This Year’s Cinderellas
By: McKinley Nelson
Every year there seems to be a double-digit seed that everyone seems to overlook and that team ends up in the sweet sixteen and sometimes even beyond. It can be hard to figure out which team the slipper might fit so I’ll provide you with my pick in each region that could find themselves breaking a lot of brackets.
#11 Rhode Island
The Rams of Rhode Island are waltzing into the tournament after winning the A10 tournament and going 24-9. The Rams first made headlines this season as a mid-major, with whom many people are unfamiliar, that popped up in the preseason top 25. They grabbed an early victory over Cincinnati and played a close game with Duke, but soon injuries started to strike the team. It took URI till mid-February to finally get healthy and the Rams that we were promised in the beginning begun to appear. The Rams rattled off eight straight victories with multiply double digit wins in the A10 tournament. I believe URI may grab a sweet sixteen 16 spot as a Cinderella for a couple of reasons. First, they have amazing guard play in E.C. Matthews (14.8 ppg) and Jared Terrell (12.3 ppg). Matthews is a future NBA guard and has great size at 6’5. The other reason for their Cinderella status is their defense. During their eight game winning streak they are only giving up on average 61.8 ppg. Their first opponent Creighton has limped to a 7-8 finish following an 18-1 start that coincided with losing their star point guard to injury and legal problems. I expect URI’s defense to stop the Blue jays. In the second round I expect the Rams to play Oregon which just recently lost forward Chris Boucher, the leading shot blocker in the Pac 12, to injury. The analytics seem to agree with URI being strong, FiveThirtyEight has URI as the most powerful 11 seed with the Rams having one of the highest chances of going to the Sweet 16 for a mid-major, only Gonzaga, SMU, and Cincy are above them. Kenpom also has them rated above some of the 8 seeds and above 6 seed Maryland. I expect this team to be dangerous.
#12 UNC Wilmington
One of the most common upsets is the 5-12 matchup. The Wilmington Seahawks come in after winning both the regular season title and tournament title for the Colonial Athletic Association. The Seahawks are no strangers to March. UNCW played Duke last year and almost pulled the upset as a 13 seed. On Kenpom the Seahawks has a scary offense for a low major. Rated as being the 18th most efficient offense means the Seahawks have a better offense than both their first-round opponent Virginia (38) and their possible second round match up Florida (31). UNCW also plays at a very fast pace averaging 85.2 ppg which comes in as being the 10th best in the nation. The Seahawks coach, Kevin Keatts, has won back to back CAA coach of the year awards, and is a Rick Pitino disciple. If UNCW can make other teams play their style of basketball the Seahawks may be the Cinderella of the East.
#10 Wichita State
Are the Shockers the most under seeded team in the bracket? Greg Marshall has a lot of experience in March and his program is a six-time dancer. After winning the MVC and getting 30 wins the Shockers found themselves a 10-seed playing another mid-major in the first round. Vegas feels confident about WSU making them a six-point favorite. FiveThirtyEight also feels extremely confident about them making them the highest probable double seeded team to reach the Sweet Sixteen at 24%. While Kenpom is not the end all be all, the Shockers are extremely high in their matrix. WSU is ranked 8th which places them above KU, Arizona, UCLA, and Duke who are all top 3 seeds. Wichita State is also extremely balanced, they are in the top 20 in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. This year WSU had to replace their top two players Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. The Shockers quickly replaced them with Markis Mcduffie, Landry Shamet, and Darral Willis Jr who all average double digit points per game. Don’t expect to find the Shockers in foul trouble, they play ten players in their rotation. WSU has already grabbed a final four back in 2013 so don’t be surprised if the slipper still fits if they take down Kentucky.
While Xavier hails from a major conference in the Big East, they still may be considered a Cinderella because of their seed. Xavier looked to be a safely in the field until Edmond Sumner went down for the season. The Musketeers hit a rough patch from February 8th till March 9th where the only team they beat was lowly DePaul. Xavier seemed to turn it around defeating the 2 seed in the Big East Tournament with Trevon Bluiett taking the responsibility of filling the void of Sumner. An X-factor to play attention to is J.P. Macura who is a strong guard with good size. Macura is a 3pt marksman and is very good from the free throw line. He can bully smaller guards with his bigger size. Their opponent in the first round is Maryland. FiveThirtyEight has the Musketeers with a 49% chance of moving on past the Terps. Next up would most likely be Florida State if Xavier advances to the second round. FSU has played terrible away from home and with the Noles not going to the big dance since 2012 the stage and lights may become too bright. Xavier with good guard play, which reigns in March, may be dancing into the sweet sixteen.