5 Potential Cinderella Teams That Could Destroy March Madness Brackets
It's called March Madness for a reason, folks.
Everyone's favorite memories from the NCAA tournament are the Cinderella stories. We all remember Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean from last year, or Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier leading UConn on the first of their two magic carpet rides.
While Cinderella stories are rare, picking one correctly could be what wins you your office pool. Anyone can pick a 5-12 upset or two, but successfully choosing the longshot that goes on an extended run takes a lot more skill than that.
So, which low-seeded teams do our numbers dig? Let's take a look.
VCU Rams (8 Seed)
Why not start with a program that found that the slipper fit just a few years ago in 2011? Boasting a top-10 defense, the Virginia Commonwealth Rams are one of the toughest teams in the country to score on. They rank third in opponent effective field goal percentage.
But at least you don't have to worry about getting rejected once you meet a defender at the rim, right? Nope, they're top-25 in block percentage.
But in order to protect the rim, do the Rams at least sacrifice forcing turnovers and opponents are able to take care of the ball when they play them? That's not the case either, as VCU ranks top-25 in steal percentage.
If this team gets hot offensively, their defense is good enough to carry them on a magic carpet ride.
Utah State (8 Seed)
Oftentimes, a Cinderella squad has a go-to bucket-getter. For the Davidson Wildcats it was Stephen Curry. For the Butler Bulldogs it was Gordon Hayward. This year, Sam Merrill could be that guy for the Utah State Aggies. The junior guard is averaging 21.2 points per game.
A nail-biter in the early rounds can come down to clutch free throws. You don't have to worry about this team failing to capitalize on those opportunities, as they rank top-50 in the nation in free throw percentage.
The Aggies also boast a lockdown interior defense, as they rank top-five in opponent two-point percentage. Their block percentage, which ranks top-50 in the nation, may have something to do with that.
Utah State may have been operating in the shadows behind the Nevada Wolf Pack in the Mountain West Conference, but that could all change in this tournament. With a gritty defense, a guy who can get buckets when the team needs it, and strong free throw shooting, this Utah State has all the ingredients a team needs to pull off a few upsets.
Washington Huskies (9 Seed)
If you've been following college basketball all year, you know the Pac-12 has had a down season. And when I say down, I mean absolutely dreadful. But the lone standout in the Conference of Champions this year has been the Washington Huskies. Coach Mike Hopkins was a longtime assistant at Syracuse under Jim Boeheim, who runs a unique zone defense that has lead to deep tournament runs in the past.
The Huskies can create live ball turnovers as well, as they rank second in the nation in steals per possession. You also can't score in the paint against them easily, as only Duke has a better block percentage than Washington.
Hopkins has borrowed the zone concepts from Boeheim, and with the short turnaround time that the NCAA tournament provides, teams could have a tough time preparing for the unique style of defensive play. If the Huskies can get hot on offense, watch out. And after all, how fitting would it be that in a year the Pac-12 is down for the Huskies go on a run in the tournament?
Wofford Terriers (7 Seed)
For a team to go on an extended run, they will probably need some hot shooting. The Wofford Terriers has the pieces to do just that. The Terriers can shoot the lights out of the building, as their 41.6% three-point percentage ranks top-three in the nation.
They're led by Fletcher Magee, who is one of the best pure shooters in the country. He averages over 20 points per game on the season, and despite taking a high volume of contested three-pointers, his field goal percentage from deep is up over 40%. He's also automatic at the charity stripe, connecting on 90.7% of his attempts from the free throw line.
But this team is more than Magee; they play well as a unit, too. They take care of the basketball, as they rank top-40 in limiting turnovers per possession. They also crash the glass, ranking top-40 in offensive rebounding percentage (31.9%).
Remember the name Fletcher Magee. If Wofford makes a run, you're going to be hearing a lot more about him and the ridiculous three-pointers that he attempts -- and makes.
Liberty Flames (12 Seed)
In the end, basketball is a game of making shots.
I know. Groundbreaking analysis. But why not take a shot on a team that ranks 12th in effective field goal percentage (56.1%)?
This one is more of a longshot considering their seed, but it's still worth consideration. We know that gaining an edge in possessions is key to pulling upsets in the tournament. Well, the Liberty Flames excel at forcing the opponent to give up the ball, as they generate turnovers on 20.3% of their defensive possessions. That ranks top-60 in the nation.
They should also be able to take advantage of free trips to the line in the crunch time of games. Their 77.9% mark from the charity stripe ranks top-10 in the country.
If you're in a big pool and looking to gain leverage on the field by finding the next Loyola (IL) Ramblers, the Flames could be your best bet.
Northeastern Huskies: They rank top-15 in the nation with a 38.8% three-point percentage. The team can capitalize on trips to the charity stripe as well, where they shoot 75.1%, top-40 in the country.
Vermont Catamounts: Vermont makes over 75% of their free throws, which ranks in the top-30. It's not easy to score inside on the Catamounts, either, as they rank top-40 in opponent two-point percentage.
Saint Mary's (CA) Gaels: After stealing an automatic bid by winning the West Coast Conference tournament, the Gaels are playing with house money. St. Mary's can shoot it from deep, as their 37.8% field goal percentage from beyond the arc ranks top-35 this season.
Murray State Racers: The Racers are adept at getting additional opportunities on offense, as their 31.4% offensive rebounding percentage ranks top-50 in the nation. They also have a guy in Ja Morant who has the ability to take over the tournament.
New Mexico State Aggies: We talked about the importance of gaining an edge in possessions for a Cinderella to have her ball. Generating turnovers isn't the only way to do that; creating second chance opportunities via offensive rebounds does the trick as well. New Mexico State ranks second in the country in offensive rebounding percentage.