The brackets are out and fans are filling them in, hoping to pick that one upset to give them an edge and win their bracket challenges. This year, like every year, has matchups that pose possibilities of upsets, crushing finishes and most importantly, the start of a Cinderella story.
The beauty of a Cinderella is that when your team goes against them and wins, you almost feel bad for winning. Duke fans in 2010 when they defeated Butler, Connecticut fans in 2011 when they beat Butler (sorry, Butler fans) all were, of course, happy their respective teams won the National Championship, but seeing the story that America got behind to come to a soul-crushing end is, well, sad.
A few weeks ago I discussed the potential Cinderella teams of 2018. At that point, the bracket hadn’t been released, but now that we know who’s in and the matchups the teams will have, it’s time to revisit and look at the tournament’s dark horses.
(Note: The highest seed possible is ten.)
Loyola Chicago: The Ramblers rolled through the Missouri Valley Conference and finished the season with a record of 28-5 (15-3 MVC). Their most impressive 65-59 win was at the then fifth-ranked team in the country in Florida. Loyola-Chicago has a few bad losses, including a 34-point defeat at Boise State and an ugly 73-56 loss to Milwaukee.
The area the Ramblers are best in is their defense, giving up an average of 62.2 points per game. The downside is scoring and rebounds, where they rank 216th and tied for 323rd in the nation, respectively.
Loyola-Chicago’s first-round game is against Miami, who fell to New Mexico State earlier in the year and just got by Middle Tennessee State. Loyola has a great chance to win its first game, the big test is who they’d play after — either Tennessee or Wright State. Assuming the Volunteers take care of business, that could set up a big test for Porter Moser’s men.
Butler: This region is tough to pick a true Cinderella in. I really like Marshall and Murray State, but there’s a big issue: West Virginia. Both teams would have to face the Mountaineers in either the first or second round (unless the Racers upset WVU), but I think West Virginia will take care of business.
The Bulldogs have a tough route if they want to replicate their 2010 and 2011 tournament runs. Butler has to fight through Arkansas in the first round, but that’s a winnable game for them. Arkansas struggles on defense, which would allow senior forward Kelan Martin to work his magic. The biggest test is Purdue, assuming the Boilermakers avoid being upset by CSU Fullerton. Purdue beat Butler 82-67 earlier in the year, but March always provides a spark of magic.
San Diego State: When it comes to looking at teams who can make a run, a major key is when the team peaks. That’s the case in all sports, but plays a bigger factor when it comes to the NCAA tournament. The Aztecs of San Diego State are riding a nine-game winning streak, including a Mountain West tournament title. Before the win streak, they were 13-10 and looking like they wouldn’t even sniff the tournament. Behind senior forward Malik Pope, SDSU has five players who average at least 10.2 points per game.
Similar to Butler, the Aztecs will have to get over a hurdle named Michigan. The Wolverines are also on a nine-game winning streak and boast a Big 10 championship. The Aztecs score and rebound better than Michigan, so an upset could be on the cards.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma being selected to play in the NCAA tournament was very controversial, to say the least. Freshman guard Trae Young took the nation by storm for the first half of the season, but the Young and the Sooners spiraled into horrible form and are coming into the tournament winning just two games out of their last ten.
The thing is that Trae Young is still Trae Young. He averages 27.4 points and 8.8 assists per game. Yes, he has a turnover problem, but he can still light it up. The Sooners also have wins over Kansas, Texas Tech, Wichita State and TCU. At some point, they were a top-five team, and while they aren’t on a good trend heading into March, they clearly are capable of beating top teams. If they can get past a good Rhode Island team, they have a date with Duke. If OU beat Kansas, they can beat Duke.
None of these Cinderella picks are for sure. There’s a good chance these teams lose in the first round, but they have the ability to make a run. Things have to go their way, but it’s important to just sit back and enjoy the beauty that is college basketball in March.