As we move firmly into March Madness, and fans and pundits everywhere are reviewing, re-reviewing, and re-re-reviewing the brackets, certain low seeds catch the attention of millions across the country for being Cinderella candidates. These are the teams everyone thinks will win their round of 64 game, and possibly a round of 32 game, to advance to the tournament's second weekend.
However, anyone who's watched more than one Big Dance in their time knows that the teams that actually turn into Cinderellas are very seldom the teams everyone expects them to be. In fact, many of the teams who have scored upsets in the Dance are almost completely off the pundits' radar to score the upset.
So, which teams this season are Cinderella candidates no one is discussing? These three are teams you must keep an eye on.
The Grizzlies racked up their second consecutive 20-win season, thanks to a high-scoring offense spearheaded by guard Will Cherry and forward Kareem Jamar. Their sharpshooting perimeter players are capable of lighting up the scoreboard, and while they don't rebound well, that perimeter attack is capable of knocking off almost anyone.
They have the star power necessary for a Cinderella, courtesy of the rangy, athletic Jamar, who's averaging 14.3 points per game. The forward has the size and athleticism to be a matchup nightmare for the Syracuse Orange, their round of 64 opponent.
On top of the Grizzlies' already strong Cinderella case, they're facing a Syracuse team that had been in an utter free fall prior to the Big East tournament. With inconsistent scoring and a lack of rebounding skill, Jim Boeheim's team has struggled quite a bit of late. Their patented matchup zone defense is as stingy as ever, but remains vulnerable to teams who shoot well from three, which is the definition of Montana's offensive attack.
Factor in the Orange's lack of shooters, their tendency to want to get into three-point shootouts with opponents and settle for low-percentage shots, and this is a matchup that should have Jim Boeheim sweating bullets.
The Gaels are far from a perfect team; their defense ranks as one of the worst in the nation, having given up 80 or more points 11 times and struggling to get stops on any kind of a consistent basis. In most cases, that kind of issue is a Cinderella killer, but the Gaels are a very unique case because they score better than almost any team in the tournament. They run a balanced, deep attack spearheaded by guards Lamont Jones and Sean Armand. Big man David Laury gives the Gaels an interior presence, and they have one of the deepest benches in the country.
Sure, they can't stop anyone, but the Gaels also have a definite puncher's chance against any team, and their second round matchup is a strong one for them. Ohio State are a talented team, but the Gaels match up extremely well with them in a variety of ways. While they lack the defensive fortitude to slow Buckeyes leading scorer Deshaun Thomas, the rest of Thad Matta's squad are the definition of inconsistent offensively. With only Thomas scoring, it will be tough for Ohio State to keep up with Iona's high-flying offensive onslaught.
Plus, the Buckeyes' high-pressure defense isn't likely to rattle Iona's veteran backcourt, and when they're not getting stops or forcing turnovers, Ohio State is in trouble. Look for this one to be an incredibly high-scoring affair, and if it's a shootout, that favors the Gaels.
When you get to this time of the season, it's all about experience, and few teams have more of it than the Wildcats do this year. Head coach Bob McKillop's squad is incredibly experienced, rolling three seniors and two juniors onto the floor in their starting lineup. They're led by center Jake Cohen and forward De'Mon Brooks, both of whom average double figures in scoring and provide the Wildcats with the interior presence they need to match up with most big schools.
The Wildcats rely on getting high-percentage shots, but they're also deft three-point shooters, hitting 36.9 percent from long range as a team. While they're not elite athletes, against the right team, they're a dangerous Cinderella candidate.
Their round of 64 opponent, the Marquette Golden Eagles, are just such a team. Buzz Williams' squad doesn't have elite athletes or great size, and they rely heavily on forcing turnovers. While this isn't a bad thing, a veteran squad like Davidson isn't going to be rattled by the Golden Eagles' stifling defense, and the Wildcats' patience on offense is just the thing to counteract that pressure.
In other words, Davidson are exactly the kind of team the Golden Eagles didn't want to face in the early round of the tournament, and they're going to face quite the struggle to escape the upset.