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Potential Cinderella Stories in the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament
March Madness 2014
What allows a team to have unexpected success in the tournament?
Typically a team that becomes a "Cinderella Story" will be led by a transcendent player, that allows them to have success by taking over ballgames in big moments. One of the best recent examples of this, was the 2011 UConn Huskies team. Led by transcendent talent Kemba Walker, they won five Big East Tournament games in five days and went into the NCAA tournament playing well, but with little rest. Throughout the tournament that March, favorite after favorite fell to the Huskies as Kemba Walker hit huge shots late in games repeatedly. He was not surrounded by transcendent talents, but he had a decent supporting cast in fellow guard Shabazz Napier, and big man Alex Oriakhi. This was enough to allow UConn to continue their run again and again, as they took down the highly ranked teams around college basketball. While that UConn team is from a well known basketball conference in the Big East, many mid-major conference teams have surprised teams with strings of upsets in the tournament. Typically these teams will be led by one star player, and the rest of the team often has to put together performances that qualify as the grittiest performances of their basketball careers.
This years' teams that could surprise
A team that could surprise us all in the tournament this season, is 8 seed Oklahoma State. They are led by sophomore point guard Marcus Smart, and senior shooting guard Markel Brown. This is a rare combination for tournament teams, to have Marcus Smart, as an NBA lottery pick playing along side a talented and experienced scorer like Markel Brown. The one downside to the Cowboys squad, is that they lack the size and toughness to be a great rebounding team. At time, this also has some upside, as they are a team that can play at a very fast pace. Marcus Smart is the heart and soul of that team, as their second leading rebounder along with being their leading scorer. The variety of skills that Smart possesses, gives Oklahoma State an advantage in the tougher matchups they may face in the tournament. In close games, they will look to go to Smart as their closer, which will allow him to score huge buckets down the stretch or distribute the ball to teammates that have open shots. Ultimately in college basketball, teams with experience and NBA talent, have a chance to dominate in the tournament format. Oklahoma State has both experience and transcendent talent in Marcus Smart, as well as senior experience from Markel Brown.
The North Carolina State Wolf Pack are a team that could surprise many with dominant play as a 12 seed in the NCAA tournament this season. NC State has the reigning ACC player of the year, in sophomore TJ Warren. The size and scoring ability of TJ Warren, makes him a transcendent talent in college basketball today. He is a 6'8" forward who led the ACC in scoring this season with 24.8 points per game. Warren has the size and toughness to play inside, as well as the long range shooting ability that allows him to score from the wing. He also has a strong supporting cast with Freshmen point guard Anthony Barber, distributing the basketball and helping to carry the scoring load. Junior Ralston Turner plays the wing opposite Warren, and he provides another strong outside scorer for the Wolf Pack. Inside, the Wolf Pack have great rim protection and rebounding from senior center Jordan Vandenberg, which makes their squad the complete package for pulling tournament upsets. The great combination of skillsets and the transcendent talent of TJ Warren, will make NC State a very formidable opponent in this year's NCAA tournament.
As an eight seed, the Kentucky Wildcats make an excellent choice for a surprise team in the tournament. Kentucky has two big men who are both projected to be first round picks in the upcoming NBA draft. Power forward Julius Randle should be a lottery pick, and center Willie Cauley-Stein should be selected shortly after the first 10 picks are made. Freshmen Julius Randle is 6'9" and can run the floor like a wing player. His ability to distribute, allows himself to have more open shots as he looks to score with a variety of moves in the paint. Randle plays above the rim, and Cauley-Stein complements his game because he is also a tall player at 7 feet tall, that is able to provide some highlight dunks. Randle and Cauley-Stein are not the only transcendent talents on the Kentucky roster though, as they also have the 6'6" Harrison twins who man the guard positions. Neither of the Harrison twins have reached their potential yet, but they both still project as future first round picks in the NBA, which gives Kentucky a lot of talent depth and full season experience, going into the tournament. Even though they have not matured as quickly as Randle and Cauley-Stein, they both averaged double figure scoring this season. The combination of elite inside presence and transcendent guard play, will allow Kentucky to have the chance to pull multiple upsets in this year's NCAA tournament.
While these three teams are all from major conferences, they are all seeded as underdogs. Even though they are underdogs this year, it is not hard to see them having success in the tournament format. Length, experience, outside shooting and transcendent skillsets are what allow teams to excel in the tournament. These three teams either have many or all of these attributes. With no truly dominant team in college basketball this season, upsets could be a very common occurrence in the tournament this March. With this in mind, let the madness begin!