March Madness is upon us and millions have filled out their brackets. The NCAA Tournament is back after a one-year hiatus, and it promises to bring the traditional excitement that comes with this time of year. One of the traditions that comes with this event is the thrill of finding the right upset and bragging about your shrewd pick, so here are some tips for Cinderellas to look out for over the next few weeks.
Loyola (Chicago) Ramblers
Loyola was the most recent Cinderella to shock the world during its run to the 2018 Final Four. The Ramblers squeaked past their first three opponents before hammering Kansas State in the Elite Eight to make just their second Final Four appearance as a program. Sister Jean became a national name over those two weeks, and this year’s team has the potential to make some noise.
The Ramblers are rated the ninth best team in the country by Ken Pomeroy. They have the top defense in the nation, and they are fundamentally sound on offense, making 58% of their two-pointers. Loyola got a big boost when it was announced that first-round opponent Georgia Tech won’t have superstar Moses Wright available due to COVID, and this team has a good chance of knocking off No. 1 seed Illinois.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
There aren’t many teams that have bigger “what if” scenarios than Texas Tech. The Red Raiders went 17-10 this season, but three of their losses were by a single point and two more came in overtime to No. 3 seed Oklahoma State. They weren’t competitive against Baylor, but Texas Tech knocked off No. 3 seed Texas twice and lost to the Longhorns by a single point in the Big 12 Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
Texas Tech doesn’t have the same talent it did during its Final Four run in the last NCAA Tournament. However, there are a lot of things working for the Red Raiders. They rank 30th in offensive rebounding percentage, don’t turn the ball over often, and get to the free throw line a lot. Their interior defense is solid, so this team can keep games close against all but the most elite teams.
In the 2016 NCAA Tournament, Syracuse made it to the Final Four as a No. 10 seed. The Orange went to the Sweet Sixteen two years later as a No. 11 seed, so this is a program that is used to pulling off upsets in March Madness.
The defense isn’t as solid as it has been in the past under Jim Boeheim. The 2-3 Zone has been surprisingly porous for the last few years as more teams are able to knock down perimeter shots, so Syracuse has focused more on offense. Buddy Boeheim, Alan Griffin, and Quincy Guerrier can all get off quality looks, and this team takes advantage when it gets to the free throw line.
Generally, it’s wise to stay away from the upset that everyone is picking. However, Winthrop is a different animal. The Eagles would have been a tough test for any team as a No. 12 seed that went 23-1 in the regular season, but Villanova is not the same team we saw a few weeks ago.
The Wildcats won’t have Collin Gillespie for the remainder of the NCAA Tournament due to a torn MCL. Villanova really struggled on offense without Gillespie in its most recent two games, and Winthrop can take advantage with Chandler Vaudrin running the offense.