Five potential Cinderella teams in 2023 NCAA Tournament
Five potential Cinderella teams in 2023 NCAA Tournament originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
It's time for a team to write a Cinderella story.
With the bracket for the 2023 NCAA Tournament set, mid-majors now know what they’re up against in their quest to upset heavily-favored opponents and bust the brackets of college basketball fans.
Saint Peter's authored one of the great Cinderella stories in tournament history last year by becoming the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Elite Eight. Which team in this year's field has the best chance to follow in Saint Peter's footsteps?
Here are some potential Cinderella teams....
Who are the Cinderella teams in the 2023 NCAA Tournament?
No. 12 Charleston Cougars
First-round matchup: vs. No. 5 San Diego State, Thursday
The 31-3 Cougars enter the NCAA Tournament having won 10 straight games, including the CAA championship. That winning streak could continue beyond mid-March if their shots are falling.
The Cougars entered the weekend attempting the second-most three-pointers per game in the nation at 30.2 per game and connecting on 10.1 per, 11th most. And when those shots aren't falling, they crash the boards, averaging 13.7 offensive rebounds per game, fourth most in Division I. Charleston is deep and balanced, with five players in their 10-man rotation averaging in double figures, led by Dalton Bolon's 12.3 per.
That combination could pose a problem for some higher seeds.
No. 12 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
First-round matchup: vs. No. 5 Duke, Thursday
The Golden Eagles are looking to write the sequel to their 2021 Cinderella story. That was when they advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed with upset wins over Ohio State and Florida.
Leading scorer Max Abmas remains from that squad, averaging 22.2 points per game this season. He's shooting 37.7 on 9.4 three-pointers per game for a team that is third in the nation with 10.8 makes from deep per game.
The Golden Eagles enter the tournament having won 17 straight games and 27 of their last 28 games to go 30-4, setting a program record for most victories in a season as a Division I program.
No. 13 Iona Gaels
First-round matchup: vs. No. 4 UConn, Friday
This could be the last season that Rick Pitino is walking through that door at Iona.
Rumors have linked the Hall of Fame coach to openings at St. John's and Georgetown, meaning Pitino's third season with the Gaels could be his final opportunity to get the team beyond the first round of the NCAA Tournament during his tenure.
If able to do so, it will likely be thanks to Iona's ability to defend both the perimeter and the rim. The Gaels, winners of 14 straight, hold opponents to 29.3 percent shooting from three, which is eighth-best in the nation, and average the third-most blocks at 5.6 per game.
No. 13 Kent State Golden Flashes
First-round matchup: No. 4 Indiana, Friday
The 28-6 Golden Flashes will not be an easy out. Just ask top-10 teams like Gonzaga and Houston.
Kent State gave those two all they could handle during narrow early-season losses, falling by five to currently-ranked No. 1 Houston and by seven to No. 9 Gonzaga. The Golden Flashes' swarming, turnover-inducing defense can give even the highest of seeds fits.
The big question will be whether their offense - led by Sincere Carry, who averages 17.3 points per game - can do its part.
No. 13 Furman Paladins
First-round matchup: vs. No. 4 Virginia, Thursday
The Dancin' Dins!
Expect to hear that moniker quite often if the Paladins can muster an upset or two after qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 43 years. Furman avenged last season's crushing, buzzer-beater loss in the Southern Conference championship by making good on coach Bob Richey's postgame vow to return to the title game and win.
"We watched the buzzer beater for a year, it's still being played," Richey said after Furman's win on Tuesday. "But tonight, we're cutting nets down."
Now they have a chance to go bracket busting, and they have the motivation and makeup to do so, led by Mike Bothwell (18.0 points per) and Jalen Slawson (15.7). The Paladins aren't shy when it comes to launching from the outside (27.5 attempts per), but they are also highly efficient when shooting from inside the arc (shooting just over 60 percent), combining for the 11th best effective field goal percentage in the nation at 56.4 percent. That offensive production has powered the program to its first March Madness appearance since 1980.
And it makes the Dancin' Dins a team nobody wants to face in the first round.
Other mid-majors to keep an eye on: No. 12 Drake, No. 10 Boise State, No. 9 Florida Atlantic, No. 5 Saint Mary's, No. 3 Gonzaga (if you still consider the Zags a mid-major)