The North, South, East and Midwest regions are all set for the NCAA tournament and all 68 teams are en route to Indianapolis. The Gonzaga Bulldogs received the overall No. 1 seed and, on paper, have the easiest path to the Final Four. The other No. 1 seeds, Michigan, Illinois and Baylor, will have a tougher time making it to the final weekend with plenty of teams looming in the shadows thirsty for upsets.
In most years, Cinderellas would be plucky little upstarts from lower-tier leagues like La Salle, Bradley or Florida Gulf Coast. But there are some power programs with lower seeds that could get hot this tournament, so we're going to slap the 'Cinderella' label on them too. With that said, here are five Cinderella teams that could help or bust your March Madness brackets.
No. 11 Michigan State
What a play-in game to kick off the tournament against UCLA on Thursday! Tom Izzo is the king of March and I think they not only win that game but can easily get to the Sweet 16 (potentially facing off with Alabama) with the matchups in the first few days. The Spartans are No. 57 in the KenPom rankings and that’s due to the midseason slump where they lost seven out of nine games. MSU won five out of the last eight games to end the season, including a win over No. 1 seed Michigan, to keep its tournament hopes alive.
Izzo is 52-21 in all NCAA tournament appearances, went to three straight Final Fours between 1999-2001 and lost to North Carolina in the championship game in 2019. The Spartans' leading scorer, Aaron Henry, has been playing better as of late in averaging 16.5 points per game. Izzo always finds a way to get the best out of his players come tournament time.
No. 12 Winthrop
Each year, there’s at least one No. 12 vs. No. 5 upset and the Winthrop/Villanova game screams upset alert. Villanova is down their star senior point guard Collin Gillespie after he suffered a season-ending MCL injury to his left knee. On top of that, Justin Moore went down with a serious ankle sprain two games ago and isn’t full strength. Winthrop has beaten its last three opponents by an average of 26 points and is led by 6-foot-7 senior guard Chandler Vaudrin. Vauldrin is a Division II transfer who is leading the Eagles in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Look for Vauldrin to dominate the backcourt in this matchup. Winthrop has the potential to be this year’s mid-major Cinderella team that makes a big run.
No. 7 Oregon
Like Izzo, Oregon head coach Dana Altman always seems to have a little bit of March magic when it comes to the NCAA tournament. He has led his team to 13 NCAA tournament appearances and in 2017, the Oregon Ducks made their first Final Four appearance in school history. Oregon is full strength heading into the tournament with junior point guard Will Richardson returning to the team in February after suffering a thumb injury early in the season. Once Richardson returned to the team, the Ducks only lost two games to close out the season and were in first place in the Pac-12. Oregon wing Chris Duarte is leading the team in scoring and is a huge NBA draft sleeper who could have a breakout tournament. Getting past Gonzaga is going to be tough but Oregon stands the best chance out of anyone in the West region.
No. 9 Georgia Tech
Josh Pastner’s defense is going to rattle a lot of teams in the tournament. It starts out as a one-three-one half-court set, then switches to a three-two matchup-zone that sometimes turns into man-to-man, all morphed into one defense.
“When you play Georgia Tech, you have to accept that you’ll be running your secondary offense all game long,” One ACC assistant told Yahoo Sports. “I could see them surprising a lot of teams in the tournament.”
Georgia Tech beat Florida State to win the ACC tournament and forced FSU to turn the ball over 24 times. ACC defensive player of the year Jose Alvarado had five steals and added 13 points in the win. The Yellow Jackets also have the ACC player of the year, Moses Wright, who averaged 17.4 points and 8 rebounds per game. Georgia Tech hasn’t lost a game since Feb. 14 and are a dangerous defensive team for Illinois, Tennessee and Oklahoma State in the Midwest region.
No. 9 LSU
Michigan is down one of their star players, as senior Isaiah Livers is out indefinitely with a stress fracture injury in his foot. He had started every game this season, averaging 13 points per game. If he remains out for the tournament, LSU could knock them out in the second round. Cameron Thomas is the best shooter in the SEC, averaging 23 points per game and shooting 40% from the field. Power forward Trendon Watford matches up well with Hunter Dickinson in Michigan’s front court and had a season-high 30 points in an overtime loss to Alabama. Will Wade’s LSU team is reminiscent of the Auburn team that made a Final Four run in 2019. They’re tough, they have shooters and older, experienced players to lead the team. The stars could be aligning for an SEC championship rematch between LSU and Alabama, the best game of the year, to finish out the East region and punch a ticket to the Final Four.
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