 2010 squad that made it to the Sweet Sixteen behind the trio of Louis Dale, Ryan Whittman and Jeff Foote.

Davidson’s 2008 team led by Steph Curry also falls in to this category. But both Cornell and Davidson were known commodities heading in to the tournament and had put together impeccable regular seasons. The same can be said for UT-Chattanooga, who as a No. 14-seed, knocked off No. 3-seed Georgia and No. 6-seed Illinois en route to a berth in the Sweet Sixteen. But the Mocs had previous NCAA tournament experience having been there in both 1994 and 1995.

Then there’s the 1990 Loyola Marymount team. Still mourning the loss of teammate Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble led the Lions on a run to the Elite Eight in which they defeated Michigan, the defending National Champions, 149-115. But like Davidson. Loyola Marymount had NBA talent. Bo Kimble was drafted eighth overall by the Clippers following the season.

The Gonzaga teams of the late nineties and early aughts were regular season and tournament champions and had future pros. The 1998 Valparaiso team had Bryce Drew, who went on to a have a solid NBA career. The 2006 Bradley Sweet Sixteen team had future-draft pick Patrick O’Bryant. Miami (OH) had Wally Szcerbiak in 1999.

The Eagles have no future pros. Sherwood Brown, their best player was mostly recruited by low and mid-major programs, and was categorized as having the potential to be a solid mid-major scorer. Bret Comer received interest from Colorado State and UMass, but decided to stay local following the death of his father. The same can be said about Chase Fieler, Eddie Murray and Bernard Thompson, all of whom were only lightly recruited coming out of high school. The Eagles don’t have a Steph Curry or a Bryce Drew. Not yet at least.

Heck, Florida Gulf Coast didn’t even win their conference’s regular season. Despite their non-conference win over Miami, this was a team that lost to a 12-18 Lipscomb team twice. They also lost to an East Tennessee State team that finished with 22 losses.

MORE: Coach Andy Enfield’s wife is now a hot topic

You have to go back 14 years to find a Sweet Sixteen run from a double-digit seed as improbable as Florida Gulf Coast’s. In 1999 Southwest Missouri State (Now Missouri State) lost seven conference games and finished with a 22-11 record. The Bears were led by current-New Mexico head coach Steve Alford, and featured a similar ragtag cast of characters that stock Florida Gulf Coast’s roster. The 1998 squad had the same meager expectations as FGCU this season and finished second in their conference. Yet after holding Wisconsin to just 32 total points in a 43-32 first round NCAA tournament win, the Bears crushed No. 4-seed Tennessee by 30 points in the second round, 81-51. They would lose to eventual national runners-up Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, 78-61.

But of all the Cinderellas who came come before us, none of them have been quite like FGCU. This is an Atlantic Sun team we are talking about. The Northern Iowas, and George Masons of the world came from strong mid-major basketball conferences. The Atlantic Sun is a low-major, home to many fledgling Division I programs. A team from the Atlantic Sun Conference isn’t supposed to win a NCAA tournament game, especially not two against the likes of Georgetown and San Diego State.

MORE: Should Florida Gulf Coast have been a 15 seed?

Other than the fact that they had a favorable match-up against a Georgetown team with a fragile tournament psyche, very few if any, both within the industry and out, that thought this Eagles’ team could even win one tournament game.

We won’t know until after next weekend just how special this run is. But up until this point, history suggests that out of all the Cinderella stories that March has written, the one we’re currently reading may end up being the best.