Calling all basketball fanatics, it’s that time of the year once again. College students, alumni, rowdy student sections… bragging rights are on the line in the nation’s most popular bracket tournament. As the matchups of this year’s NCAA tournament were just released, there’s nothing more to wait for.
But what would March be without the madness? Yes, we can’t wait to hear about the upsets and busted brackets as teams placed in higher seeds get knocked off by significantly lower seeds. This goes with “no name” schools to the big powerhouse schools that everyone expects to advance. But it’s almost impossible to finish with a perfect bracket. The Big Dance is full of too much madness.
I could be the first to tell you that, as a student, for everything your school has worked hard for, it doesn’t feel good to lose a game to a lower seed. My San Diego State Aztecs lost to the No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in the round of 32 last year. That night, I laid my head down in disappointment, wondering like most of the country, “Who is FGCU?”
From low seeds to the unpopular “no name” schools, each year there are always some that make a run in this Big Dance. After seeing all of the teams participating in this year’s tournament, I took my best guess to come up with a list of five schools with low seeds who could possibly make a run to be this year’s Cinderella.
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1. Stephen F. Austin
Who is Stephen F. Austin? The school name doesn’t sound too intimidating when comparing them to other college basketball teams. But if there’s going to be a true Cinderella story in this tournament, it’s got to be these Lumberjacks out of the Southland Conference. Playing in a conference of schools not known for basketball, S.F Austin will be playing with nothing to lose. They can put an end to some of these critics showing that smaller schools can compete too by making a run in this year’s NCAA tournament.
But they’ll have a challenge playing VCU in their first round matchup, a team with their Cinderella history. They have an impressive 31-2 overall record being a small school out of Nacogdoches, Texas, and received enough votes to nearly crack the top 25 rankings towards the end of this season. Going in with a “nothing to lose” attitude can potentially be dangerous for opponents, and the Lumberjacks will certainly have that.
The name Harvard doesn’t sound intimidating at all when it comes to student athletics. But don’t be fooled, the Crimson can definitely play. In 2011, Harvard has made its basketball presence known in March by receiving a bid to the NIT, but in 2012, they made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946 and made the Big Dance again last year. Last year, Harvard won their first NCAA tournament game as a No. 14 seed, upsetting No. 3-seeded New Mexico. No one saw that coming. This year, they’re a No. 12 seed and will have a tough task against No. 5-seeded Cincinnati from the AAC.
Their recent March Madness appearances speaks for themselves as a rising hoops program from the Ivy League. After reaching the round of 32 last year, teams should fear and respect the Crimson as a hungry and determined team looking to make a run. Since arriving in 2007, you can see that head coach Tommy Amaker has really changed the culture of Harvard basketball.
In terms of talent, we all know the Big East Conference lost a ton of powerhouse basketball programs last year, such as Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. But that’s not to say that Providence didn’t play great talent this season–they played against exceptional teams in the Big East, which included ranked opponents in Villanova, Kentucky and Creighton–and they even beat Creighton twice this year. But losses to some of the ranked opponents didn’t give the Friars much help in placing a tournament bid. Instead, Providence punched their own ticket to the tournament–they’re going dancing for the first time since 2004–after receiving an automatic bid from winning their Big East Conference tournament.
Senior guard Bryce Cotton has been on a tear all season, leading the Friars with 21 points and five assists per game. He will look to lead a hungry Providence team excited about earning themselves a chance to be Cinderella.
Not quite an Ivy League school like Harvard, but Stanford is pretty intellectual themselves. As of the late, they may not have been known for basketball like their football program, but Stanford has a history of NCAA tournament appearances dating back to the mid-90s to 2008. And for the first time in six years, the Cardinals find themselves back in the Big Dance after a decent season with wins over tournament teams UConn, Oregon and UCLA.
It will take more time for head coach Johnny Dawkins to build a legacy like former coach Mike Montgomery, who led Stanford to 12 NCAA tournament appearances. For now, Dawkins will be determined to capture his first NCAA tournament win against a school which doesn’t fair too well in March. The Cardinals will be a No. 10 seed against No. 7-seeded New Mexico, a team that has never gone past the round of 32. Last year, the Lobos earned a No. 3 seed only to be upset against Harvard. Who knows, if the Cardinals can get by the Lobos, they may feel some momentum making a run in this tournament.
Sometimes, filling out brackets can be all about guessing as we never know which team is going to get upset until it happens. One of the bubble teams trying to earn themselves into the round of 64 are the Volunteers. They had a really impressive win–by 35 points!–this year over No. 1-seeded Virginia, but have failed to defeat ranked opponents Wichita State, Kentucky and Florida.
The last time Tennessee made the NCAA tournament came back in 2011 where they were quickly one-and-done, embarrassed in a 30-point loss to Michigan. But the year before that, Tennessee went on a respectable Elite 8 run. I believe the Volunteers are anxious to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since their embarrassing loss to Michigan in 2011. If Tennessee can blow out a No. 1 seed by 35, I wouldn’t doubt this team can earn themselves a ticket beyond the round of 64.
Who do you think will pull a huge upset this year?
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