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SBM Sports: Is This Cinderella’s Year in March Madness?

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cinderella-bracket

We are officially less than two weeks away from my favorite Sports Holiday of the year. Selection Sunday is March 16th, and we’ll know who’s in the NCAA Tournament, who was snubbed, and who to advance in our office brackets.

I can assure you my picks for the Final Four will be changing. We can get to my terrible picks in a few weeks.

For now, I have to wonder, is this the year a “mid-major” program makes a serious run at the title? The major teams seem more vulnerable than ever. Just last weekend, 12 (TWELVE!) of the nation’s Top 25 teams lost to unranked or lower-ranked teams. That’s, like…almost half.

Last week’s results were a microcosm of the entire season. More non-traditional powers than ever spent almost the entire season ranked in the Top 25. That used to be the domain of teams from the “Big 6” conferences, a term borrowed from college football referring to the six biggest conferences that get first dibs at the BCS Bowl Games. In the past few years, schools changed conferences looking for a better shot at the multimillion dollar payouts that come from college football’s biggest games.

Ironically, this movement may have opened the door for smaller schools in college basketball.

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For example, the best football teams from the Big East jumped ship to other conferences. The remaining schools, desperate to keep the Big East intact, reached out to Creighton, a school with some basketball pedigree. Now in a major conference, Creighton had an opportunity to schedule better opponents and get on national TV. They took advantage of the platform, and are currently ranked #13.

To get an idea of how a similar domino effect happened to multiple teams, check out this super confusing chart (which is actually a little dated, there have been MORE moves):

manifold_destiny1

Basically, no one is anywhere anymore. The moves led to a consolidation of football schools, which opened the door for basketball schools like Creighton to take advantage.

Anyway, now that we have so many new schools in the running for a title, and a weekend’s worth of games proving again that anything can happen in a one-game playoff, it’s fair to wonder if one of them can make a title run. Here’s a rundown of the Cinderellas-you-may-not-have-heard-of:

Wichita State (Currently ranked #2) –

The Shockers finished their regular season at 31-0. They were in the Final Four last year, and are led by a guy named Cleanthony Early. A lot to like about this team. I’m partial to any tournament team with experience, and they proved last year they can run with any team in the country.

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San Diego State (#10) –

Led by Steve Fisher, the man who took my beloved Michigan Wolverines to their only title, the Aztecs have been a mid-major threat for a few years now, though they haven’t played up to their ranking in the tournament (losing to Dunk City last year). They beat Kansas and Creighton this year, so they are a threat again, but I’ll doubt them until they break through.

Creighton (#13) –

The Blue Jays easily have the worst mascot in college sports right now. Gotta discount them for that. They do have Doug McDermott, the probable National Player of the Year though. That will probably factor more into their postseason success. Creighton has a solid team, but McDermott will take them as far as they go, much like the Davidson teams with Steph Curry.

Saint Louis (#17)

The Billikens win behind a tough defense that rarely allows more than 70 points per game. The problem is they hardly score 70 themselves. In fact, their 206th in the country in that category. Teams will have trouble adjusting to their defense, but can they score enough to win six tournament games in a row?

SMU (#18)

Hall of Famer Larry Brown coaches this team, so you know they’ll be solid. Tomorrow’s game against Louisville will answer a lot of questions about how serious to take their title chances.

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New Mexico (#21)

The Lobos are another team that has had some success in recent years. I tend to think their ranking has more to do with the weak overall field than their talent. They are no title contender.

…and this list doesn’t even mention teams that have been in and out of the rankings like: VCU, UMASS, and Gonzaga.

So to the main question: can one of these Cinderellas become a national champion? I think so. The traditional teams are just flawed enough for one of these teams to take advantage. My money would be on Wichita State, but I’d love to see Creighton win it all behind McDermott.

What do you think? Will the “big” schools be upset come March? Or will it be more of the same once the brackets are set? Do you want to see a few of these schools make it through to the Final Four?

Let me know!

Comment(12)

  1. I've read a few pieces comparing Wichita's 30-0 to Gonzaga's run last year. But this is a team that's very good on both sides of the ball. They proved that last year. Weak conference and all, I think Wichita has a better shot at going back to the Final 4.

    There are big some big "ifs" w/ SDSU. SMU is kinda intriguing just because it's Larry Brown. So the game vs L'ville will decide if they'll be my bracket pick as a Cinderella.
    My recent post Being A Fool For Love Or Plain Stupid?

  2. I think I'd like Wichita State more if they had lost already, the idea of them running the table just seems too good to be true, San Diego St/Saint Louis are the Cinderellas that never comes into fruition…also there's death, taxes, and Syracuse getting upset. I like Kansas, they aren't perfect but I've seen them pull games out their behind when need be, which is what march madness usually evolves into
    My recent post Today’s Word is… DESENSITIZED

      1. TECHNICALLY the 2nd round is now the 3rd round. Since the NCAA wants to pretend those first four games actually matter (I know VCU played in them before their Final Four run). I don't respect that though. Round of 32 = 2nd round.

        Cuse won't lose in that round though, lol. They're still really good, can just have a little trouble scoring.

        1. The frustrating thing about Cuse games all year is when they can't hit from downtown and make FTs, they are God awful offensively. Ennis and/or Fair can take over when needed. Even Christmas has looked alright lately. But the fact that so many of their I-C games have been nail-biters says a lot. Although every year, they find a way to go deep in the tourney.

        2. This isn't true. Syracuse is a heck of a three point shooting team. They also shoot from the free throw line better than most teams in the Top 25. Their FT shooting has won them games.

        3. They'll get to the line and shoot 70-75% there every game. True. But looking at the games where they struggled to score 60-65, it was their D and FT that carried them because the outside shooting wasn't there. Cooney (who leads the NCAA w/ 3 pt attempts if I'm not mistaken) has gotten some very good looks these last few games and struggled. So hopefully he gets/stays hot at the right time or drives to the basket more. Still, I don't see them getting an early bounce.

    1. I said the same thing about Syracuse when they lost the first time. I thought they'd be better off with a loss. Then they lost again…and again. Now those close wins look worse in hindsight. I think Wichita State would be ok if they lost in the championship game. They'd lose the 1-seed and all, but no biggie there.

      I thought Kansas was a shoo-in until Embiid went down. If he's right by tourney time, I think I'll be back on the bandwagon.

    1. That's true, but I think it's a little different this year because for the first time I'm looking at one of these teams as a contender for the title. In other years these teams kind of spring out of nowhere.

      Except for Gonzaga, I don't think a mid-major like Wichita State or even Butler was considered on par with the traditional favorites going in. If I'm not mistaken, Butler was a 8/9 seed the second year they went to the Final Four.

  3. I think Wichita State is a fraud. I never predict that a mid-major school will make it to the Final Four and i'll again continue in that tradition. I won't be surprised if they do but I won't predict their appearance.

    I'm sticking with my original Final Four: I like Kansas, Duke, Michigan State and… Syracuse.

    The only team I don't like so much anymore is Kansas. I've seen MSU get hot late and make a run. But i'm still sticking with Kansas until further notice.

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