Whether you’re a bettor or a mid-major diehard, Cinderellas are the most fun part of March for sports fans of all stripes. They crash the party that one-and-dones had already picked an outfit for, and ruin the dreams of legacy coaches and Blue Blood programs. For the most part, a Cinderella is there to cause havoc, make a name for itself, and develop a cult following.
Over the years, we’ve had George Mason and VCU and Loyola Chicago (more on them in a minute), and odds are you remember those teams more than you remember how Blake Griffin or another No. 1 overall NBA draft pick did in the tournament. That’s what makes this stuff fun.
Here are six Cinderellas who could make some noise this year, ranked in order of how likely it is that they get to the Sweet Sixteen and really cement themselves as a team to watch:
Having a New York City connection is always going to help form a narrative around a team, but Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas are no joke. They stormed into the NCAAs with an automatic bid and a 12-seed by way of winning the Big East tournament, and have won eight of their past ten games overall. They enter the Round of 64 with more momentum than just about anyone, and with a solid defense and good three-point shooting, they have a recipe to win in March.
Beating McKinley Wright IV and Colorado could be tough, but Georgetown draws Florida State after that, and that team is not as deep as it usually has been under Leonard Hamilton. As 12 seeds go, the Hoyas get to avoid an elite program en route to the Sweet Sixteen if they can keep their momentum going.
Any NBA fans who follow Woj on Twitter have seen him relentlessly stanning for the Bonnies for weeks now, and this team is finally deserving of alumni love. The entire starting five is made up of upperclassmen who were freshmen the last time the Bonnies made a tourney run, and the team is top-20 on defense and top-40 on offense in the nation.
With an efficient pure point guard, two dominant shooters and a great defense, St. Bonaventure should be able to hold tight on a game by game basis in March. Their path to the Sweet Sixteen goes through LSU and Michigan, who is without Isaiah Livers. That’s not a walkover, but it’s realistic.
Sometimes it’s as easy as looking at the numbers. Drake had the 19th-most efficient offense in the nation this season according to KenPom, went 25-4 and had the 13th-best overall field goal percentage of any men’s college basketball team. Like the Bonnies, they benefit from the mid-major experience bump, as the starting lineup boasts three seniors and a junior plus sharpshooting sophomore Joseph Yesefu.
The only reason Drake isn’t higher here is the Bulldogs have to survive a First Four tilt with Wichita State before even breaking into the West Region, where they will then have to beat USC and Kansas just to get to the Sweet Sixteen. While Kansas may not be the dominant 1-seed we think of them as this year, Drake still has to face two top-20ish squads. The Bulldogs have the goods to pull it off, but it will be a tough road.
A fully vaccinated Sister Jean is hitting the road again this spring to cheer on her beloved Ramblers, who made it all the way to the Elite Eight in 2018 and are back in 2021 with a potentially even better team. Head coach Porter Moser led Loyola to a 24-4 record and the main holdover from the 2018 team, starting center Cameron Krutwig, is a senior now and put up 15-7 per game this year.
More importantly, KenPom has Loyola as the top defense in the country and a top-ten squad overall. The only holdup here is that it is always tough to trust teams built around big men come March. That, and the Ramblers will have to go through red-hot Georgia Tech (although a squad without ACC POY Moses Wright) as well as No. 1 seed and Big Ten champion Illinois just to get to the Sweet Sixteen. They’re going to need every cheer from the sister that they can get.
It must be March because the Huskies have a low seed and an electrifying small guard capable of delivering them to the promised land. Presumptive NBA lottery pick James Bouknight came back for his sophomore season and helped deliver a 15-7 record. His development as a go-to scorer should help the Huskies in the tournament, but they are quite an experienced and deep team as well.
UConn is only at the bottom here because they face the hardest road to the Sweet Sixteen. Their first-round matchup is Maryland, which has a case to be a Cinderella itself despite its 10-seed. Then, they would face Alabama, a filthy athletic group with a top-five defense and a really smart coach in Nate Oats. If the bottom of the East Region weren’t such a bloodbath, UConn would be putting on its glass slipper already.