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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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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Why the Rhode Island Rams Will Make the Sweet 16 in 2017

The Rhode Island Rams, have not made the NCAA Tournament since 1999, will be a Sweet 16 participant in March of 2017. On the surface this sounds like a hilariously bold claim to make. In reality, the Rams’ situation is significantly better and more complex than their 17-15 record would indicate. There is a lot more to the story.

 

Lamar Odom was the star the last time the Rams made the Big Dance. (Photo courtesy of heavy.com)

The Rams are no strangers to success despite being a small school from a small state. Their best campaign was in 1998, when they made a splash and ran all the way to the Elite Eight and were two points from making a Final Four appearance. Lamar Odom was the team’s leader when the Rams last appeared in the Bid Dance in 1998. The 12th-seeded Rhode Island squad lost to Charlotte in overtime. After that the Rams began a lengthy, multi-decade NCAA Tournament drought and have made very little noise since.

 

On another note, the team plays in a conference that is not given the amount of credit that it is due. The Atlantic 10 conference is far from a one-bid league, but for some reason is not looked at in that light. Last year, three teams made the tournament (St. Joseph’s, Dayton, and VCU). So the conference has current legitimacy and it does not lack historical importance.  LaSalle won a title in 1954, VCU had a magical run in 2011, Shaka Smart built the VCU program into a tournament regular, and Phil Martelli has led several runs in his tenure with St. Joe’s. Yet, the notion of the Atlantic 10 being a productive conference is strange. This should not be the case at all.

 

That is where the notion of the Rams making the Sweet Sixteen is generated from. If we look at the conference in a different light, then we can give Rhode Island a bit more credit. If they are a legitimate contender in the conference, then they can be a legitimate contender nationally. So let’s take a peek at the Atlantic 10’s recent history: The conference received three bids in 2015, a whopping six in 2014 (more than the SEC, Big East, and American conferences), and five in 2013 which was the third most by a conference in the tournament. The conference is due a little more respect. They have proven that year in and year out the Atlantic 10 can produce tournament teams. That means that any team able to compete in the A-10 is due some respect.

 

That does not change the fact that Rhode Island has not danced since 1999. So what makes this Rhode Island team ready to not only break through the tournament bid barrier, but also make a run this year? It is the process that has been the re-formation of the Rams’ program. In reality, the Rams have proven that, when healthy, they can be one of the best teams in the conference and thus one of the best teams in the country.

 

E.C. Matthews was preseason all A-10 and a candidate for the conference player of the year. (Photo courtesy of draftexpress.com)

Current head coach Dan Hurley took over for the 2012-13 season.  The team went 8-21. Over the next few seasons, Hurley steadily improved the team’s standing, capped by a 23-10 record in 2014-15. Unfortunately, the team was not one of the A-10 teams invited to the dance. Then, just when they seemed poised to finally make that coveted NCAA appearance, disaster struck.  A whole ten minutes into the team’s opener guard E.C. Matthews tore his ACL. In 2014-2015 season, he had averaged 16.9 points, 2.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game.  Matthews was a legitimate candidate for A-10 player of the year. The loss was devastating and all of the momentum that Rhode Island and Hurley had built dissipated.

 

This year will be different. Mathews is back along with an excellent supporting cast and a great deal of experience. In all, the team returns four of its five leading scorers. It gets better because, these five players are also the five leading rebounders on the team. The only notable departure is fourth leading scorer Four McGlynn who graduated. So a team that was already able to muster a .500 record (9-9) in a conference that has proven itself all comes back with another year of experience–and returns a star player.

The crux of the matter is this: the team that lost their star player was still able to muster a .500 record in an underappreciated conference. They have proven that, when all together, they can win. Three players plus Mathews return who played on the 23-10 2014-2015 team and Four McGlynn was not even a part of that team. So, what we have is a team that has proven that they can win, when healthy, and now adds Kuran Iverson’s production. Last year’s team was actually picked second in the preseason Atlantic-10 poll and Matthews and Martin were preaseason all A-10. This team was supposed to win last year. Now they have another year under their belts and a returning star.  This is an experienced team that knows how to play together. Sure, it may take a moment for E.C. Matthews and Iverson to gel. However, this team has the experience and drive to make some noise.

Dan Hurley did not lose all of the momentum that he had been building with the boys in baby blue when Matthews was injured. He merely stowed it away for the 2016-2017 season, the season in which the Rhode Island rams will taste the sweetness that is the second weekend in March.

 

 

ACC: The Best of the Best

All of us college basketball fans learned something during the first weekend of the tournament. We learned that upsets will happen no matter how strong the top seed seems to be. We learned that no one is ever gonna be 100% correct during March Madness. Northern Iowa knows that no lead is ever safe during the tournament. But the really big take away from last weekend is that the ACC is the best college basketball conference in the nation.

During the first weekend the ACC, had the most wins by any conference in the nation. The ACC went 12-1 in the opening weekend. The only loss the ACC suffered was a Pittsburgh loss to Wisconsin. They are also sending a record six teams to the Sweet 16. No conference has ever done this. This is an incredible thing to see in this day and age of college basketball, where there is more parity in the game. The ACC had seven total teams in the tournament, and if Louisville was not on probation it could have easily been eight ACC teams in the tournament. In the Sweet 16 matchups, it is very possible that the ACC could have six teams advance to the Elite 8.

All 6 teams come into the tournament with different storylines. Let’s start with lowest seed left, Syracuse. Syracuse came into the tournament as one of the teams many say should not have been in the tournament. But they have proven so far that their patented zone defense is hard to deal with. And during this tournament they had to “upset” higher-seed Dayton. In the round of 32, had to beat Middle Tennessee, the team that beat Michigan State. Now in the Sweet 16, they will face 11-seed Gonzaga. Whoever wins that matchup will be the highest seed in the Elite 8 this year.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Next is Notre Dame. The Irish came into this tournament with a pretty bitter taste in their mouth. The last time they were on the court the North Carolina Tar Heels ran them off the court. So the Irish were hungry to reclaim glory to their name. The Irish got their real first shot at righting their wrong against 11-Seed Michigan. They beat the surging Wolverines to move on to the Round of 32, where they had to play 14-seed Stephen F. Austin. And it took the late game heroics of Rex Plfueger, to propel the Irish over the Lumberjacks. But next up for Notre Dame is another team of destiny, 7-Seed Wisconsin.

4-Seed Duke comes into this tournament after one of its most scrutinized seasons in a while, after one of the worst stretches Coach K has ever had with the Blue Devils. Even with a limited bench, Duke is here in the Sweet 16. The Blue Devils are highly dependent on the strength of their starting five, that includes one of the nation’s best players, Brandon Ingram.

(Photo: Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo: Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports)

3-Seed Miami has taken probably the hardest way to the tournament, but this team is definitely up to the challenge. The Canes were even underdogs to the 11-Seed Wichita State team and will probably once again be underdogs against the Villanova Wildcats. Miami G Angel Rodriguez and the Canes dare any “expert” to rule them out.

The two ACC number 1-seeds are still alive. UNC is in the East, and UVA is in the Midwest. UNC will have to fight it out with the historically great Indiana Hoosiers. And UVA will have to play the Iowa State Cyclones. These two matchups are very favorable for the two number 1-seeds. UNC has the height advantage over the Hoosiers and the Heels will force Indiana to cough the ball up. UVA will slow the pace down and make it hard for the Cyclones to get out in transition. The Cavaliers will key on Cyclones F Georges Niang and make the other players beat them.

Geoff Burke/ USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Burke/ USA TODAY Sports

If the weekend works how the ACC wants it to, there could be an all-ACC Final Four, which would lock in the ACC’s second title in a row.