Top March Madness Cinderella Teams

The field has been announced and the brackets are set, now all we have to do is wait a couple more days before the madness is officially upon us! After canceling the Big Dance in 2020 and then following it up with a tournament played in a bubble, with limited fans in attendance last year, it feels great that we can get back to having the stands packed full of students and emotions running high, with what is going to be the first “normal” NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in years!

What sets the NCAA tournament apart from any other sporting event are all of the upsets! Watching some small school that nobody has ever heard of make a deep run in March is what makes the tournament so special, and this year, with the field as wide open as I can ever remember it, we have a long list of potential NCAA March Madness Cinderella teams in 2022.

In this article, we are going to take a look at what I see as the top-5 potential March Madness Cinderella teams this year. Picking the inevitable upsets, particularly in the early rounds where upsets are always going to happen, is the best way to impress your friends and win your bracket pool! Every year we see at least a couple of double-digit seeds that make their way to the 2nd weekend of the madness, and these are those teams this year! With that, let’s jump right into the 2022 top March Madness Cinderella teams!

Cinderella Teams March Madness 2022

Before we get too far into telling you which teams are going to shock the world this year in the NCAA tournament, let’s first define what a Cinderella team actually is. For the sake of this article, we are only going to focus on double digit seeds. While a team that is seeded on the 8 or 9 line might be surprising to see survive and advance, I am not sure that they are really shocking anybody. But when we see a 12 or 13 seed that manages to win a game or two, then people really start to take notice.

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When you look back at all of the teams that have really captivated the nation, teams like 2018 Loyola Chicago that made a fun to the Final Four as an 11 seed, 2011 VCU that made it to the 3rd weekend after playing in the First Four round as the final team in the field if 68, or George Mason, who went all of the way to the Final Four in 2006 as an 11 seed, these are small schools that truly came out of nowhere. That is where we will focus today, as we want to identify the teams that everyone will be talking about later this month!

South Dakota State Jackrabbits – 13 Seed

If this article focused on just 1 team that I felt could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament as a double-digit seed, rather than 5 teams, that 1 team would be the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Even before the brackets were announced, I felt that no matter where the Jackrabbits ended up, they were going to be an exceptionally tough out. And now that I see where SD State has landed, I like their chances of that slipper fitting even more!

The Jackrabbits haven’t lost a game since December 15th, racking up 21 consecutive wins along the way. And it isn’t just that the Jackrabbits are wining every time that they play, it is how they are winning, that has impressed me the most. South Dakota State is 17th in the nation in average margin of victory at over 11 points per game, and all 16 teams ahead of them are playing in this tournament. The Jackrabbits don’t just win, they obliterate the competition.

The strength of schedule hasn’t been strong for SD State, as they played just the 243rd toughest schedule in the nation, but that is mostly because their conference is weak. The Jackrabbits played anyone and everyone in the non-conference, with the 54th best non-con slate, so this is a team that has played against solid competition this season. Wins over Washington State, Nevada, Bradley, Stephen F Austin, and George Mason certainly aren’t elite wins, but they are good ones for a team playing in the Summit League.

So, how are the Jackrabbits winning so many games? They shoot the lights out on a nightly basis. It is hard to beat a team that never misses, and the Jackrabbits are that team, as they are number 1 in the nation in effective field goal shooting percentage. South Dakota State also leads the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at a sizzling hot 44.2% from beyond the arc as a team. This team plays a fast tempo, and they score the ball efficiently, which is a great combination that can lead to a lot of upsets.

First Round Matchup

Things aren’t going to be easy for the Jackrabbits in their opening game against the Providence Friars, but just by the nature of being a double-digit seed, all of these teams are going to have a tough start to the madness. But if there is a team in this field that has get knocked out early written all over them, it is the Friars.

PC had a dream regular season, with a 24-4 record and the programs first-ever Big East regular season title. But the analytics have hated on the Friars all season long, and that is because they have a nasty habit of playing down to their competition. Providence has some great wins on their resume over teams like Texas Tech, Wisconsin, and UCONN, but they had a loss to a bad Virginia team, and they barely snuck past several bad teams with close wins over Butler, Xavier, St. John’s, Fairfield, Northwestern, DePaul, and Georgetown, with all of those wins coming by single digits.

I am not sure that I believe in luck when it comes to winning college basketball games, but Kenpom does, and he has the Friars rated as one of the luckiest teams in the country. We saw that luck run out for PC in the Big East tournament though, where they got blown out by bubble team Creighton, losing by 27 points to the Blue Jays in their final game prior to the Big Dance.

This game smells like an upset, as we have an overachieving team that just might have been the luckiest team in the land in the regular season, squaring off against a small conference team that doesn’t know how to lose and never misses a shot. The round of 32 will be tough on the Jackrabbits as well, as they would have to play either A-10 tournament champion Richmond or Big 10 tournament champion Iowa, but when you shoot it like the Jackrabbits can, there isn’t a team in the country that they can’t knock off if they get hot.

Vermont Catamounts – 13 Seed

The resume for the Vermont Catamounts is eerily similar to the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, and for many of the same reasons that I like SD State to win and advance, the Catamounts are on my radar as a potential Cinderella as well. Vermont hits the tournament having won 22 of their last 23 games, and they are 4th best in the country in terms of average margin of victory, trailing only Gonzaga, Arizona, and Houston.

When we do see these big upsets early in the tournament it is almost always from a team that scores efficiently, and the Catamounts do just that, as they are 3rd in effective field goal percentage, and they almost never turn the ball over. If you take care of the basketball and make a high percentage of your shots, you are tough to beat, no matter who you are matched up against.

I would have liked to have seen Vermont play a couple more quality teams this season, as their SOS is a major blemish on their resume at 330th, but they played a respectable non-conference slate, ranked 107th, so I won’t beat them up too bad for playing in one of the weakest conferences in the country, the American East.

One stat that sticks out to me that is interesting about Vermont, is that they are 301st in offensive rebounding, which is partly because they just don’t miss very many shots, and they are number 1 in not allowing opposing teams to crash the offensive glass. A lot of times when we see small schools play power programs, where they lose is in the trenches and on the glass, as physically, these small schools don’t match up well. But the Catamounts box out, and they don’t let teams bully them in the paint, which is going to go a long way into seeing them pull off a massive first round upset.

First Round Matchup

Of all of the teams on this list, I think that Vermont has the toughest path, as they play Arkansas in the first round, and the Razorbacks are a team that could absolutely make a deep run themselves, and I feel they are being criminally underrated as a 4-seed. Arkansas has beaten a who’s who of teams this year with wins over Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn, and LSU as they have shown that they can beat elite teams.

But what keeps the door open for a Vermont upset, is the Razorbacks do have some hard to explain losses on their record. Arkansas has losses to Hofstra, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M (twice), and none of those teams are dancing in the NCAA tournament. The Razorbacks have Final Four upside, but they also have get upset early and go home downside.

If the Catamounts do manage to beat the Razorbacks in the round of 64, they will have another tough draw in the round of 32, facing either UCONN or New Mexico State. The path to the Sweet 16 is brutal for Vermont, but this is a very good basketball team that has the talent to get the job done. I wish they were the 13-seed in the South Bracket, with matchups against what I see as overrated teams like Illinois and Houston, but they aren’t, and they will have to knock off Arkansas and UCONN if they want to captivate the nation, but they just might pull it off, so keep the Catamounts on your radar.

San Francisco Dons – 10 Seed

When the NCAA Selection Committee sets the brackets, they have lots of metrics that they like to use to rank teams. Some of those are various rankings are the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), Kenpom, or the AP poll. Other times they look at the full body of work of a team, looking at their top-100 wins and bad losses, to sort out just how good a team is this year. I try to never criticize the committee, as they have a brutally tough job, trying to first identify which 68 teams are worthy of a bid, and then ranking and seeding them, while also taking into account travel time, but sometimes they just get it wrong on a team.

One of the teams that the committee missed on this year, are the Dons of San Francisco. The WCC is a perennial punching bag, mostly because the mainstream media and their power conference bias wants to pretend that the Gonzaga Bulldogs play in a high school league. But the WCC is always a solid league, and this year, they are a very strong league, with 3 teams getting into the tournament and a couple more that made a compelling case to be included.

That bias has hurt the Dons, as this is a legit Sweet 16 level team that finds themselves ranked as double-digit seed. Kenpom has the Dons ranked 21st in the country and the NET has them ranked 22nd, suggesting that San Francisco was closer to a 5 or 6 seed than they were to the 10 seed that they got. When I take a closer look at the Don’s resume, I see wins over top-100 teams Davidson, Towson, UAB, UNLV, Fresno State, Arizona State, Santa Clara (twice), and BYU (twice).

The Dons couldn’t beat Gonzaga, but not many people could beat the number 1 ranked Bulldogs this season, and when you pull out those 3 losses to eth Zags, the Dons record looks even more legit. Of San Francisco’s 9 losses, 6 of them came to teams playing in the NCAA tournament, so it takes a strong team to beat the Dons to say the least.

First Round Matchup

As a die-hard mid-major basketball fan, I hate that the NCAA tournament likes to match up some of the best mid-major programs in the first round. Every year, we see teams that everyone is talking about as potential Cinderella’s match up early in the madness. I guess you could say it is a good thing, as it ensures that at least 1 of those teams is going to win and advance, but I would rather see these teams avoid each other early for max madness potential.

San Francisco draws a very good Murray State team in the opening round of the tournament and 1 of these mid-majors is going to win and have the opportunity to play Kentucky in the round of 32. I like the Dons. I actually feel awful for Murray State, as the Racers have been fantastic this season, but statistically, they should be the underdogs in this game, as the Dons outrank them in basically every data driven ranking. The Racers are small -1.5-point favorites right now, but don’t be shocked if that line flips by Thursday as the sharps are going to be all over San Francsico in a high value spot.

Can San Francsico beat Kentucky? I doubt it, but the Wildcats aren’t playing their best ball of the year as they hit March, as they went just 4-3 in their last 7 games of the season. You always want to be peaking when you hit the madness, and after watching Kentucky win 21 of their first 25 games, but stumble down the stretch, this just isn’t the best version of the Wildcats we have seen this season. I like the Dons to win their opener and if the slipper fits, they just might be able to shock the world and send Kentucky home with an early exit as well.

Colgate Raiders – 14 Seed

14 seeds don’t win very often in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, but 14 seeds are rarely as good as this Colgate Raiders squad is. Colgate hits the tournament as one of the hottest teams around, riding an active 15-game winning streak, and having won 19 of their last 20 overall. When you see that the Raiders started out the season 4-10, this is shaping up to be a magical and completely hard to predict run, for the Raiders.

Colgate knows how to win games, and they get it done by shooting an absurd 40% from deep as a team. Only South Dakota State hits a higher percentage from the land of 3 than Colgate and that makes this a team that nobody wants to play in March. Colgate played a solid non-conference schedule, and while they didn’t win many of those games, it did get them accustomed to playing high quality teams from power conferences and they are now battle tested as they hit the madness.

Winning in March is all about momentum and the Raiders certainly have that, as they have completely forgotten how to lose. Obviously playing in a weak conference in the Patriot League has helped prop up their record, but there is no denying that this team knows how to win games. If I had to cherry pick one metric as to why I see the Raiders as a potential NCAA March Madness Cinderella team, it would be their ability to take care of and share the basketball.

The Raiders are 7th in the country in assists per made basket. When you are assisting on this high of a percentage of your shots, it tells me that you ae passing up good shots for great shots, by making the extra pass. And when I see that they are also 36th in turnover percentage, it shows me that not only do they made a lot of great passes, but they don’t turn the ball over when they do it, and that is going to make them a team that is tough to beat.

First Round Matchup

The Raiders draw the Wisconsin Badgers in their opening game and having to play the reigning regular season champions of the Big 10 is never an easy task. If you would have shown me this matchup 2 weeks ago, I would have taken the Badgers without much of a though, as they were steamrolling their way through the very talented Big 10. But in the last couple of weeks, the wheels have inexplicitly fallen off for Wisconsin, as they have lost back-to-back games for the first time all season long!

The loss to Nebraska at home in the regular season finale was a real head scratcher, as the Huskers were just 3-16 in league play prior to that upset, and had the Badgers won the game, they would have taken the Big 10 regular season title outright, so that was a game that they really wanted to win, and they lost. Then in the Big 10 tournament, the Badgers had an early exit, losing to what was a bubble team in Michigan State in their first game.

I won’t pretend that Colgate is a team that is as talented as Michigan State, or even Nebraska for that matter, but the Badgers haven’t played well, and they just might be running out of gas after running the gauntlet that is the Big 10. Throw in the fact that Colgate has had one of the more impressive in-season turnaround in recent memory, and this game has all of the makings of a potential upset.

If the Raiders do find a way to beat Wiscosnin, they will basically inherit their number 3 seed, and looking ahead to the round of 32, the Raiders would stand at least a puncher’s chance against either LSU or Iowa State, as both of those teams are talented, but have plenty of flaws. LSU went 7-10 in the 2nd half of the season and Iowa State finished up 8-12 after a 12-0 start. The Raiders are hot, and they just happen to have drawn matchups against teams that aren’t at their best right now, and that makes them a team that has a shot at making history.

Davidson Wildcats – 10 Seed

Similar to the San Francisco Dons, the Wildcats are a double-digit seed that probably shouldn’t be. Davidson ran away with the regular season title in the much better than most people seem to realize A-10 this season, and if it weren’t for a loss in the A-10 finals to a red-hot Richmond team, the Wildcats would likely be seeded several spots higher.

You might be sensing a recurring theme with these teams, as Davidson has one of the most efficient offenses in all of college basketball, ranked 11th, and their team shooting percentage from deep is a smoking hot 38.5%. The Wildcats tend to play a slower pace on offense, which has masked just how great they are when it comes to scoring, and if you don’t think this team can win a game or more in the tournament, you don’t know much about college hoops.

The Wildcats has losses to San Francsico, New Mexico State, and Richmond, all teams playing meaningful games in March, and they had a loss to Dayton, who the selection committee listed as the first team out of the field of 68. The only really “bad” loss for the Wildcats came on the road at Rhode Island over a month ago, and Davidson recovered from losing 2 of their first 3 games of the year to win 25 of their last 29.

First Round Matchup

On top of being seeded at least 1 line to low, the Wildcats pick up an attractive draw in their first game, against the Michigan State Spartans. Now, don’t get me wrong, betting against Tom Izzo in March is never too good of a proposition, but the Spartans were in free fall at the end of the regular season, having lost 7 of their final 10 games. If it weren’t for wins against Maryland and Wisconsin in the Big 10 tournament, Sparty might not have even got into the tournament!

Kenpom has Michigan State winning that game by just a single point, and in my book that is a coin flip game that could go either way. Any time that you can get a double-digit seed that has a coin flip game in the first round, they are great candidates for a Cinderella squad.

If the coin lands on the Davidson’s side against Michigan State, the Wildcats will draw Duke in the round of 32, and you can’t deny the fact that the Blue Devils have been distracted by all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding Coach K’s final season coaching in Durham. The Blue Devils lost at home in the regular season finale to North Carolina as heavy favorites, and they got blown out by Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament, against as prohibitive betting favorites.

Duke has enough talent to win it all, but the pressure of trying to send Coach K off with what would be his 6th national title is mounting and taking its toll on the team. Whether it is Davidson or Michigan State that emerges from that round of 64 games, both of those teams are going to have the Blue Devils on upset alert with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line!

Wrap Up

And there you have it folks, my picks for the top-5 teams that could be this year’s March Madness Cinderella! With the Madness just days away, and brackets furiously being filled out, make sure that you stay tuned to TheSportsGeek, where our team of expert handicappers bring you all of the high value betting advice and picks that you need to make money betting NCAA Men’s Basketball this March!

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Jason Gray / Author

Jason is a true Las Vegas insider as he has called the sports betting capital of the world his home for sixteen years. Jason started out his career in gaming by running the biggest poker tournaments in the world and managing some of the biggest sportsbooks on the strip. Jason has transitioned out of casino operations and has been covering sports betting for the sports geek for just over two years. His main focus is on baseball, college basketball, and the NFL

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