March Madness is upon us, and in March we live for Cinderellas. For those not familiar with the term Cinderella in this context: a Cinderella is basically an underdog team that makes a miraculous rags-to-riches run in the NCAA tournament, knocking off higher-seeded powerhouse teams and busting brackets. Every year there’s a new Cinderella, a team that defies the odds and makes an improbable run deep into the tournament. Last year, it was Loyola captivating the nation with a historic run into the Final Four as an 11 seed. With the single elimination, do or die format of the NCAA Tournament, you know upsets will happen, you just don’t know when. Predicting these upsets can seem like a near impossibility. Heading in to this year’s tournament, there are a few mid-major teams that stand out and could be poised to make a run. Here are three potential Cinderellas to keep in mind as you fill out your bracket.
The Racers are a double digit seed that have the potential to make it to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Led by dynamic sophomore guard Ja Morant, Murray State finished the season with a 27-4 record and won the Ohio Valley Conference championship. Morant is one of the most dynamic scorers in the nation and a future NBA top 5 draft pick. This season he averaged over 24 points per game, tops in Division 1. Without a doubt, Morant will be a player that everyone wants to see in the tournament. He’s a highlight waiting to happen. The Racers will be a popular upset pick, and rightfully so. Morant has the ability to lead the Racers deep into the tournament. However, to make a deep run in the Dance, Morant will need some help from his supporting cast. Murray State also struggles to defend teams that have a big interior presence. So a matchup with a team that prefers to score in the paint could send the Racers home early.
Champions of the Southern Conference, the Wofford Terriers went undefeated in conference play this season and will be a team to watch. The Terriers are led by senior sharpshooter Fletcher Magee, who stands just two 3-pointers shy of the collegiate record for career 3-pointers made. What makes Wofford so good is that they play as a team. They move the ball extremely well, never take a bad shot and have one of the highest three-point percentages in the country. Wofford got some love from the Selection Committee with a 7 seed, so they may not qualify as a true Cinderella team. Although a potential matchup with traditional powerhouse Kentucky looms in the 2nd round, the Terriers are the type of team that can knock off Kentucky and make a Final Four run. Don’t sleep on Wofford. They’re scary good.
Although the Belmont Bruins were the regular season champs of the Ohio Valley conference, they lost their conference championship game and automatic NCAA Tournament bid to Murray State. Thanks to a 26-5 record that included quality regular season wins over UCLA and Murray State, the Bruins squeaked into the tournament as an at-large bid. At-large bids are usually reserved for power conferences and are unheard of for mid-major conferences. Make no mistake about it, Belmont deserved to get in. They are one of the most complete and efficient teams in the country. The Bruins are near the top in scoring efficiency, while also playing lock-down defense. Senior guard Dylan Windler is the leader of this squad. He averages over 20 points per game and is also the team’s top rebounder. Windler is a floor general dishing out the type of leadership necessary to carry a team in March. The Bruins are far from dependent on one player. Windler has a supporting cast consisting of three other players scoring in double figures. Belmont is well-coached, incredibly disciplined and extremely efficient on both ends of the floor. They have the potential to be playing into the second weekend of the tournament.
Don’t discount these squads as you fill out your bracket this year. All three have the potential to make it to the third round and beyond. Upsets are going to happen, that’s a guarantee. Pencil in all the favorites and watch your bracket go up in smoke. The current format of the tournament has been in existence for 34 years, and there have been 10 to 16 upsets in 27 of those 34 tournaments. The Cinderellas are a big part of what makes this tournament so special. No other sporting event is as captivating and as thrilling as the Big Dance. Let the madness begin!