The NCAA tournament begins with the First Four on Tuesday and Wednesday, but for a lot of people, the fun really doesn’t start until Thursday and Friday. How will the first two big days of the tournament pan out? Here’s a look at four possible Cinderellas, one from each of the four regions.
East: Michigan State Spartans
Villanova is the top seed in this region, but if there’s a team seeded a lot lower which can make a real run at the Final Four, it has to be the Spartans. Tom Izzo is one of the best March Madness coaches of all time and you should keep this in mind when looking at the NCAA Tournament odds. He’s made six Final Fours and has been able to get Michigan State to the Elite Eight from relatively lower seeding positions, including a number seven seed in 2003. He took Michigan State to the Final Four as a number five seed twice, in 2005 and 2010. Izzo often seems to find a way to work past a few tough teams and high seeds in the tournament. He gets his players to be at their best at the right times. Michigan State could easily beat Virginia on the weekend and get to the Sweet 16, where it would be close to an even-money choice to make the Elite Eight.
South: Iowa Hawkeyes
There is another seventh-seeded Big Ten team with a chance to go a long way in the bracket. Iowa is very talented, with some size and power in the paint, specifically from Aaron White, Adam Woodbury, and Gabriel Olaseni. Iowa could dominate on the boards, which means that as long as its defense can force a reasonably high percentage of missed shots, the Hawkeyes would be in position to win a few very physical games. Should Iowa make the Sweet 16, there’s a chance the Hawkeyes could play in-state rival Iowa State, a game in which anything could happen. This is a team that could sneak up on Gonzaga in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Midwest: Wichita State Shockers
There’s a very good chance that Wichita State will play Kansas in the second game of the tournament in this region. Wichita State has wanted to play Kansas for a long time. The Shockers will get their wish if they can get past Indiana. Wichita State would treat a game with Kansas as a Super Bowl. The Shockers would have a very realistic chance of winning that game and moving on to the Sweet 16. If they played Notre Dame, the Shockers would certainly be able to compete on the boards, since the Fighting Irish have struggled as a rebounding team for much of the season.
West: Oregon Ducks
This NCAA tournament pick is due to the fact that Oregon pushed Wisconsin hard in the first weekend of the tournament a year ago, and that game was in Milwaukee. Oregon very nearly won. The Ducks have overachieved this season, and they would not back down from a fight with the Badgers. If Oregon could get past Wisconsin, all things are possible for this team in the West Region.