Did you know that seven schools seeded seventh or worse have reached the Final Four in the past six years, including at least one in each of the previous four? With that in mind, let’s pick one Cinderella and one bust candidate in each region.
Cinderella: No. 8 Wisconsin
Bust: No. 3 Baylor
The Badgers were projected by most experts to be a No. 5 or 6 seed; unfortunately, they were given a No. 8 and thus likely to face No. 1 overall seed and defending national champion Villanova in the Round of 32 -- if Wisconsin beats Virginia Tech in the first round. UW is -5.5 on NCAA basketball odds. Wisconsin is what it always is: a team without any top recruits or much athleticism but well-coached and disciplined. The Badgers were 21-3 at one point but finished at 25-9 after struggling late. UW also has won at least two games in the past three NCAA Tournaments. It could upset Villanova.
Baylor, meanwhile, reached No. 1 in the nation this season for the first time. But since Feb. 1, the Bears are 5-6. They were knocked off in their Big 12 Tournament opener by a mediocre Kansas State team that probably got in the Big Dance only thanks to that win. BU opens with No. 14 New Mexico State on Friday, and I’m not sure the Bears survive that. Definitely take the 12.5 points. The Aggies are 28-5 and won 20 straight games at one point this year. Also consider that Baylor has been one-and-done in the past two NCAA Tournaments.
Cinderella: No. 4 West Virginia
Bust: No. 3 Florida State
Am I allowed to call a No. 4 seed a Cinderella? If it reaches the Final Four, I believe it is (a No. 4 hasn’t since 2013), and West Virginia’s pressure defense gives opposing teams fits. It’s especially dominant in a quick turnaround game when the opponent only has one day to prepare. For example, WVU faces No. 13 Bucknell on Thursday, and the Bison had all week to get ready for it. However, in the Round of 32, either No. 5 Notre Dame or No. 12 Princeton will be rather unprepared. I absolutely believe the Mountaineers can win the West Region – and only one coach in the West has been to a Final Four: WVU’s Bob Huggins. The Mountaineers are +500 to win the region.
If the NCAA Tournament were held in Tallahassee, I would pick Florida State to win the national championship. The Seminoles had their first unbeaten home season in 41 years. They were 18-0 at the Tucker Center, with six wins against ranked teams. I stay far away from teams that struggle on the road because every Big Dance game is one – even if FSU’s first (potential) two games in the West Region are in Orlando. It could lose as a 12-point NCAA betting favorite Thursday against “Dunk City,” Florida Gulf Coast.
Cinderella: No. 13 Vermont
Bust: No. 3 Oregon
There has been at least one team seeded 10th or worse to reach the Sweet 16 in 30 of the 32 years since the field expanded to 64. Vermont could be that school this year. The Catamounts have the nation’s longest winning streak at 21 in a row. They and Princeton (Ivy League) were the only schools to run the table in conference play. Vermont also swept every single award in the America East Conference. It opens against No. 4 Purdue, which will have a huge size advantage. But the Boilermakers also played in the weak Big Ten and had a few bad losses. Purdue has been one-and-done in the past two Big Dances.
I projected the Ducks as a Final Four team – until excellent big man Chris Boucher blew out his knee in the Pac-12 Tournament and was lost for the season. Boucher was one of the nation’s top shot-blockers (2.5 blocks per game) while adding 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds. The Ducks can't spread the floor the same way without him and his 3-point shooting (36 percent in Pac-12 play). Boucher was the team’s Sixth Man and now the bench is incredibly thin. Oregon will beat Iona in the first round but can lose to either Creighton or Rhode Island in the Round of 32.
Cinderella: No. 10 Wichita State
Bust: No. 2 Kentucky
These two are tied together because they could meet in the Round of 32. I would argue no school was seeded more improperly than the Shockers at No. 10. They are 30-4 and enter on a 15-game winning streak. Guards Landry Shamet and Conner Frankamp are two of the nation's best 3-point shooters and this is a great defensive team because that’s what Gregg Marshall’s clubs do. The Shockers are holding opponents to 37.8 shooting from the field, and rank Top 20 in the nation in defensive efficiency. WSU is +1200 on BetOnline NCAA odds to win the South.
Kentucky is certainly talented to win it all, but as usual the Cats are young and you never know how the freshmen will respond in the NCAA Tournament. Granted, Kentucky enters on an 11-game winning streak, but the SEC was arguably the weakest overall league among the Power 5 conferences. The team tends to live and die with streaky guard Malik Monk, who is capable of putting up 30 on anyone but also of shooting 2-for-16. As it is, the Cats shoot 35.3 percent from distance, only 162nd-best in the category nationally. At 5Dimes, you can get Kentucky at -1000 to win the national title vs. the field at -2000. Take the field.