This time of year, choosing the best college basketball teams is like watching a series of movie trailers. We see a couple of highlights and become convinced that a team is the best team in the tournament, capable of taking down a giant before they even step on the court. When it comes to March Madness strategy, following a set of tips is important when completing your bracket, but once in a while, you have to break consistency and put blind faith in an unknown team. We call these unknown teams with such potential “Cinderellas.”
As a lead orchestrator of Protiviti’s March Madness tournament, which is now running for five years strong, I consider myself a sort of fairy godfather in my ability to identify Cinderellas. With that, here is a list of my Cinderella candidates for this year:
Rhode Island is coming off an eight-game winning streak, which includes an Atlantic-10 tournament title that earned the Rams their first NCAA bid since 1999. Get to know URI guard E.C. Matthews as the sentimental star of this team. He is recovering from a torn ACL and is looking to make a nice comeback campaign. I like them to make it to the 2nd weekend.
Middle Tennessee won its second straight Conference USA Tournament championship to secure a bid in the tournament led by guard Giddy Potts (who is the real deal). After upsetting Mich St. last year as a No. 15 seed, this team is used to pulling off big wins. Their 1st round match up against Minnesota is a great match up and one they should win.
East Tennessee State
They are winners of the Southern Conference League and haven’t been to the tournament in six years. ETSU has a deep, veteran team that plays very well together. The Bucs have the athletes to hang with anyone, so don’t expect the No. 13 seed to be intimidated. They could be the ones to bust your bracket. You’ve been warned!
Florida Golf Coast Eagles
The team formally known as ‘Dunk City’ and this year’s Atlantic Sun Conference champion is anything but a “sure thing”, but I like their chances. Their 1st round match up is against Florida State, who is quite possibly the most inconsistent team in the NCAA and is incapable of winning a close game. This is FGCU’s Super Bowl and playing close to home will give them extra incentive.
The Norse are Horizon League champions and this year’s “Ultimate Long Shot”. They join North Dakota State of 2009 as the only programs since the 1970s to transition to Division I and make the NCAAs in their first season of eligibility. The last time a Horizon team won an NCAA tourney game: Butler, in 2011, when the Bulldogs made the national title game. Predicting them to win would be a BIG 1st round upset over Kentucky, but the risk is worth the bragging rights!
The big dance officially kicks off this Thursday. Stay turned to see how some of our Protiviti offices are celebrating.