Cinderella Basketball

Which March Madness Cinderella is Staying?

The Sweet 16 is an amazing accomplishment in it amongst itself. It’s an accomplishment that many college basketball programs don’t see very often. High expectations come with it.

Winning in college basketball is hard, and winning in the NCAA tournament is even harder. Time after time we’ve seen favorite teams go down. Some top teams don’t even make it past the round of 64.

Winning two games in the NCAA tournament and making it to the Sweet 16 isn’t a fluke. The teams in the Sweet 16 deserve to be there because they all won two games (sometimes three if they were in a play-in game). That is a hard thing to do in the NCAA.

We’ve now officially gotten to the point where we find out which teams are for real. We will find out in this next round what the Cinderella teams are made of and if they are here to stay.

Cinderella teams are traditionally defined as teams that are seeded ten or over. All of these teams are not necessarily “Cinderella” teams, but they are by no means the favorite to win or even be here in the first place.

Let’s take a look at the teams that most people didn’t expect to be here and how they might fair along the rest of the way.

Xavier

March Madness Cinderella

Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett goes up to score against Florida State Defender in their game last weekend. (Photo/ Getty Images)

The Xavier Musketeers make their eighth appearance in the Sweet 16 as the highest seed (11) left in the tournament.

A victory over Maryland in the first round and nearly a 30-point victory in the second round over third-seeded Florida State puts the Musketeers a step closer to their third appearance in the Elite eight in program history.

Junior guard Trevon Bluiett, who averages 18.5 points a game, helped Xavier finish 21-13 overall with a conference record of 9-9. That was good enough for an 11 seed after losing to Creighton in the Big East tournament.

They now face their toughest task yet, the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats come in as a two seed and a favorite for many to win the entire tournament. Xavier will look to become the highest seed to ever win the tournament after their two big wins.

Michigan

The Michigan Wolverines are arguably the team with the most momentum and burst into the Sweet 16 as a seven seed. The Wolverines are coming off of a Big Ten tournament championship after their plane skidded off the runway en route to Washington D.C. for the tournament. They are poised, hungry and very good.

They beat Oklahoma State in the first round and a really good second-seeded Louisville team in the second round. The Wolverines had a rocky regular season, but with the leadership of senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. and the outbreaking stardom of sophomore forward Moritz Wagner from Germany, Michigan is in good shape to move onto the next round.

With a matchup against the Oregon Ducks, who lost one of their key contributors Chris Boucher before the start of the tournament, many believe this game to be the one where the underdog prevails.

South Carolina

March Madness Cinderella

South Carolina players celebrate their victory over Duke on Sunday with their coach Frank Martin (Photo/Bob Donnan)

South Carolina advanced to their first Sweet 16 since 1973 with a big win over second-seeded Duke. The Gamecocks look to advance to their program’s first Elite Eight.

With another tough matchup against third-seeded Baylor, the Gamecocks look to their leader, Sindarius Thornwell, to lead them to victory. The Gamecocks are not always your most flashy and good-looking team, but they get the job done.

Baylor may be the perfect opponent for the Gamecocks due to both teams’ scrappy and fast-pace play. That will make an interesting and entertaining matchup.

Wisconsin 

Wisconsin comes in on a high after taking down tournament number one seed Villanova. Many believe the Badgers were underseeded and should have gotten a better seed. Nevertheless, here they are.

With a matchup against the Florida Gators, who are also coming off of an utterly dominant victory over Virginia, the Badgers are actually favored by many despite being the lower seed.

The Badgers look to win their first NCAA championship since 1941, and they very well could.

 

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Wisconsin Basketball

Wisconsin Basketball is a Force to be Reckoned With

It is no question that the Wisconsin basketball program has been one of the most successful programs in college basketball over the past decade. Their upset victory over the number one overall seed Villanova on Saturday has the Badgers looking for another long run into the NCAA tournament.

Wisconsin Basketball

Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes, makes a game-winning layup against Villanova on Saturday. (Photo/ M.P King, State Journal)

Wisconsin basketball is not one of the marquee programs when you mention the top college basketball programs, but it should be. The Badgers have by no means been as historically successful as the other top tier franchises like Duke and Kansas. However, they have been at the top of college basketball along with the rest since 2000.

They had only two NCAA tournament appearances before 1994 with one of those being a national championship in 1941. Since 2000 they have made every single tournament and have appeared in eleven sweet sixteen’s, four elite eights and three final fours. They were runner-up to Duke in 2015.

They have also won three Big Ten conference tournaments since 2000 and four regular season championships.

The Badgers finished second in the regular season this year in what was a rather strange season for the Big Ten. The Badgers then lost in the Big Ten tournament championship to a surging and emotional Michigan squad, which resulted in an eight seed in the NCAA tournament.

It was a rather controversial eight seed considering Wisconsin’s Big Ten foe Minnesota drew a five seed even though Wisconsin beat Minnesota twice during the season. The Badgers didn’t let it faze them after a solid ten-point first round victory over Virginia Tech. They definitely didn’t it let them faze them after a three-point win over tournament-favorite Villanova.

All four senior starters played a part in the 2015 runner-up experience. The Badgers are riding their experience into their sweet sixteen matchup against the Florida Gators. The Gators, who are coming off of dominating 65-39 victory over Virginia, look to make their eighth elite eight since 2000.

The Gators come in as a four seed. Many think they are the favorite against the Wisconsin team, who many thought would not be here. But Wisconsin is here, and they’re a force to be reckoned with.

Wisconsin

Sophomore forward Ethan Happ looks for a shot in a game against Michigan in January. (Photo/ Amber Arnold)

Led by seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the Badgers look to compete again this year for their first NCAA championship since 1941.  With the help of key sophomore Ethan Happ, the Badgers have one of the most dangerous rosters in the NCAA.

The one and done era is evidently upon us, but Wisconsin is one of the few teams to be led with this much experience.

The bottom line is that this team knows how to win. In late game situations, they know what to do and they know how to do it without panicking. That’s a talent that you can’t teach. It’s talent that the Badgers have. It’s a talent that can win you a national championship.

Anyone who draws the Wisconsin Badgers in this upcoming tournament shouldn’t judge them by their seed, and consider themselves lucky because the Badgers are here to win.

 

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Northwestern Basketball

Why You Should Root for Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament

The main question here isn’t why should you root for Northwestern, but why not? Chris Collins finally did it. Come Thursday March 16 the Wildcats will make their NCAA tournament debut against Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Northwestern

The Wildcats celebrate their first NCAA tournament bid (Photo/ USA Today)

Northwestern was the only team in a power five conference to never appear in the tournament before this past Sunday.

They had just seven winning seasons since the 2000-01 season. Their best finish in the Big Ten was tied for fifth in the 2003-2004 season. They also did not have a winning conference record since the 1967-68 season until this year.

The program is quickly turning around from the looks of things. The Wildcats finished 10-8 in Big Ten regular season play with a win over Michigan in the final seconds. They won two games in the Big Ten tournament against Rutgers and Maryland until they eventually fell to Wisconsin in semifinals.

Now Northwestern looks to make their mark on the NCAA tournament after drawing an eight seed.

Only three first-time tourney participants have made it to the sweet sixteen before being eliminated since 1985: Florida in 1987 (six seed), Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 (15 seed) and Cleveland State in 1986 (14 seed).

It’s been a while since a first-time tourney goer has been such a high seed. The last school to make the tournament for the first time and be better than a ten seed was UC Irvine in 1998 as a nine seed. The highest seed for a first timer since 1985 was the Florida team in 1987.

Northwestern is looking forward with a real chance to compete in the tournament despite being the last power five conference team to make the tournament.

The Wildcats face a ninth-seeded Vanderbilt team in the first round of the tournament. The Commodores snuck into the last-minute at-large bids with a win over Florida in the SEC conference tournament. Vanderbilt has 15 losses on the year, including their loss in the SEC tournament to Arkansas. Some may say the nine seed is generous.

Only 11 teams in the past 60 years with 14 losses have received an at large bid before this year. Vanderbilt tops that with its 15 losses.

The Wildcats not only have a real chance of beating Vanderbilt in the round of 64, but they also have a chance to win their second game in the round of 32 where they would most likely face Gonzaga. Many believe Gonzaga is the weakest of the four one seeds.

Northwestern

Northwestern students also celebrated Sunday with the Wildcats first bid to the NCAA tournament (Photo/Patrick Gorski- USA Today)

What is also interesting is that it would be hard to find a reason to root against them.

Most of the time when people root against a team, it might be for multiple reasons with the most popular probably being its a rival team. The team also may always be good, or maybe you just don’t like them. None of those apply to Northwestern.

You can’t say they have a true rival since they have never been good. There may be just a couple Big Ten teams. As stated before, they haven’t ever been good, so you can’t dislike them for that. The only other reason we can think of that a person may not like them is because they didn’t get accepted into the school. However, it is a pretty hard school to get into.

If you’re looking for a feel-good story, this would be the one. It is also a story that could very well last until the second weekend of the tournament. Perhaps you just want a random team to root for. Northwestern deserves your attention either way, because why not.

 

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College Basketball

Winners and Losers of This Past Week in College Basketball

It was a busy week in college basketball with the conference tournaments coming to an end yesterday afternoon. With what is shaping up to be another classic NCAA tournament, we take a look at the winners who benefited from this past week and the losers who didn’t fair so well.

Winners:

Duke:

Arguably the biggest winners over the weekend, Duke became the first team in ACC tournament history to win four games and capture the ACC tournament championship. A projected four seed at the beginning of the tournament Duke jumped themselves into an official two seed by the end of the weekend.

But what is more important for Duke is that they might finally be the team that everyone thought they were going to be at the beginning of the season. Despite being ravaged by injuries at the beginning of the season Duke was considered the best team in the country by far with arguably the most talented roster in the country.

And with the tournament starting later this week the Blue Devils are peeking at the right time.

Michigan:

winners and losers college basketball

(Photo/ Geoff Burke)

The Wolverines had a rough start to this past week after their plane skidded off of the runway on their way to the Washington D.C. The Wolverines weren’t even able to use their game jerseys in their first game against Illinois, they were forced to use their practice jerseys.

Not only did they win their first game but they actually ended up winning the entire Big Ten tournament. It’s hard enough to win the Big Ten tournament being an eight seed, but doing it after a plane crash is something among itself.

 

Rhode Island:

Rhode Island was on the bubble the entire week, most of the week being one of the first four teams out. So they made sure there wasn’t any question about their right to be in the tournament.

Ranked at the beginning of the season Rhode Island was a team on the rise. But throughout the season had to deal with multiple injuries that almost kept them out of the NCAA tournament. But, to no avail the Rams, with a four seed in the A10 tournament, won their first A10 tournament championship and a trip to the big dance since 1999.

Losers:

Oregon:

Oregon did have a decent weekend in terms of wins. They did beat UCLA and they came in second in the tough PAC-12 tournament, which is an accomplishment.

But the Ducks lost one of their key contributors Chris Boucher for the rest of the season in their game against California with a torn ACL. The 6-11 Boucher averaged 11.8 points per game, 6.1 rebounds and a Pac-12 leading 2.5 blocks. His absences could very well have an impact on Oregon’s performance in the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse:

winners and losers college basketball

(Photo/ Getty Images)

The Orange were knocked out in the first round of the ACC tournament earlier this week after losing to Miami.  A few days later they didn’t make the NCAA tournament.  That should be enough of a bad week, but the Orange weren’t done there.

Jim Boeheim single handedly made enemies with the entire city of Greensboro after their loss to Miami in a post game press conference. After asked what he thought about the ACC tournament being in Brooklyn he responded, “There’s no value in playing in Greensboro. None.”

Greensboro responded as any proud city would.

Illinois State:

In yet another mid major snub, the Illinois State RedBirds fell short of a NCAA tournament at large bid.  The Red Birds finished 27-6 overall and 17-1 in their conference, losing to Witchita State in their conference tournament championship game.

Many believe mid major teams like Illinois State should be able to receive at large bids more often and this years Illinois State team would be the team to do it.  But the committee didn’t see it that way, as the Red Birds were left out yet again, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.

 

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Big Ten Basketball

The Big Ten’s Unusual, Unorthodox Season

Big Ten basketball has undoubtedly been the most up and down conference this year in college basketball. With the bulk of the Big Ten tournament starting today, the potential for a March Madness like tournament is high.

The Big Ten has offered us constant entertainment. It has deceived us through the entire year and given us headline after headline.

Big Ten Basketball

Kansas guard Frank Mason III drives against Indiana Forward OG Anunoby during their game in Hawaii on November, 11. Indiana would go onto win 103-99, Image courtesy of Nick Krug.

Earlier in the year when Indiana knocked off Kansas, many picked the Hoosiers to win the Big Ten. Some even had them competing for a national championship. That obviously didn’t pan out. Unless the Hoosiers win the Big Ten tournament, it is unlikely they will make an appearance in the NCAA tournament.

The Michigan State Spartans and highly-recruited freshman Miles Bridges were also expected to compete for a Big Ten Championship. At this point in the season, the Spartan’s are now fighting for a chance to just play in the NCAA tournament. They will need to have a few good wins in the Big Ten tournament in order to make an impression on the selection committee.

Wisconsin was also a favorite to win the Big Ten regular season and tournament. They are still the favorite to win the tournament to some. After a 10-1 start in Big Ten play, the Wisconsin has fallen off the wagon a little bit, losing five out of its next six games.

All these struggles have opened up a path for the Purdue Boilermakers to take the regular season championship and grab the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament.

Purdue’s success hasn’t been surprising, but it hasn’t been expected. The team is lead by dominant sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan, who is probably the best forward in college basketball. The Boilermakers have put themselves in a position to win the Big Ten tournament and compete in the NCAA tournament.

Big Ten Basketball

Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh drives against Iowa forward Nicholas Baer (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

What stands out the most when looking at the Big Ten’s season is Northwestern. Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament and is the only college in a power five conference to never do so. With a 21-10 regular season record, the Wildcats are looking like they are in no matter what happens in the Big Ten tournament. However, a few wins wouldn’t hurt in terms of seeding.
What is also intriguing about the Big Ten is that they don’t hold a number of powerhouses like they normally do. The Big Ten did finish out the year with three teams in the AP top 25. Purdue finished at No. 13, and Wisconsin and Maryland rounded out the top 25 at No. 24 and 25. For the most part, they look to play spoiler in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Along with Northwestern, the Big Ten has had other teams take advantage of the lack of dominance at the top of the conference. Minnesota finished the season with an overall record of 23-8, with an 11-7 record in conference play. That was good for fourth best in the conference. With the NCAA tournament soon approaching, the Golden Gophers have many experts picking them as a potential dark horse.

Many would say this past season was a disappointing and underwhelming season for the Big Ten. In Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket, he has the Big Ten’s highest ranking team, Purdue, at a four seed.

Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and almost every school down the line besides Northwestern and Minnesota didn’t have the season that they’re accustomed to having. Was it really a disappointing season for the Big Ten?

While the Big Ten doesn’t have the top 25 teams they normally have, the competition is still there. At any point in time, the team at the bottom of the conference can beat the team at the top of the conference. That is very rare, especially for a power five conference.

These are division I athletes, some of the best in the world. While the conference isn’t as strong this year as it has been in the past years, it is still one of the best basketball conferences in America. Anyone who draws a Big Ten team in the NCAA tournament should not take them lightly. Big Ten basketball teams know how to compete no matter what their record shows.

 

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Duke-UNC: The Best Rivalry In College Basketball

Duke-UNC is not just the best rivalry in college basketball. It is arguably the best rivalry in all of college and professional sports. Just 10 miles apart down Tobacco road, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels prove time and time again why it is truly one of the greatest sports traditions of all time. For a sports fan, attending a Duke-UNC rivalry game must be at the top of their bucket list.

Saturday marked the 244th meeting between The Duke Blue Devils and The North Carolina Tar Heels, with UNC leading the overall series 135-109. These two historic college basketball franchises are top-five in all-time wins in college basketball history with UNC at three and Duke at four.

This past Saturday’s matchup was the final ACC regular season game for both teams as usual. The fifth-ranked Tar Heels defeated the 17th-ranked Blue Devils 90-83 in another hard fought classic.

Duke-UNC Basketball

Luke Kennard and Justin Jackson fight for a loose ball during their first matchup on Feb, 9th (Photo Courtesy of The Fayetteville Observer)

It was an important game for both teams in terms of seeding for the ACC and the NCAA tournament. What makes Duke-UNC so special is that none of that matters.

Duke-UNC isn’t about records, seeding or win-loss records coming into the game. It’s about pride. The thing about Duke-UNC is that one team could be undefeated coming into the matchup and the other team could have lost every single game up to that point. For that one game, it will be played like it is the last basketball game to ever be played.

Blood, sweat and tears is the definition of Duke-UNC. Blood, sweat and tears are usually evident in every single game, or at least one of those.

Neither team has actually met in the NCAA tournament before. Every game they have ever played, with the exception of some ACC tournament games and an NIT game back in the 70s, has been in the regular season. Regular season games are important, but the postseason has historically brought out a different level in athletes. A level in which you see in every Duke-UNC game.

It shows why this rivalry is so special. The postseason atmosphere of win or go home is in every Duke-UNC matchup, even though it isn’t a win or go home game. All that matters in the two games they play each year is winning and nothing else.

The rivalry has produced powerful moments like when Gerald Henderson punched Tyler Hansbrough in the face resulting in a bloody nose and a plethora of heated exchanges. Jeff Capel hit a half court shot to send the game into overtime. Jerry Stackhouse’s had a reverse slam in Cameron Indoor Stadium that silenced the previously rowdy crowd. Austin Rivers hit a game-winning shot over Tyler Zeller to cap a comeback in Chapel Hill.

Whether you like basketball or not, people tune in to watch Duke-UNC. On March 8, 2008, Duke played UNC in Durham, which would go on to be the most viewed college basketball game in history. An estimated 5.5 million watched the game. Even those who don’t prefer sports can appreciate the magnitude of Duke-UNC.

The series has involved some of the greatest basketball icons of all time, including the great Michael Jordan. The likes of Vince Carter, Shane Battier, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Antawn Jamison, Rasheed Wallace and many more have gone on to have successful careers in college and professionally.

Either way the tide turns, Duke or UNC, it’s unlike anything else in college or professional sports.

 

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How to Win A National Championship: Gonzaga Edition

There is no question that the Gonzaga basketball program has been outright dominate in the past ten years. They have appeared in 18 consecutive NCAA tournaments and 19 total dating back to 1995. In those 18 tournaments, they have been a top-five seed six times and a one seed once. This year they will most likely be a number one seed again.

They have made the NCAA championship round of 32 15 times, the sweet 16 seven times and the elite eight twice. They have not gotten past the elite eight in their 19 tournament appearances.

What’s the problem? How come a team so consistent and so dominate cannot even put themselves in a position to truly compete for a national championship?

The answer is actually pretty simple and it doesn’t have anything to do with what they’re doing on the court. In order to compete for a national championship and put themselves in a position to have a real chance year after year, they need to switch conferences.

Gonzaga Basketball

Sophomore guard Nick Emery reacts to handing Gonzaga their first lost of the season (Photo: Sports Ilustrated)

Changing conferences sounds simple, but it’s actually not. If we have learned anything from the major changes in teams going to different conferences these past few years, it’s that football is the dominant force in these decisions. College football is a massive industry in the United States and for most schools is the biggest sport and makes the school the most money.

Unfortunately for Gonzaga, they do not have a football team. The last time Gonzaga’s football team played a game was in 1941. If history truly repeats itself, then there are no signs of the program coming back anytime soon.

The problem with Gonzaga’s conference (West Coast Conference) is that it is not competitive. Since 1995, Gonzaga has won the regular season conference championship 19 times, including this year. They have also won the conference tournament 15 times since 1995, and are the heavy favorite to win it again this year.

Their success in their conference can be compared to the likes of Kansas. They have won an absurd 13 straight regular season conference championships, including one this year. The main difference is that Kansas has three national championships, six runner-up finishes and 14 final four appearances.

Granted, Kansas is a bigger school than Gonzaga, which does help them with things like recruiting and scholarships. What Kansas mainly has that Gonzaga doesn’t is regular season competition.

San Francisco does have two national championships but haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1998. Another notable team would be BYU, who makes the tournament pretty consistently. However, BYU has never made a final four and hasn’t made an elite eight since 1981. The last team, St. Mary’s, has only gotten as far as the elite eight once in 1959.

If Gonzaga wants to compete for a national championship, they need consistent competition throughout the entire regular season. Every now and then they will play a decent team from a power five conference like Arizona, who they played earlier t

Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski (24) drives against Southern Utah (AP Photo/Jed Conklin) ORG XMIT: WAJC109

his year and beat 69-62. After that, the competition stops.

We have seen it time and time again how big of favorites the Bulldogs are when it comes to tournament time. Yet, they always fall flat and one must assume it’s because they aren’t ready. Gonzaga has had some really great teams recently. Teams that probably could have made a late tournament run and maybe even have won the national championship.

Duke, UNC and Kansas all win national championships because they play big games every year throughout the season. They know how to handle the magnitude of what March Madness brings.

If Gonzaga wants to ever win a national championship, they need to do the same. That doesn’t come with waiting for the WCC to become a stronger conference. It comes with switching to a power five conference.

In this upcoming tournament, the Bulldogs will most likely earn another number one seed and be a heavy favorite in every one of its games. Watch for yourself, and see what happens.

 

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