A Pre-March Madness One Question Mailbag: Looking for Cinderellas to Make a Run

Last night on Twitter, I decided to crowdsource my next blog topic. I could do a mailbag! People enjoy that concept. You ask questions, I give them quick and easy answers without getting carried away. Rapid fire!

So, let’s see what we’ve got.

Good question from Syracuse fan and friend of the blog, Ryan Oakes. To answer that question, we need to know which teams will land in that area. Let’s head over to Bracket Matrix, which aggregates all of the bracket projections on the internet in one place. Since obviously nothing is locked in at the moment, we can evaluate a few of the 10 seeds all the way through a few of the 15 seeds.

Maryland: One of the more confounding teams in college basketball this season. The Terps have lost ten times, though only to quality opponents. Maryland also has wins at Illinois, at Wisconsin, and at Minnesota. I certainly think the Terps can win a first round game, though I’m not sure they have the firepower for a real upset that springs them into the Sweet Sixteen.

Xavier: A very weird team having a very weird season. The Musketeers played one game between January 11 and February 12. Their best win is impressive, knocking off Oklahoma in Cincinnati. Their next best win is probably a Toledo team that we’ll cover later in this section. Not good! Travis Steele is a good coach and the Paul Scruggs-Zach Freemantle combo is dangerous. If they can play out the rest of the season in somewhat normalcy, a March run wouldn’t be my expectation but it would not shock me.

VCU: If Bones Hyland is healthy, they are dangerous. If he’s not, and he’s currently sidelined with a foot injury, they are less scary. Bones is awesome.

Drake: Another team with injury concerns. After staying undefeated into February, Drake’s two best players are on the mend. Roman Penn is done for the year and Tank Hemphill might be back for the tournament, if the Bulldogs secure a bid. Being without one, or both, is likely too much for the Bulldogs to overcome.

And yes, two of the possible Cinderella teams this year are led by guys named “Bones” and “Tank”. College basketball rules.

Seton Hall: Pains me to say it, but Seton Hall stinks. I love Sandro Mamukelashvili and Bryce Aiken. I’m not sure what is wrong with the roster as a whole. I’d say there’s a better chance that Kevin Willard leaves Newark for Penn State or BC (or another unknown opening) than the Pirates even play a first round game.

St. Bonaventure: NOW WE’RE GETTING SOMEWHERE. This Bonnies team has some real spunk. My only concern? Depth. Per KenPom, the Bonnies rank 347th in the nation in bench minutes. They have five players (all Juniors) averaging more than 32 minutes per game and Alejandro Vasquez gets 13 minutes per night. Anyone else who enters the game is just there to get a starter a rest. Mark Schmidt has his five and they are on the floor. That’s scary in a one and done tournament. Foul trouble or a rolled ankle could really change things.

Indiana: Nope, no thank you. They don’t deserve a bid and if they get one, they certainly won’t win a game.

Colorado State: Very good team. Smart on the offensive end. The Mountain West Conference tournament should be a classic. Four teams will be wrestling for an at-large bid or the automatic berth by winning the conference: San Diego State, Boise State, Colorado State, and Utah State.

Minnesota: The Gophers have yet to win a game away from The Barn this season. No tournament games will be played at The Barn. Moving on!

UConn: College basketball is due for a bad team to “Kemba Walker-Shabazz Napier-UConn-Baloney Magic” its way through the tournament. Why shouldn’t that team be UConn again? James Bouknight is perfect for the star guard role and could become a household name in March.

Western Kentucky: My heart says “Yes” but my brain disagrees. Love Charles Bassey. He’s a dominant big man. Against power conference teams who tilt their entire game plan to beating him? I’m not sure he has the special sauce.

Belmont: Hell yeah. The Bruins are 24-1, but sadly haven’t played an opponent worth a damn. They are ranked 2nd in the nation in 2-point shooting percentage, the program’s tenth straight year in the top seven in the nation. The backdoor is open and the Belmont boys are going to take it.

Toledo: Top 15 offense in the nation. The Rockets shoot a ton of 3s and make a ton of 3s. That’s a decent recipe for a Cinderella, if they stay hot.

UC Santa Barbara: Coming off 12 straight wins, having not yet lost in the calendar year of 2021. I rarely do this, but I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about this team. Look forward to checking them out in the conference tournament.

Winthrop: I like this team a lot. The Eagles are one bucket away from being undefeated. I wrote about them in depth over at The Action Network. Deep, fast, and all over the glass. That’s a recipe that can work.

Colgate: Very good offensive team, but against a very strange schedule. By season’s end, Colgate will have played a very bad Holy Cross team six times. Six! Somehow, the NCAA’s NET metric, which is used heavily by the Selection Committee, sees that schedule and ranks Colgate 12th. In the whole country. It’s wild.

Wright State: Really good defensive team. A Horizon League tourney final between the Raiders and Cleveland State would be a must-watch. Wright State has three guys who post more than 14 points per game, led by a big white guy with a braided manbun named Loudon Love. So that’s pretty cool.

Liberty: Nope.

UNC Greensboro: They might be the third best team in the SoCon?

Abilene Christian: The Wildcats got two cracks at top teams this year, a 7-point loss to Texas Tech and a 13-point loss to Arkansas. But they are the top assist rate team in the country offensively and the top turnover rate team defensively. I wouldn’t want to play them.

Vermont: I’ve been a big fan of John Becker’s Catamount teams, but its hard to get excited about a team that has three losses outside the KenPom top 225 in just fourteen games.

Grand Canyon: Also recently deep dove on the Antelopes in that Action Network piece. Love that they have the size to compete with the big boys. A match-up I weirdly love for them? Iowa. Slow the Hawkeyes down and make Luka Garza defend one of Grand Canyon’s scoring bigs for 40 minutes. It’s crazy, but it’s also not crazy!

So St. Bonaventure, Belmont, Toledo, UConn, Winthrop, Abilene Christian, and Grand Canyon. I’d add in current bubble teams like Richmond and Duke, but we’ll need to see them work their way into the field first.

Did I answer your question without getting carried away? I did not.

Well, that’s over a thousand words to answer one question, so let’s leave it at that. If you have something you’d like me to get carried away with, please tweet @PalestraBack or email PalestraBack@gmail.com.


Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, The Action Network, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, RotoBaller, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.

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