Don’t sleep on these four potential NCAA Tournament Cinderella teams as dark horses for the Sweet 16.
You can set your watch to it: one of the underdogs, if not a few, will improbably send home a higher seed. That’s what makes the NCAA Tournament so incredibly entertaining. Cinderella teams are out there; it’s just a matter of identifying them. Here’s a look at four candidates.
Though the Huskies finished the season unranked, Kevin Ollie is confident his team has what it takes to win a few games in the tournament. Ollie should know—in his second year as head coach he led UConn to a national championship.
With defense as one of their calling cards, the Huskies won 10 out of their last 14 games, including a quadruple overtime thriller against Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinals. It’s a balanced attack that ninth-seeded UConn employs, and contributions will be needed from the entire roster if they hope to have a shot at downing Kansas in the second round.
Though Shaka Smart departed for the Texas job last April, the Virginia Commonwealth Rams again resemble a team that could be dangerous in the tournament. VCU put the basketball world on notice in 2011 when as an 11th-seed it made a Final Four run. After finishing this season atop a competitive Atlantic 10 Conference and with an RPI ranking of 33, senior guard Melvin Johnson (17.8 ppg) and the Rams have what it takes to get past seventh-seeded Oregon State and give Oklahoma all it can handle in the second round.
At just 34 years old and in his first year as head coach, Matt McCall has the Mocs back in the tournament for the first time in seven years. Chattanooga finished 29-5 overall and 15-3 in the Southern Conference before defeating East Tennessee State in the conference championship to earn an automatic bid. The Mocs scored an impressive win at Dayton in December and also defeated Illinois and Georgia on their home courts.
Chattanooga will have a chance because of its experience—three seniors and five juniors comprise the top eight players in the team’s rotation. McCall wants his team to be tough-minded on the defensive end—if Chattanooga can make fifth-seeded Indiana work for its points and limit their own mistakes, they could have a shot at getting past the Hoosiers and depriving everyone of a second round Indiana-Kentucky matchup.
Expectations were once high for the Zags, who ranked no. 9 in the AP preseason poll. However, they needed a victory over Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference title game to assure an 18th straight NCAA tournament trip. Now that they are in, anything is possible for a group that boasts a pair of imposing bodies in senior forward Kyle Wiltjer (20.7 ppg and 6.5 rpg) and sophomore forward Domantas Sabonis (17.4 ppg and 11.6 rpg).
Eleventh-seeded Gonzaga has heard questions about its credentials all season long. Expect a chip firmly planted on the Zags’ shoulder as they look to move past sixth-seeded Seton Hall on Thursday.