Potential Cinderella teams for 2014
LAS VEGAS, NV (The Spread) – Which teams could wear the Cinderella slipper when it comes to this year’s NCAA tournament? Let’s take a look.
We've seen it before. George Mason did in 2006, Butler did it in back-to-back seasons (2010-11), VCU was the surprise entry in 2011, Wichita State shocked everybody to make the Final Four and Florida Gulf Coast was the darling of the NCAA's last season in their run to the Sweet 16.
As the conference tournaments begin, now is the great time to check out some of the potential Cinderella picks. There are mid-major tournaments that could produce a team that goes far in the NCAA Tournament. The exciting part of these tournaments is that it's winner-take-all. Most teams have no chance to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team so they must take the title. The only guarantee a team that wins the regular season title of a conference is that they'll go to the NIT if they don't in their tournament title.
Let's take a look at some of the teams that can make noise in the NCAA Tournament if they win their conference tournaments or find a way to get an at-large bid.
Green Bay Phoenix (24-5 SU, 14-2 Horizon League). How can you not like the Phoenix? This is a team that beat Virginia, 75-72 on Dec. 7, which is a great win and could them in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. The weakness of the Horizon League doesn't help their cause. But they have outstanding guard play, which is something that is crucial in March. Keifer Sykes, who is only about 5-foot-11, averages 20.4 points per game and 4.9 assists per game, is a very good player who put up 21 points and 11 assists against Virginia. This is a team that might not make the Final Four but if they get in, they are very dangerous opening round opponent.
BYU Cougars (21-10 SU, 13-5 West Coast Conference). It's hard to enjoy watching the Cougars play. They rank third in the nation in scoring at 85 points per game and shoot 47.2 percent from the field. Scoring is not a problem for BYU, while their defense allows opponents to shoot just 42.8 percent from the field. Junior forward Tyler Haws is a big-time player, who averages 23.4 points per game and can take over a game. BYU also has quality wins over Stanford on the road and Texas on a neutral site. If they get in the NCAA Tournament, this is not a team opponents wants to play.
UMass Minutemen (22-6 SU, 9-5 Atlantic 10) is at 100-1 odds to win the NCAA Tournament from Bovada. This is a very good team that did well in non-conference play, defeating Clemson, Nebraska, and LSU before taking on the very tough Atlantic 10 Conference. Senior guard Chaz Williams (5-9, 175) is a dominant point guard who sets the tone with his quickness on offense and defense. He averages 15.6 points per game and 7.1 assists, while center Cady Lalanne (6-10, 250) offers 12.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. This team has strong guard play, they shoot it well (47 percent from the field) and outrebound their opponents by 6.8 per game. They also defend the three-point shot (31 percent) and allow opponents to shoot just 41.5 percent overall. I can definitely see this team make it to the Sweet 16 with an outside shot at the Final Four.
Mercer Bears (24-8 SU, 14-4 Atlantic Sun). The Bears have to win the Atlantic Sun Tournament to get in but if they do watch out. The Atlantic Sun is the same league that sent Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 last year. Mercer won the regular-season title in the Atlantic Sun last season and tied with Florida Gulf Coast for the regular-season title this year. Langston Hall (14.8 ppg) leads an offense that ranks in the top 25 in the nation in points per game and shooting percentage. They beat Mississippi on the road by three, beat Seton Hall at home and lost at Texas by just three. Will the be the the 2014 version of FGC?