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If The Shoe Fits: Our Look At Potential NCAA Cinderellas

Every year, a lower seed surprises. That’s why the NCAA Tournament is more widely known as March Madness. You almost never see all four No. 1 seeds reach the Finals Four.

Sometimes, you even get a No. 8 seed (five occasions). Or maybe even an 11 (four occasions, including Loyola Chicago in 2018). That means the Big Dance almost always consists of multiple upsets. If not big upsets, at least some minor ones.

Who has the best chance to play the role of sleeper — or Cinderella, if you will — this season? Let’s take a region-by-region look.

WEST

Teams that struggle at the end of the regular season and in conference tournament play can sometimes come up big in the NCAAs. It’s true. Why this happens, no one knows. Maybe it’s because those teams are just a step away from figuring it out — and once they do, look out.

And few teams with at-large bids ended the season as poorly as ninth-seeded Missouri. Following a fairly surprising win over Alabama on Feb. 6, the Tigers won just three of their final nine games. But Coach Cuonzo Martin has a balanced, veteran squad that is noted for its efficiency on offense. (Defense, however, has been another matter.)

In other words, Missouri has been a hit-or-miss squad for most of the season. That means it could potentially hit at precisely the right time.

Missouri faces Oklahoma in the first round. Should it win that one, it will presumably face undefeated Gonzaga in the next. Others to consider: USC, Oregon, Oklahoma. Bet at FanDuel.

EAST

Patrick Ewing has had an entirely average run as coach at Georgetown. Actually, average may be putting it kindly — as the Hoyas finished 13-12 this season. And guess what? Heading into the Big East tourney, Georgetown was completely average again.

But they got real hot at the perfect time, winning four straight to capture the Big East crown as an eighth seed. They’re seeded 12th in the NCAA East and will square off with Colorado in Round One.

Ewing was the star of the 1985 Georgetown team that suffered perhaps the greatest upset in NCAA history, losing to Villanova in the title game. What better way to honor the memory of legendary Hoyas coach John Thompson than for Ewing to make a run of his own? Others to consider: Florida State, LSU, Michigan State. Bet at FanDuel.

SOUTH

Eric Musselman is a coach whose teams often play their best when it means the most. Musselman is the former coach at Nevada, which surprised its way to the Sweet Sixteen in 2018. He also took the G League’s LA D-Fenders to the championship series in 2012.

Musselman is now the coach at Arkansas, and it’s true that the Razorbacks are a No. 3 seed — hardly “dark horse” material. But it still seems that few people are giving them a real chance to emerge from the South, especially when compared to, say, Baylor or Ohio State, or even Purdue and Villanova.

That said, this looks to be the easiest of all the regions, and while it’s risky to pick an eight or 11 seed to reach the Final Four, it’s not risky to pick those seeds to win a game or two. Such upsets then create opportunities for third seeds such as Arkansas to win the whole thing. Others to consider: North Carolina, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech. Bet at FanDuel.

MIDWEST

Nobody really expected Georgia Tech to win the ACC Tournament, not even with ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright on the squad. But Wright and the Yellow Jackets got hot at the right time, received some good fortune when Virginia was forced to bow out, then made the most of their opportunity.

You could make the argument that they’re getting some more good fortune in the NCAA, entering as a No. 9 seed and facing mid-major program Loyola Chicago in the first round. And yes, we are aware what Loyola did back in 2018 (see above).

At any rate, Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner is another one of those coaches who always seems to fly under the radar in perhaps the nation’s top basketball conference. But flying under the radar is the way the Yellow Jackets seem to like it. Others to consider: Tennessee, Syracuse, Morehead State. Bet at FanDuel.

Click bracket below for printable version.

Courtesy NCAA.com

Written by Sam Amico

Sam Amico is the assistant managing editor-newsdesk at OutKick. He is also the co-founder and senior writer at Hoopswire.com, and has covered the NBA for nearly 20 years, including his time at Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports and CBS Sports. A native of Akron, Ohio, his writing career began in Wyoming.

2 Comments

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  1. You kinda killed the credibility of your analysis in the last paragraph. The ACC “perhaps the nation’s top basketball conference.” Sure, if you’re living 10 years ago. Have you watched any college basketball the last few years?

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