This article shows who the real Cinderella is before she gets to the ball. The conference tournaments are over, and now we enter the real dance.
Just about every year we have a mid-major capture America’s hearts. It’s the best part of picking a bracket.
Are you going to be the one that picked the right upset? It is my job to help you get there and below is a look at the teams that have the best chance to do it.
The Tournament is more wide open than ever. We have some excellent mid-major options to pick from to pull off these upsets. So when chaos will ensue and everyone else’s brackets are burnt to a crisp, your bracket will still be intact.
Here are the mid-major dark horses not named Gonzaga or Houston.
Final Four Ceiling
No. 5 San Diego State
The Aztecs received a No. 5 seed after winning the Mountain West regular-season and tournament championships. The Aztecs open the tournament against 12-seed Charleston.
While the Cougars are a hot shooting team, the Aztecs’ defense is stellar. They are 11-6 in Quad One and Two games. The Aztecs rank 10th in defensive efficiency and seventh nationally in 3-point defense. They can switch one through five and are top-10 in the country in bench minutes.
They can go up to nine deep and have scorers off the bench. Their best scorer, Matt Bradley, can carry a team and make big shots late. This team brings back four starters from a team that had a double-digit lead against Creighton in the NCAA Tournament last year.
Look for them to get past Charleston pretty easily and beat the winner of the Furman-Virginia game. Then in the Sweet 16, they’ll matchup against No. 1 seed Alabama. The Aztecs can match the physicality Bama presents.
As I mentioned before, the Aztecs are elite at defending the perimeter. So I love their their experience, depth and defense. Expect the Aztecs to represent the Mountain West extremely well.
No. 8 Memphis
I love this Memphis team. The Tigers have one of the best point guards in the country in Kendric Davis, who is averaging 21.7 points and 5.4 assists on the season. Memphis plays five seniors, and they are extremely athletic. They rank in the top 35 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
We saw their ceiling when they dominated Houston in the American Athletic Conference championship game. In the first round, they will play a tough Florida Atlantic team, which will also be featured in this article. The winner of this game would get the most vulnerable top-seed in Purdue.
Memphis at 90-1 to win it all is excellent value. You could have a great hedging opportunity in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.
Sweet 16 Potential
No. 9 FAU
First off, how is this team a 9 seed? A NINE SEED?!?!
“FAU is a 9 seed?? A NINE?! They won 31 games!! They’re a NINE SEED?? It’s ridiculous”@CoachMattMcCall is FIRED. UP.— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) March 13, 2023
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This team won 31 games and dominated its conference tournament.
I already spoke about its first round opponent in Memphis. The committee really sold this FAU team short after it won a program-record 31 games.
The Owls play fast and get up the court. They rank in the top-20 in field goal percentage and are in the top-32 in offensive efficiency. They also rank in the top-15 in defensive efficiency.
They play a four-guard lineup with 7-foot-1-inch center Vladislav Goldin in the middle. Johnell Davis can be a really dynamic guard.
FAU has really efficient spacing and is balanced on both sides of the floor. If the Owls get by Memphis, they will have a decent shot to beat Purdue.
FAU is too talented not to be on this list.
No. 12 VCU
The Rams have been a different team since Ace Baldwin healed from his wrist injury.
VCU is elite on the defensive end and ranks 26th nationally in scoring defense, 17th in defensive efficiency and seventh in defensive turnover percentage.
Michigan transfer Brandon Johns can match up with anyone on the low block.
The Rams have an excellent first-round matchup against Saint Mary’s, who struggle with ball pressure. VCU is the best 12-over-5 upset candidate on the board for me. Then they would most likely play a UConn team that struggles with ball pressure.
VCU has improved on the offensive end over the last month. VCU has shot 40% or better from three in its last four games. If it continues to shoot the ball well, this team has a crazy high ceiling. Look for the Rams to make some noise in the tournament.
No. 12 Oral Roberts
I couldn’t write this article without mentioning the program that gave us one of the greatest Cinderella runs back in 2021. Paul Mills and the Golden Eagles are back to prove that tournament run was not a fluke.
Oral Roberts holds the nation’s longest active winning streak at 17. Max Abmas returns to the NCAA Tournament. Abmas averaged 26 points during the Golden Eagles’ Sweet Sixteen run. Abmas is one of the nation’s leading scorers once again, averaging 22.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists.
The Golden Eagles have one of the nation’s top offenses, ranking seventh nationally in effective field goal percentage. They take care of the ball better than anyone in the country. Oral Roberts features 7-foot-5-inch center Connor Vanover, who averages 12.7 points and 7 rebounds per game.
The Golden Eagles get a tough matchup against Duke, who hasn’t lost a game in nearly a month. Of the nine teams Duke has beaten since its last loss, only four are tournament teams. Duke has yet to face an explosive offense like Oral Roberts, aside from Miami. The Golden Eagles just have that magic touch.
No. 13 Kent State
The Golden Flashers are dancing after beating regular-season champ Toledo in the MAC championship game. Kent State has a first-round matchup against a vulnerable Indiana team.
Kent State has shown up when it has faced some of the nation’s best. It held the lead against Gonzaga in the second half in Spokane, Wash. They lost to Houston by a couple possessions. They lost to Charleston by two.
They are going to make the game with the Hoosiers pretty close. Sincere Carry is a guard who can penetrate anyone. They have shooters on the outside, and they play solid defense. They can turn teams over who have subpar guard play, and Indiana is in that category. This is a team that shouldn’t be messed with. I will have Kent State beating Indiana in my bracket.
No. 12 Drake
Drake is one of the most experienced teams in the tournament, and it is the oldest. It has the recipe for mid-major underdogs. The Bulldogs have a lineup composed of guys that should have graduated two years ago.
The best scorer is Tucker DeVries, the coach’s son. The Valley wasn’t the best conference this season, but Drake took care of business. It will play a Miami team in the first round that has an injury to their star big man Norchad Omier. If Omier can’t suit up for the Hurricanes, Drake is live in this game.
First Round Knockers
No. 10 Utah State
The Aggies are a favorite in their first-round matchup against Missouri. Utah State ranks in the top-20 in the NET. Utah State is 200-1 to win it all on DraftKings sportsbook. While I don’t like their matchup against Arizona, the Wildcats are beatable. The Aggies rank 11th in the country in field goal percentage and are also top 10 in 3-point percentage.
Head coach Ryan Odom has previously pulled off miracle upsets in the Tournament. Remember UMBC beating Virginia?
Steven Ashworth is a stud averaging 16 points per game. They have five guys who average double figures. Taylor Funk is seasoned veteran after his tenure at St. Joseph’s. He is a great stretch four, and he will make a big guard out in the perimeter. Utah State is a team that can scorch on the offensive end, and sometimes, it’s just too hard to keep up.