Who are the Most Likely Cinderellas in this Year’s Tournament?

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On second thought, the “Cinderella team” in the NCAA Tournament may be a better term than originally thought.

Sure, we think about the term Cinderella in a cutesy way – ‘oh, look at this team surpassing expectations despite seeming inferior to the Goliath’s of March!’ – but I think there’s a better association behind it. The movie Cinderella isn’t about some nobody becomes special, it’s someone who the audience knows is special, and throughout the course of the movie Cinderella proves the audience right. Reapply this to the NCAA Tournament: fans of certain teams know their team is special, and throughout the course of the tournament the team proves the fans right. It’s everyone not already in-the-know that’s surprised.

So, how do you pick your Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament? You have to know the teams, and know what makes them special. So, let’s do that now. Here are some Cinderella stories ready to be told this Tournament:

Providence Friars (10 Seed)

The Providence Friars have been a tough team to read throughout the season, but they’re peaking at just the right time. For anyone who missed their performance over the weekend, they had three overtime games in the Big East Tournament which resulted in a way-closer-than-it-looks 76-66 loss to the Villanova Wildcats (a 1 Seed in the NCAA Tournament) in the championship game. The night before that? Came back 17 to beat Xavier (another 1 Seed) in OT. The day before that? Beat an NCAA team in Creighton in a gritty overtime win.

The Friars are playing at a level most fans only saw glimpses of during the season. Now that they’ve put it together? They could make some serious noise. It won’t be an easy path, but the last time the Friars were a 10 seed in Charlotte they were a Cinderella in their own right (see: 1997).

Oklahoma Sooners (10 Seed)

Could Trae Young be the guy who can carry his team far in the Tournament? He’s been doing it most of the season, why not now? After all, we’ve seen teams come back from mediocre seasons to make March special (see: 2011 UConn). The fact is that Young may be one of the most hyped players in the country shouldn’t distract you from his talent – or how much that talent means to the Sooners.

The Sooners had a strong first few months before falling a bit flat – they went 3-10 from January 16 to February 27 – but did log big wins against Kansas and Kansas State. If Trae Young gets hot they could give Rhode Island and Duke a run for their money.

Arizona State Sun Devils (11 Seed, First Four)

Update: Since publication time, ASU has been eliminated from the running.

Arizona State has been a battle tested and proven team from early in the season, with wins over Xavier and Kansas (both one seeds) and Kansas State (an NCAA team). During that time they shot so well from the field that if this were Westworld they would have been one of those deadeye outlaws who never misses. But this was all before the Sun Devils struggling in the PAC-12. So, why them? Because they’ve proven they can win. Because Bobby Hurley is a great coach. Because March is chaos and nothing says “chaos” like a team who will suddenly come back and lay waste to teams that may doubt them.

And I mean, just look at that enthusiasm! How can you not root for this guy and his team?

Just for fun, here’s his brother Danny Hurley (URI’s head coach) reacting to the same news:

Nothing says “brotherly love” like the jubilant relief that comes with knowing you didn’t accidentally keep your kin out of the NCAA Tournament. Way to go Danny Hurley! Signed: a Friar fan.

Syracuse Orange (11 Seed, First Four)

You know why Syracuse? Because they somehow always manage to bust brackets. I don’t know if they can even be a Cinderella at this point given their program’s history of success. I guess because they’re an 11 Seed maybe it counts? They barely made the tournament (again) and will probably find a way to do damage (again) so I guess? I don’t know. Maybe they’re a bracket buster instead of a Cinderella. Who knows. But I’m putting them on and that’s all I’ll say of the matter.

Davidson Wildcats (12 Seed)

Let’s get this out of the way right now: 5/12 upsets happen every tournament, and you need to pick at least one. There. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I like Davidson for the 5/12 upset. I don’t know why exactly. It could be because it makes no sense that a team like Ohio State led by coach Chris Holtmann (whom I’ve loved since he took over at Butler) to be a one-and-done. Or maybe it’s because the Wildcats were 3-point machines in the semi’s of the A10 Tournament to take down St. Bonaventure and then regular season champs URI to secure an auto-bid into the tourney. Yeah, you know what? let’s go with that one. Still, if Davidson gets past the Buckeyes I could see them ruining a few brackets – assuming they hadn’t already by getting past the Buckeyes.

Iona Gaels (15 Seed)

Hey, remember that time Duke lost to Lehigh as a 2 Seed? And that time Duke lost to Mercer as a 3 Seed? And the time they almost lost to Belmont as a 2 Seed? Anyways, if you like seeing Duke lose, there you go. Have fun.