March Madness is a time for the Cinderellas to shine. Upsets are bound to happen in March; it’s just a matter of picking the right underdogs to come out on top. Does this underdog have a ton of experience? What about a superstar who can drop 40 points on any given night? Finally, does this team play suffocating defense? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you’re looking at a Cinderella team. Which teams have the capability to pull off an upset this time around? These three underdogs could very easily win in the first round.
The Wolf Pack plays the fifth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones in the opening round. The 5–12 matchup is always a trendy pick for an upset, and it should be no different for this game. Nevada won the Mountain West regular season and tournament championships to get to this point. Nevada is a lethal team that can beat almost anyone in a shootout. The Wolf Pack led the Mountain West in scoring (80 points per game), field goal percentage (45%), and three-point percentage (38.5%). Marcus Marshall leads the team with 19.8 points per game. Nevada doesn’t have a lockdown defense, but its players foul a lot, and they have a rock solid rim protector in Cameron Oliver. Nevada has a nine-game win streak entering Thursday night. The Wolf Pack have a plethora of volume shooters who can give the Cyclones some serious problems. If Nevada speeds up the game, the team is dangerous not only to Iowa State, but to future opponents in the field.
East Tennessee State
The Buccaneers will battle the Florida Gators in a 4–13 matchup on Thursday afternoon. The Bucs have an experienced roster, as they enter the tournament with the seventh-oldest team in the country. They are powered by senior guard T.J. Cromer, who averages 19.1 points. He is the first player since Steph Curry to score more than 40 points in a Southern Conference tournament game. The Bucs have a Wichita State transfer in Tevin Glass who can protect the rim. ETSU has a high-powered offense: The Bucs shot 38% from beyond the arc. They also pressure teams on defense, and they rank 14th in the country in steals. The Buccaneers have the experience and the talent to knock off the Gators.
The Seahawks will have a tough matchup on their hands as they take on Virginia, but they proved they can hang with the big boys after they put a scare into Duke last year. Virginia has a stifling defense, but the Cavaliers have a limited offense. The Seahawks have four players who averaged double-digit points this year. The team knocked down 326 three-pointers this season, and the Seahawks can easily beat Virginia if they push the tempo. If Virginia controls the tempo, then it will be tougher for UNC-Wilmington to knock off the Cavaliers. The Seahawks don’t commit a lot of turnovers, and that will go a long way toward helping them defeat Virginia. If UNC-Wilmington can play its brand of basketball and push the tempo, then the Seahawks could end Virginia’s season early.
Photograph by Ethan Miller/Getty Images (Marshall)