With Selection Sunday in the rear-view mirror, the sports world embarks upon its craziest time of the year: March Madness. The upsets, the buzzer-beaters, the brackets– is there a better time of year?
My favorite thing about March Madness is this very first weekend. To me, there is nothing like constantly being able to flip between channels where there is always the end of a game on. Also, this first weekend is where those Cinderella stories emerge. Who’s it going to be this year?
While you can never, and I do mean never, count any teams out from upsetting or being upset, there are a few lower-seeds that stand out as likely to make a run, despite their ranking.
Let’s start with Wichita State. The 10-seed out of the South region got the short end of the stick when it came to seeding. Because they are a mid-major program and did not boast many big-name wins on their schedule, they appear to have been overlooked. This is now the sixth season in a row that they have made the tournament. Out of the past five tournaments, they have won multiple games three times. They went to the Final Four in 2013. They were a top seed in 2014. Wichita State is not a typical mid-major. It is unfortunate for them that they have to play a 7-seed, but also, very unfortunate for Dayton to have to play them in the 1st round. Then, assuming Kentucky handles their business and the Shockers pull off the upset in the first round, they will get a rematch of 2014 when Kentucky upset them in the 2nd round. This should make for a very interesting game, one that the Shockers could definitely win.
The next high seed that I could see making a run is the 11-seed out of the Midwest region, Rhode Island. The Rams face off against 6-seed Creighton in the first round. Creighton had a tough injury midseason when they lost Mo Watson Jr., who, at the time, was leading the country in assists. The Rams on the other hand come into this game fresh off winning the A-10 Title against VCU, so should have some momentum going their way. In the second round, it is likely that they will face off against 3-seed Oregon. Oregon suffered the biggest loss during Championship week not when Arizona beat them in the Finals, but actually when they lost Chris Boucher, their leading shot blocker, second-leading rebounder, and third-leading scorer, in the semifinals. The Ducks are still going to be a tough team to face off against, but if you are looking for a top seed who is likely to lose early, Oregon may just be that team sans Boucher.
How about SMU? I know what some of you may be thinking: they’re a 6-seed, that’s not a Cinderella story. I get that, but let me finish. Let’s assume that they take care of business in the first round. In the second round, they will likely square off against 3-seed Baylor. Baylor enters the tournament going 5-6 in their last 11 games. SMU enters the tournament going 24-1 in their last 25 games. 24-1!!! Talk about momentum! If they advance past Baylor, that is where things get interesting. They would then square off, most likely, against 2-seed Duke. Sure, Duke is Duke. They could have easily been a 1-seed this year. They came into the season as a favorite to become national champions. They have the coach, they have the players, they have the history. But SMU’s top scorer, Semi Ojeleye, is a transfer from… yep, you guessed it, DUKE!!! You think he might be playing with a chip on his shoulder a bit? If they get past Duke, they would then play in the Regional Championship against top-seed Villanova. Unless…
Villanova loses to my last Cinderella pick, Wisconsin! Wisconsin enters this tournament as the 8-seed in the East region. They face off against 9-seed Virginia Tech in the first round. That will be a tough match-up, but I side with experience here. Wisconsin made the Sweet 16 last year and the bulk of its core is still in tact. I think that means something. Assuming they advance, they would then likely square off against reigning champ Villanova in the second round. Don’t get me wrong, Villanova is great. They are just as good as they were last year, and now have one more year of experience under their belt. But going back to back is tough. It has not been done since Florida did it in 2006-07. Before that, Duke was the last to do it in 1991-92. The odds are stacked against them to repeat, and if anyone is going to upset them, I could see a team like Wisconsin do it. The Badgers are experienced and have three players in Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, and Nigel Hayes who can match up well against just about anyone. If you are looking for an early 1-seed exit, this could be it.