You can’t avoid it. At home, your kids are nagging you to check out their brackets, to see how they compare to yours so they can make fun of your picks like they do you woefully out of date taste in music. At work, your boss, your employees, your friendly associates and bitter enemies are all ragging on your ridiculous picks from the last six years, putting you in the perennial bottom two of the office pool alongside Kenny the Square.
There’s no escape on the way to work. Your stereo dial automatically rolls to Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) ESPN Radio, the lady at the Dunkin Donuts (NASDAQ:DNKN) is wearing her Syracuse 2003 Champions T-shirt, the guy at the tollbooth with the missing front tooth won’t stop talking about how much he hates Duke.
It’s March Madness. Good luck holding onto your sanity.
Common among all these founts of speculation on how the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will shake out is a fairy tale dream. Everyone who fills out a bracket believes in a “Cinderella,” the down-on-their-luck or completely unexpected team that will rise to the occasion and send Dick Vitale into apoplectic fits of joy. Who might rise to the occasion this year and shock an obsessed nation? Consider these candidates, our picks for top NCAA Cinderella teams in 2012.
The Commodores (21-10, 10-6) aren’t the biggest or baddest in the SEC, well behind the unstoppable force that is Kentucky. Some key wins against Alabama and Marquette earlier this year mean that senior forward Jeffrey Taylor and his crew are a team to watch. The Commodores also played Tennessee tough in a 68-61 loss last week. Vanderbilt plays next on Friday night, so keep an eye on these contenders, our first pick for top NCAA Cinderella team.
Speaking of Marquette, the Golden Eagles (25-6, 14-4 Big East) are another team that could go, given the opportunity to fit in a pair of glass slippers. The team enjoyed a double bye in the Big East tourney thanks to its second-seed status, and it faces off against Louisville on Thursday night in its first match. Marquette swingman Jae Crowder, the Big East player of the year, averaged 17.6 points this season, second only to teammate Darius Johnson-Odom (18.3). The pair give Marquette a realistic shot at the title and makes them one of our top NCAA Cinderella teams for 2012.
The Cyclones (22-9, 12-6 Big 12) had their best season in a decade but still finished as conference fourth-stringers. Still, coach Fred Hoiberg led the crew to major wins over both Kansas and Kansas State, meaning Iowa State still could make noise in the Big 12 tournament. The Cyclones play Texas on Thursday night, a powerful opponent — but a potentially lame one with senior Alexis Wangmene possibly out for the game. It’s on Iowa State to seize that opportunity.
The Gaels (27-5, 14-4 West Coast) put down Gonzaga on Monday to clinch its second conference title and its place in the NCAA tournament. St. Mary’s had a nigh unimpeachable season thanks to guard Matthew Delladova and senior forward Rob Jones, and their collective strength headed into the tournament could make them the Cinderella story of 2012.
Peter Keating of ESPN named the seemingly wee Shockers (27-5, 16-2 Missouri Valley) among the top 10 “Giant Killers” going into the tournament. If Wichita State wants to live up to the name, it will have to give a better performance than it did in a 65-64 MVC semifinals loss Saturday against Illinois State. Guard Joe Ragland and forward Ben Smith have the chance to surprise the world as March rolls on, though. Keep Wichita State on your radar as the last of our top NCAA Cinderella teams of 2012.