Cinderella WatchTen bracket busters in the 2012 NCAA Tournament
Throw the records out. Forget how big your school is. The NCAA Tournament is the great equalizer in all of sports. Buzzer beaters are rampant. Upsets are common. Even the little guys have a chance to become national champions. That’s what makes this tournament the best three weeks in sports.
Almost every year, an unknown team becomes the “Cinderella” of the tournament. Here are my ten Cinderella picks for 2012.
Wichita State Shockers (5) – A lot of experts think that the Shockers are the best non-major conference team in the country. They have six seniors returning from a team that won the NIT Championship a year ago. With a second round matchup against a depleted VCU team and a possible third round game against the streaky Indiana Hoosiers, the Shockers could wind up in a Sweet Sixteen show- down with Kentucky.
Connecticut Huskies (9) – The defending national champions come into the 2012 Tournament with an enormous chip on their shoulder. Their coach has missed part of the season over health concerns and the program itself may be banned entirely from the 2013 postseason due to recruiting violations. A talented team with nothing to lose can be very dangerous. Nobody wants to play the Huskies in March.
Xavier Musketeers (10) – The Musketeers began the season ranked 14th in the country and won their first seven games convincingly. Then the “crosstown punch-out” took place with rival Cincinnati, resulting in a slew of suspensions. The Muskies have been inconsistent ever since. But with an experienced, talented roster, the smallest burst of momentum could get the Muskies playing deep into the tournament.
Creighton Blue Jays (8) – The Blue Jays score a lot of points. They are sev- enth in the country in points per game, second in assists, and first in field goal percentage. Their second round opponent, Alabama, finished 245th in the country in points per game, respectively, which means if the Blue Jays get their shots, it could be a long afternoon for the Crimson Tide. An interesting subplot: the Blue Jays’ leading scorer, sophomore Doug McDermott, who finished third in the country in scoring, is the son of Blue Jays head coach Greg McDermott.
Belmont Bruins (14) – The Bruins are my favorite Cinderella team in the mix. As a number 14 seed, they have been given almost no respect heading into the tournament. This is a team that took number two seed Duke to the wire in their first game of the season before falling just short, 77-76. Anyone that scores as much as this team does and is capable of taking Duke to the final second can be trouble. They are also red hot, having reeled off 14 straight wins.
Cincinnati Bearcats (6) – The Bearcats have beaten four ranked teams in their last 12 games and are 7-3 against ranked teams this season. They have a stonewall defense and an assortment of backcourt threats that are capable of putting up a lot of points fast. Their fate lies entirely in the hands of their hot-and- cold offense. If they hit their shots, they can beat anybody in the country. One cold shooting night and they’ll be heading home early.
Harvard Crimson (12) – It’s been 66 years since the Crimson were last invited to the Big Dance. Tommy Amaker’s team is great at disrupting opponents’ rhythms with their slow, mechanical offense. They have been in and out of the Top 25 throughout the season and have played solidly against major conference teams, knocking off nationally ranked Florida State earlier in the season. Their second round opponent is SEC champion Vander- bilt, who everyone is picking to make a run in the tournament. Coming off a big SEC win, don’t be surprised if Vanderbilt doesn’t come out a little sluggish and end up getting burnt by the slow-paced, Ivy
League play of the Crimson.
Montana Grizzlies (13) – The Grizzlies have won 14 games in a row and 20 of their last 21. They play a nasty 1-2-2 zone press that could cause low-scoring Wisconsin fits in the second round. If the Grizzlies can keep the score low, they have enough weapons on offense to incite a few upsets.
Long Beach State 49ers (12) – The champions of the Big West Conference come into the tournament with one of the best guards in the country, senior Casper Ware, heading their offense. In each of the past two seasons, they have been robbed of a tournament birth by rival UC-Santa Barbara and will be riding a strong wave of momentum this year. Their head coach, Dan Monson, has led two other teams to the tournament (Gonzaga, Minnesota) and knows what to expect.
LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds (16) – Okay, so a number16 seed has never beaten a number one seed and nobody thinks the Blackbirds have a shot against Big Ten Champion Michigan State. But the Blackbirds are the only team from the five boroughs represented this year, so why not take a chance and see if they can make history? If sentiment isn’t enough to sway you, it should also be noted that the Blackbirds were third in the nation this year in total scoring and Michigan State, despite great overall tournament success, has been vulnerable to lower-seeded teams in the early rounds before.