Every year, a number of plucky double-digit seeds win their first-round game in the NCAA tournament. Some even survive the first weekend and make it to the rarefied air of the Sweet 16.
But only a very select few become true Cinderellas and advance all the way to the Final Four. Those teams become unforgettable — think George Mason in 2006, Butler in 2010, and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011.
Right on cue, the first weekend of this year’s tournament has produced a handful of out-of-nowhere teams looking to crash the party. But do any of them have a real shot at winning two more games and reaching the pinnacle of college basketball?
Let’s rank the remaining Cinderellas by their chances of making the Final Four.
1. La Salle
The 13th-seeded Explorers have defied the odds more than any other team on this list, considering they had to win a play-in game just to make it into the field of 64. But they get the top spot in these rankings in large part because they’ll be playing another upstart, Wichita State, in the round of 16. One of them is going to the Elite 8. Of the two, I think La Salle is the best bet.
Key player: Ramon Galloway, G, Sr.
The Explorers’ leading scorer on the season (17 points per game), Galloway poured in 24 in a 76-74 win over Ole Miss to power La Sall to the Sweet 16.
2. Wichita State
The Shockers will go toe-to-toe with La Salle in the Sweet 16, and they have to be considered legit Final Four contenders after knocking off the West’s top seed, Gonzaga, in the second round. Wichita State is capable of getting red hot from 3-point range, as evidenced by the Shockers hitting seven consecutive threes in the second half to upset Gonzaga.
Key player: Carl Hall, F, Sr.
A physical, 6-foot-8 banger, Hall does all the dirty work for Wichita State. He doesn’t take a lot of shots, but he’s scored in double figures in both of the Shockers’ tourney wins.
3. Florida Gulf Coast
They may be the first No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16, but I actually think Florida Gulf Coast is the best of these four teams. They’re only ranked third because the Eagles have a much tougher road to the Final Four than La Salle or Wichita State (if the Eagles get past Florida in the next round, they’ll play the winner of Kansas/Michigan in the Elite 8). This team shatters the mold of the typical, overmatched small-school Cinderella, because FGCU might be the most athletic team left in the tournament. The Eagles get to the rim better than any other school, and guys like Sherwood Brown and Chase Fieler know how to finish once they get there.
Key player: Brett Comer, G, So.
Brown is the star, but Comer has been the best point guard in the tournament so far, averaging 11.0 points and 12.0 assists per game. Whenever FGCU finishes off a ridiculous alley-oop, it’s usually Comer throwing the pass.
As the No. 12 seed in the Midwest region, Oregon has the toughest draw of these four teams. In the Sweet 16, they’ll have the pleasure of facing off with overall No. 1 seed Louisville, and if they somehow win that game, the Ducks get the winner of Michigan State/Duke. In other words, the clock is about to strike midnight.
Key player: Dominic Artis, G, Fr.
Vegas residents are familiar with this Findlay Prep alum, who has had a very solid freshman season. But after scoring 13 points in the Ducks’ first-round win, he shot 0-of-7 and went scoreless in their upset win over St. Louis. His ball handling will be critical against Louisville’s pressure defense.
Which underdog team do you think will go the farthest? Tell us in the comments section below.