Saturday, May 21, 2022

Finding the glass slipper: Mid-Major teams to ride in your NCAA Tournament brackets

March 15, 2022

College basketball has figured out what college football has not: Mid-major schools competing for a title is actually super fun!

Cinderellas are what make March Madness the most wonderful time of the year. Yeah, that’s right, slide over Santa Claus — Sister Jean is going dancing.

The unpredictability of March is the most satisfying — yet frustrating — thing the world has to offer. I’m going to try to make sense of the madness. While I cannot guarantee my Cinderella choices will be a better option than your uncle’s strategy of picking the team with the better mascot, we may at least provide a source to blame your busted bracket on.

South Dakota State

Offense, offense and more offense. That's what March is all about, right?

The Jackrabbits' offense is lethal, ranking 12th in adjusted offensive efficiency by Kenpom. Living and dying by the three ball, the Jackrabbits have four key rotation players who shoot the ball at 40% or higher this season. Sophomore guard Baylor Scheierman leads the way, shooting a scorching 47.3% on 169 attempts.

South Dakota State has been here before. They've got the experience, and it shows with their 21 consecutive wins leading into the tournament. Their only losses come from 2021, holding an undefeated record in 2022.

South Dakota State draws a favorable matchup with Providence early on, who struggled as of late. After that, a shootout with Iowa awaits. If they can take those two games, the Jackrabbits can hop their way into a matchup with Kansas in the Sweet 16. Buckle up.

Murray State

I could just write 30-2 here, but you picked up the paper or clicked on the link for more analysis than that.

Murray State has been known for its professional guards like Memphis’ Ja Morant, Phoenix’s Cameron Payne or former Milwaukee guard Isaiah Canaan. This team is a bit different with junior forward KJ Williams leading the way with 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

The Racers’ only losses came against a quality East Tennessee State program back in November 2021 when they shot 1-16 from the three-point line and against top-seeded Auburn in December 2021.

Ranking in the top 30 of Kenpom, calling Murray State a Cinderella may be a disservice quite frankly, but Jeff from sales hasn’t watched any college basketball this season and might gloss over that fact.

It's a shame Murray State and San Francisco have to face-off as both have Cinderella potential with their guard play. But I give Murray State the edge in that one and they have the offense to take on Kentucky in the following round.

Chattanooga

Chattanooga graduate student guard David Jean-Baptiste was in the transfer portal in December 2021. Then in March, he sent the Mocs to the Big Dance with a prayer shot from just past the half-court line to lift his team over Furman.

Chattanooga is full of stories. Remember the Kansas-Kansas State stool fiasco? The culprit that lifted the stool to hit someone, graduate student forward Silvio De Sousa, is playing for Chattanooga, too.

This is a team that is tremendous defensively, holding teams to 42.3% shooting from the field and 30.1% from beyond the arc. They have the size to guard major teams from the point guard spot up to the center spot and sophomore guard Malachi Smith (20.4 points per game) and Jean-Baptiste (14.7 points per game) to supplement their scoring.

The Mocs are a matchup-proof squad with legitimate NBA talent on the roster. Their size with De Sousa on Illinois' junior center Kofi Cockburn is a huge thing to have heading into this one. I'm sure the Fighting Illini would have loved to have anyone else.

Storylines matter in March though, and this team has that, too. I think the basketball gods will like this team. Write this one in Sharpie to make some noise.

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Davidson

Stop me if you have heard this one before, but Davidson is next-in-line to make some noise in March.

Oh, and it is against your favorite team too.

Ranking in the top 10 of Kenpom's adjusted offensive efficiency, this team is full of firepower across the roster. Former Michigan State guard and three-point marksman junior Foster Loyer leads the way and knows his way around the MSU program. Since leaving MSU, Loyer found his home — leading the Wildcats in scoring with 16.5 points per game, including shooting nearly 45% from beyond the arc. Loyer looks like everything he was promised to be in East Lansing.

Around Loyer, their four starters, including junior forward Hyunjung Lee (16.3 points per game), shoot the three-ball over 33% with three of the five shooting over 40%.

With only five losses on the year and a handful of those coming without Loyer due to injury, the Wildcats have already taken down big-time opponents like Alabama and fellow Cinderella hopefuls Delaware. In their matchup with San Francisco, the Wildcats just fell short.

With Michigan State potentially missing junior guard Tyson Walker, I think Davidson can win this one. In their potential matchup with Duke, they have a chance with their veterans to do something very similar.

This team doesn't have a lot of size, but when you're shooting the way they are from the three, you don't need to. I really like Davidson to make some noise in March here.

Colgate

No, not the toothpaste company. But these Raiders are pretty clean themselves.

After beginning the season with a paltry 4-10 record, the Raiders have won 19 of their last 20 leading up to the tournament. 

Colgate prides itself on the defensive end, running up and down the court with one of the fastest paces any team has to offer. They’re flat-out hard to prepare for. Along with their blistering pace, this team lives and dies by the three with five players shooting at or better 33% from beyond the arc. Nobody on this team is a top dog, they just combine to bury you.

For any opponent, this is a difficult and unique team to prepare for. Wisconsin in particular doesn't have a true size advantage on Colgate with their typical strong post play lacking this season. Colgate not only could exploit this matchup, but they could all the way to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight if they get hot enough.

This team could be like some refreshing mint to freshen your mouth when you wake up in the morning or it could be a jarring orange-flavored toothpaste your dentist is plunging in your mouth during your cleaning. Either way, it’s going to be a fun ride, and I suggest getting in while you can.

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