Yes, it’s easy (and probably smart) to predict an expanded NCAA tournament run for the No. 1-ranked and undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks. However, the joy of March doesn’t come from making easy calls, but from correctly forecasting the upsets that break others’ brackets.
Below, we outline three traits of Cinderella candidates, identifying six mid-majors who may have the ingredients needed to become first-round favorites and even dance into another weekend of tournament action.
streaking in march
We all know about the Gamecocks’ 38-game winning streak. While no other team approaches such dominance, several intriguing underdogs have lit the tournament on fire, racking up double-digit winning streaks.
The Mountain West champion UNLV Lady Rebels, seeded 11th in the Greenville 2 region, have won 22 straight games behind a sharpshooting offensive attack. The Lady Rebels are in the top 20 nationally in field goal percentage and points per game, with junior center, and Mountain West Tournament MVP, Desi-Rae Young grabbing tons of boards and taking his 2-point attempts at a top 10 level. Redeemed.
The MAC champion Toledo Rockets, the No. 12 seed in the Seattle 3 Region, boast a 16-game winning streak. The Ivy champion Princeton Tigers, seeded No. 10 in the Greenville 2 Region, have won 15 in a row. With a 14-game streak, Greenville houses the FGCU Eagles, the ASUN champions and the No. 12 seed in Region 2.
UNLV, Toledo, and Princeton will all face Power 5 teams that have had uneven seasons, the No. 6 seed Michigan Wolverines, the No. 5 seed, and will meet the reigning Big 12 Tournament champions, the Iowa State Cyclones, and the No. 7 seed NC State Wolfpack. respectively.
FGCU must be removed Shania’s soul Next up, facing a No. 5 seed Washington State Cougars team, is riding the momentum of similarly unexpectedly winning the Pac-12 Tournament. However, even with their extended winning streak, the Eagles have other strengths that suggest they will not be “overwhelmed” by the Cougars.
3 To Live (or Die?)
FGCU leads the nation in 3-point attempts, the only team to make over 1,000 shots from behind the arc this season. That impressive amount corresponds to an equally impressive percentage of 37.6. The 3-ball inspired an Eagles offense that ranks in the top 20 in points per game.
The Sacramento State Hornets Big Dance starter also has a desirable 3-point profile, taking a high volume of takes (748) and converting them at a high percentage (38.6). Sophomore guard Katie Peneuta is the third-most accurate 3-point shooter in the country, drilling 46.4 percent of her 5.5 attempts per game. If the gods of 3-point variance smile on the Big Sky tournament champs, who are the No. 13 seed in the Greenville 1 region, they can pull off a major upset in the state by defeating the No. 4 seed UCLA Bruins at Poly. Pavilion. While the Bruins also take a lot of threes, they have only made 30.6 percent of them.
The Hornets can also call on the offensive star power of Big Sky Player of the Year and Tournament MVP Kahlijah Dean. A transfer from Oakland University who scored 21.1 points per game, she finished the season fifth in offensive win shares, sitting right behind well-known phenoms in Maddie Siegrist, Kaitlin Clark and Angel Reese.
Of course, as the saying goes, “defense wins championships.” Which intriguing underdogs have kept opponents from scoring?
Again, FGCU earns potential Cinderella points. The Eagles have a top 20 defense, which combined with their scoring prowess gives them the third best scoring margin in the nation, behind only SEC and national powers South Carolina and LSU.
The Eagles (32-3) renewed an almost annual habit once again on Saturday night at Elico Arena in front of a raucous home crowd to defeat the Liberty 84-60 and capture the ASUN Women’s Basketball Tournament. Nets hacked… https://t.co/nOAq4zwnFg pic.twitter.com/08Svna5rg0
– #22 FGCU Women’s Basketball (@FGCU_WBB) March 13, 2023
The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, the regular-season C-USA champions, similarly boasted a top 10 scoring margin due to solid efforts on both ends of the floor, scoring 73.9 while allowing only 56.7 points per game. The No. 11 seed in the Seattle 4 region, the Blue Raiders will meet the No. 6 seed Colorado Buffaloes.
Princeton’s aforementioned streaking Tigers also have a proven ability to lock things down, allowing just 52.8 points per game, the fifth-best mark nationally.
Instead of Cinderellas, these six squads – UNLV, Toledo, Princeton, FGCU, Sac State and MTSU – could be Pumpkins. However, FGCU, in particular, appears to have the dance moves needed to turn heads in the 2023 NCAA tournament.