College basketball: 5 possible Cinderella teams in conference tournaments
This is when things start to get fun in college basketball. Tournament time is here, and starting with the conference tournaments, the month of March is inundated with tons of upsets, emotion and Cinderella stories.
The conference tournaments are one of the most exciting parts of March Madness, because every team in the conference is in the tournament, and even the last place team in the regular season has a shot at going to the NCAA Tournament if they can hold up and pull off a miraculous conference tourney win.
Some may think that it's an unfair prize for teams who did little to earn their way in during the regular season, but like it or not, it's a part of how the field at the Big Dance is decided.
It's rare that one of the last or lower seeded teams makes a run through their conference tourney to win it, but it has been done. Here's five teams - one from each of the Power-5 conferences - who could be a Cinderella story in their tournament and move on to the NCAA tourney.
Pac-12 – Arizona State Sun Devils
Tournament Dates: March 11-14
Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, Nv.
Right now the Sun Devils (15-14, 7-9 Pac-12) have little chance of being selected for the NCAA Tournament. Even if they win their final two games against Stanford and Cal, they'll be outside the bubble.
Getting past Arizona in the conference tournament is going to be tough for anyone in the Pac-12, but the Sun Devils probably stand the best chance of all the lower-tier teams in the conference. They were destroyed by the Wildcats early in the season, 73-49, but gave Zona everything they could handle and came out with an 81-78 win in their Feb. 7 meeting.
The Sun Devils will probably be matched up against either Stanford or UCLA in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, either of which are winnable games for them.
Head coach Herb Sendek has his team playing pretty good ball right now, and if Shaquielle McKissic and Gerry Blakes get hot, this Sun Devils team can score with the best of them. Defense will be the issue for Arizona State, who is giving up an average of 69.6 points per game.
It will be a difficult run, but it would be a great matchup to see bitter in-state rivals battling it out for a Pac-12 tournament championship.
SEC – Florida Gators
Tournament Dates: March 11-15
Location: Bridgestone Arena – Nashville, Tn.
It's odd to think of Billy Donovan's Florida Gators (14-15, 7-9 SEC) as a possible Cinderella team, as they've dominated the SEC and the national rankings for so many years. But the Gators graduated practically an entire starting lineup last year, and 2015 has been a struggle for these young Gators.
But you can't ever look past a Billy Donovan coached team, and Florida has shown they can play with the best of them in a few spurts this season.
Florida doesn't have much in the way of quality wins this season, but they've played some good teams tough and close. They'll finish the regular season with games against Texas A&M at home, and then on the road to play No. 1 Kentucky.
Once the SEC tournament begins, the Gators tough defense - only giving up 59.6 points per game - could be a matchup nightmare for a few teams. They'll probably be matched up against Ole Miss in the first round, a team who beat the Gators twice in the regular season by a combined two points.
If Florida can get past the second round, anything is possible. Once this team is believing in themselves, you don't want to face them.
Big Ten – Northwestern Wildcats
Tournament Dates: March 11-15
Location: United Center – Chicago, Il.
The Wildcats (14-15, 5-11 Big Ten) are having a tough year, but lately they've been coming on strong in conference play, winning four of their last five games. They could go into the tournament with a lot of confidence.
A long losing streak in January and early February killed any shot Northwestern may have hoped for at an NCAA bid, but they still have the potential to come out on top of the conference tourney in a Big Ten that is slightly weaker than usual this year.
The Wildcats close out the year against Michigan and Iowa, both teams who still have slim NCAA Tournament hopes, so they'll have a chance to play spoiler before playing Cinderella in the Big Ten tournament.
Northwestern has two guys averaging in double figures in Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh, and both of them will need to be at their best in the conference tourney if the Wildcats are to have any shot.
ACC – Florida State Seminoles
Tournament Dates: March 10-14
Location: Greensboro Coliseum – Greensboro, N.C.
The ACC is going to be one of the toughest conference tournaments in the country, with five Top 25 teams sitting at the top of the standings. For any team to put on the Cinderella slipper, they'll have to beat possibly two or three great teams.
Florida State (15-15, 7-10 ACC) probably stands the best shot at surprising the ACC and making a run through the tournament. The Seminoles have been inconsistent this season, but still have a quality win against Miami and very close losses to UNC and Duke on their resume.
When they're on, the Seminoles can score in bunches, with Montay Brandon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes both averaging over 12 points per game.
A likely first round matchup against No. 19 UNC gives Florida State a tough, but possibly winnable opening to the tournament. Get past that, and they could become a surprise team. But make no mistake, beating Virginia is going to be a tall order for anyone in the ACC.
Big 12 – Texas Longhorns
Tournament Dates: March 11-14
Location: Sprint Center – Kansas City. Mo.
How do you pick a Cinderella out of a 10-team conference that is likely already sending seven to the Big Dance? Start with the Texas Longhorns (18-12, 7-10 Big 12) who proved in an upset win against No. 14 Baylor this week that they can still play with the top teams.
Texas has been one of the streakiest teams in the nation, bunching together wins and losses like nobody's business. The recent win against Baylor snapped a 4-game losing streak (against four Top 25 teams), and that's bad news for folks in the Big 12 tournament.
If the Longhorns follow suit and go on a winning streak, they'll finish with a win against Kansas State, and then could go into the tourney matched up against No. 15 Oklahoma, who they just recently lost a close game to, 71-69, or No. 20 West Virginia.
Their latest losing streak may have knocked them off the NCAA Tournament bubble, but this is a team who can absolutely go on a tear through the Big 12 tournament and glass slipper their way into the Dance.
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