Let’s look at some Cinderellas in a Tournament where the vast majority of the College Basketball Illuminati believes that Kansas, Michigan State and North Carolina are head above the rest.
Introduction: Kentucky Wildcats Go From “They Can Beat An NBA Team” to Cinderella in Just a Year
Every year there are a couple of teams in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament who seemingly come up out of nowhere and make a quick name for themselves only to usually go back under a rock, or into oblivion. Remember Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in 2013? Or how about Valparaiso in 1998? Or Chattanooga in 1997? There always seems to be a Cinderella or two in the Big Dance, but none of them have ever come close to ever winning it all as the bigger Conferences and the top seeds are usually the schools who return Home with the best Memories and the Silverware. And the last real Cinderella to win it all was UNLV way back in 1990, so any Futures Bets made (or recommended) should be made with the ideas that 1)—It may just primarily be for Fun, and Recreational in it’s nature with the sports gambler not caring and even expecting the Futures bet to lose, and 2)—If a Cinderella gets to Sweet 16 spot, then hedging would be the best idea although that’s really hard as often the Cinderella side is playing a team who may be a large Point Spread and Straight Up favorite and finding a way to hedge can be difficult, although not impossible. It usually (as always) depends on the amount of the original bet. Anyway, winning money betting on Cinderellas in the NCAA Tournament is pretty hard in the Future Book markets, but maybe worth some time in games in the Rounds of 64 and 32 on that first, crazy and exciting weekend of play which is about 72 hours away from maddening our Marches. Buckle up.
Here are some Cinderella teams worth consideration, with some reasons why and maybe a spot or two in which to try to back them. As much parity as there is this season, there still might not be any Cinderella sides when all is said and done but there is a small window to think about and act on this handful of teams and that time is now upon us. Better duct tape the door shut. Let's check our cinderellas NCAA Tournament picks...
East Region Cinderellas
The East Region seems like the most muscular little Bracket in years with top-seed North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky and Xavier all possessing the squads and mindsets right now to make a run at a National Championship, and no doubt one of those four emerges from this Region to the Final Four at NRG Stadium in Houston on April 2. But what about the Little Guys, those Little Engines That Could, the Cinderellas in the East Region? Who could surprise and who do you need to know about? The two schools which strangely seem to qualify as the Cinderellas from the East are Chattanooga (29-5, 16-13 ATS) from the Southern Conference and that aforementioned Kentucky (25-8, 17-16 ATS) team from the SEC. Chattanooga (#53 RPI) is led by Tre McLean (12.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and the Mocs were expected to be in the Big Dance before the Regular Season even started. Chattanooga and first-year Head Coach Matt McCall have lost just 5 times and have beaten Georgia, Illinois, and (then) #4 Iowa State and Dayton and Casey Jones (12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.9 apg) and the Mocs can definitely beat Big Ten Regular season champion and #5-seed Indiana on Thursday (CBS, 7:10 p.m. ET/4:10 p.m. PT) in its Round 1 game (IND -11½, bet365) if everything goes right. So if you believe, adjust your Brackets for a possible edge and think about backing Chattanooga on the Moneyline (+600, William Hill). And Kentucky (25-8 SU, 17-16 ATS) is hot right now and may be worth backing to win it all (14/1 to win NCAA Championship, Sky Bet), with intent either to hedge or let it ride depending on how well Jamal Murray (20.2 ppg), Marcus Lee (6.3 ppg) and the SEC Tournament-champion Wildcats (#10 RPI) play in the early rounds and if they advance. Kentucky fell out of the Top 25 rankings for the first time in a while back in mid-January.
Cinderellas to Watch in East Region: Kentucky, Chattanooga
South Region Cinderellas
The potential South Region Cinderellas are Wichita State (#49 RPI)—assuming the Shockers beat Vanderbilt in their Play-In game—and Connecticut (#35 RPI) who both used to get major Respect but the selection Committee is strangely forcing Wichita State into a Play-In game while a team like Tulsa just gets in, no questions asked. Go figure. And Connecticut won it all a couple of years ago, but it seems the Huskies needed to win the AAC Conference Tournament and hit a 1,287-foot shot in a 4-OT game just to get into the Big Dance. Or something like that. Both teams may be able to give the Region’s (and Tournament’s) top-seed Kansas a run for its money, but both believe and play really good team basketball. UConn (W5 ATS) has four scorers all averaging above 12 ppg—Shonn Miller (12.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Rodney Purvis (12.5 ppg), Daniel Hamilton (12.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and Sterling Gibbs (12.0 ppg)—so the Huskies can get scoring from a number of different places and certainly won’t be intimidated by any teams from bigger conferences as they still perceive themselves as a bigger team from a bigger conference, despite recently moving from the popular Big East to the humble AAC (American Athletic Conference). And there is a huge culture of College Basketball and expectations of winning in Storrs, Connecticut with the Huskies Men bringing home the bacon in 2014 and the Women having W3 straight national championships, 5 of the L7 and 8 of the L14 overall, one of the most significant dynasties in the history of the NCAA—Men or Women. What’s up Geno?
Wichita State (24-8 SU) is led by fantastic Head Coach Gregg Marshall and with a pair of clutch senior Guards in Ron Baker (14.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Fred VanVleet (12.0 ppg, 5.7 apg), are a team to watch and one which could make a nice run although having to play one extra game—against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night in a Play-In game (TruTv, Directv 248; NCAA Tournament odds: Wichita State -3½, 135, CG Technology)—just shows how stupid this Selection Committee can be and that some changes might need to be made in the Future with these dudes in suits and Ties who are great at ignoring the smaller Conferences. The Shockers could shock but the real shock is that they still have to prove themselves after winning the MVC outright again and that both them and MVC foe Northern Iowa deserved to be in the Field of 64 no matter what.
Cinderellas to Watch in South Region: Connecticut, Wichita State
Midwest Region Cinderellas
The Midwest Region is also extremely tough with three of maybe four teams in it which could make a run at glory. But that means a perceived Cinderella getting out of this Region will be very hard, but not impossible, as these are still basketball games being played by teenagers, brother. Always remember that. Both Dayton and Iowa State could probably be deemed Cinderellas in a way in this Region, but it’s diamond Gonzaga (26-7 SU, 15-15-1 ATS) and fearless UALR (University of Arkansas, Little Rock) who get the nod here. Why? Because Gonzaga (#46 RPI) has the Confidence, Experience and Size to win some games and with Kyle Wiltjer (20.7 ppg) and Domantas Sabonis (17.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg), the Bulldogs (100/1 to win NCAA Championship, at Pinnacle) possess a tough presence underneath. And UALR (#43, RPI) is a big team that’s not scared of anyone and with G Josh Hagins (12.8 ppg), G Marcus Johnson Jr. (12.7 ppg), 6-11 F Lis Shoshi (6.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.2 bpg) and senior F Roger Woods (9.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg), the Trojans (#43 RPI) could really be a handful for Purdue on Thursday night when the teams meet in Round 1 (TBS, Directv 247, 4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. PT; Odds: PUR -8, 131, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook). For those willing to take a shot on UALR on the Moneyline against the Boilermakers, the best (highest) price to be found on the Don Best, VegasInsider and odds screens is UALR +400 and that number can be found in several places Offshore and here in Las Vegas, including the world’s largest sportsbook, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and there should be money coming in on the Trojans over the next few days.
Cinderellas to Watch in Midwest Region: Gonzaga/Seton Hall Winner, UALR
West Region Cinderellas
If there’s a Region that may have the most potential Cinderellas, it’s the West with even #3-seed Texas A&M (50/1 to win National Championship, Sky Bet) qualifying should they run the NCAA Hoops table and shock the world. And the Aggies (26-7 SU, 15-11-2 ATS) and Jalen Jones (15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg) very well could this year and are a team to watch and make some money on as they try to make a run at a national championship and if they can get by the Sooners, just being placed in the somewhat tame West Region may be the best thing that happened to A&M all year. A-10 Tournament winners Saint Joseph’s (26-7 SU, 22-10-1 ATS) and Isaiah Miles (18.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg) are a real longshot to win the NCAA crown, but Philadelphia-based Hawks (250/1 to win National Championship, Sky Bet) odds to win it all have plummeted from (a high of) 400/1 to 25/1 in less than 24 hours, so you know that some Sharps like the path and the chances the Hawks (#20 RPI) have...or maybe just the gaudy triple-digit odds.
Also a potential Cinderella in the West Region, VCU (24-10, 20-10 ATS) with Melvin Johnson (17.8 ppg) and Justin Tillman (4.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg) could be a force to be reckoned with. The Rams (#37 RPI) lost to Saint Joseph’s in the A-10 title tilt on Sunday and VCU could upset some teams but will have to get by the Pac-12’s Oregon State on Friday in their opener (TNT, Directv 245, 4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. PT; Odds: VCU -4½, 141, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) and should be be to do so with many thinking the Beavers shouldn’t have even made the Big Dance. And last but not least, it’s Northern Iowa (22-12 SU, 19-13-1 ATS) and Wes Washpun (14.3 ppg, 5.2 apg) which won its way into the NCAA Tournament by defeating Evansville in the MVC Championship Game and this is a pretty talented team which can definitely win two straight and maybe get to the Sweet 16 if everything goes the Panthers way. And if you’re not yet impressed with Northern Iowa (500/1 to win National Championship, Sky Bet), remember that they beat (then) #1 North Carolina, 73-71, at Home in Cedar Falls in the the third game of the season (Nov. 21). The Panthers (#73 RPI) are no joke and will face Texas on Friday night (TBS, Directv 247, 9:50 p.m ET/6:50 p.m. PT; Odds: Texas -4½, 124½, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) in a game in which the MVC Conference Tournament champions Northern Iowa can definitely pull off the upset (Northern Iowa Moneyline +175, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook).
Cinderellas to Watch in West Region: Texas A&M, Saint Joseph’s, Northern Iowa, VCU
NCAA TOURNAMENT REGIONAL CINDERELLA PICKS: East Region: Kentucky 14/1, South Region: Wichita State 125/1, Midwest Region: Gonzaga 100/1—Seton Hall 150/1 Winner, West Region: St. Joseph’s 250/1