Smaller Conference Teams- Who Could Be Cinderella?

by Kyle Hunter

Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024
March is almost here, and the NCAA Tournament is just around the corner. Maybe you are on the lookout for futures value. Or maybe you just want to take a closer look at smaller conference teams before the conference tournaments and NCAA Tournament arrive. I thought it would be good to take a look at five smaller conference teams I believe have a chance to be Cinderella. I’ll also take a look at why they have the chance to pull some upsets.

Note that I’m going to leave the obvious teams like St. Mary’s and Florida Atlantic out of this discussion. 

  1. Princeton Tigers- The Princeton Tigers went to the Sweet 16 last year. I don’t think we should rule out the chance that they could go to the Sweet 16 again this season. Xaivian Lee is a superstar who leads the team. Princeton is second in the nation in turnover percentage on offense. They take great care of the basketball. The Tigers are also top 35 in the country in both defensive rebounding percentage and defending without fouling. They are great at forcing the opponent to play at their pace.
  2. McNeese State Cowboys- It isn’t very often that you’ll see a Southland Conference team on this type of a list, but McNeese state deserves the love. They went on the road and beat a solid VCU team to start this season. They also won by 11 at Michigan. I know Michigan isn’t very good, but a double digit win at a Big Ten school is still impressive. The Cowboys are 35th in effective field goal percentage offense. They are 53rd in effective field goal percentage defense. This kind of balance can lead to success in March.
  3. Appalachian State Mountaineers- Dustin Kerns is a really good basketball coach. He has this Mountaineers team playing excellent basketball. Appalachian State won a home game against Auburn earlier this year. They also went to James Madison and won. They beat the Dukes at home as well. James Madison will make a lot of lists for teams capable of pulling upsets (they could), but most will overlook Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are 8th in effective field goal percentage defense. I would rather trust an elite defense than a team full of long range shooters in March.
  4. Indiana State Sycamores- The secret might be out about Indiana State more than the three teams ahead of them, but I had to give them some love here. Josh Schertz is one of the best coaches in the country that most people haven’t heard of. The Sycamores play ultra fast, and they are all about looks at the rim or from 3 point range (no mid range jumpers). They are better on offense than defense, but the Syacamores are top 20 in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and defending without fouling.
  5. Samford Bulldogs- Bucky McMillan’s style of play is so much fun to watch. If you haven’t had a chance to watch this team play, do yourself a favor and watch them when you get a chance. Samford is 11th in the nation in tempo. Their full court pressure has them at 13th in the country in forced turnover percentage. They have one of the deepest benches in the country. They are great at forcing the opponent to push the pace even if they don’t want to. They wouldn’t be a fun matchup for a highly ranked seed.

I think several Mountain West teams have chances to make a run in the NCAA Tournament as well. However, those teams aren’t under the radar to hardcore college hoops fans, and I wanted to dive deeper for potential value here. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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