Finding the one Cinderella is something every person who fills out a bracket tries to predict, with little to no success. In recent years, it’s been teams like Florida Gulf Coast, VCU and Dayton making runs to at least the Sweet Sixteen, and with this years group of 68 selected, there could be a multitude of double-digit seeds that can make a run.
Gonzaga, 11 Seed in the Midwest
Everyone’s favorite Cinderella from the early 2000s, the Zags have built a successful program out west. The Bulldogs have overcome a sluggish start and an injury to big man Przemek Karnowksi, who had season ending back surgery after just six games. But big men Domantas Sabonis (17.4 ppg, 11.6 rpg) and Kyle Wiltjer (20.7 ppg, 42% from three) have continued their spectacular play this season. The emergence of Eric McClellan has been a huge key to Gonzaga’s success this season. Josh Perkins has been excellent as a freshman and has a very balanced game.
Perkins will be an X-factor for Gonzaga, and if he can find Wiltjer, Sabonis and McLellan as well as finding his own shot, the Zags could make a run deep in March.
Gonzaga gets a favorable draw in six seed Seton Hall, as the Pirates don’t have a big man that can match Sabonis and Wiltjer. If Gonzaga can take care of Seton Hall, they’ll have another favorable matchup against Utah, who’s main threat is center Jakob Poeltl, but outside of that, there’s no big threat. Gonzaga should be able to make the Sweet Sixteen, and depending on who they draw that round, they could make the Elite Eight.
Stephen F. Austin, 14 Seed in the East
The Lumberjacks are back in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year after going 27-5, and a perfect 18-0 in the Southland conference. Their experience in March will go a long way in being a tough out in a very balanced field. This is an extremely tough team to play against, as they share the ball and don’t allow many points. SFA ranks second in the nation in assists, 21st in points for, and 13th in points against.
The team is led by forward Thomas Walkup, who leads the team in points, assists, steals and field goal percentage. The senior is capping off a brilliant career for the Lumberjacks, and if they want to advance far in the tournament, they’ll need him to step up big.
In the round of 64, the Lumberjacks draw a tough West Virginia team. Beating West Virginia requires patience to break down the press and good decision making, which SFA has shown all year long. If Stephen F. Austin can take care of West Virginia, they’ll play Notre Dame, a game that could be a dogfight to the end
Hawaii, 13 Seed in the South
The Rainbow Warriors (seriously, that’s their name) finished the regular season 27-5, and went 13-3 in the Big West.
Hawaii is led by the trio of Stefan Jankovic, Aaron Valdes and Roderick Bobbitt, all of whom average double figures in scoring. Jankovic is the leader of the bunch, and ends the Warriors in scoring, rebounding, blocks, field goal percentage and is second in three point shooting. One of the best mid major players in the nation won’t have to be a one man team on the floor, but the Rainbow Warriors have enough weapons on offense. Two things that could work against Hawaii is that they foul a lot and don’t shoot free throws well, something upset minded teams must be able to do.
Fortunately for them, they play a California team that can’t win away from home, and has no experience in March. Cal also can’t shoot free throws and commits too many turnovers to win this game. Hawaii could very well draw South Dakota State in the round of 32, as SDSU could very well knock off five seed Maryland, setting up a 12-13 matchup that would seem to favor the Rainbow Warriors. Don’t be surprised to see this team in the Sweet Sixteen.
Virginia Commonwealth, 10 Seed in the West
VCU is back with a new head coach in Will Wade, but still have the same “Havoc” defense that forces turnovers at an alarming rate. VCU went 24-10 with a 14-4 record in the A-10, but fell to Saint Joe’s in the conference championship game.
The Rams have four player who average double figures in scoring, led by senior Melvin Johnson at 17.4 a game. VCU averages nine steals per contest, with Johnson, Korey Billbury and JeQuan Lewis all averaging more than one steal a game. If the Havoc defense doesn’t result in a steal, Mo Alie-Cox is a great rim protector and big man down low.
VCU wins games with their defense, and if they get into a shootout they could be in trouble. Thankfully, they drew an Oregon State team that doesn’t have much success scoring and will likely be without Tres Trinkle. VCU will likely draw Oklahoma in the round of 32, and with VCU playing a defense similar to a West Virginia defense that recently knocked out Oklahoma in the BIG 12 tournament, VCU could give Buddy Hield and Oklahoma a run for their money.