Why Each Cinderella Team can Advance to the Final Four 

Daniel Krivacs, Writer

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Every year in March Madness, there are Cinderella teams after the first weekend of the tournament – teams that get hot at the perfect time and pull off two upsets on their way to the Sweet 16. Half of the fun is predicting which team(s) will be Cinderella(s), and the other half is predicting how far they will go after the first two rounds of the tournament conclude. For these teams, the task is simple; do exactly what you did last weekend to be in the Final Four. After days of predictions, this year’s Cinderella teams have revealed themselves and are ready to continue their runs. For this list, only teams with a No. 10 seed or lower will be considered.  

  • St. Peter’s (No. 15 Seed, East Region): 

It is only fitting that the true Cinderella of the tournament be given the first look. The first reason for them to have a chance at the Final Four is simple. They are the only team on this list without a No. 1 seed blocking their path. Beating No. 3 seed Purdue Friday night will arguably be the toughest test of the weekend for everyone’s favorite group of Peacocks. With that said, if they were to get past Purdue, it would either be No. 4 seed UCLA or No. 8 seed North Carolina standing in their way.  

St. Peter’s matches up poorly against Purdue on paper as Purdue is bigger and taller than St. Peter’s at every position. The tallest player on St. Peter’s roster with consistent minutes is 6’8 freshman forward Clarence Rupert. Purdue has 7’4 Zach Edey and 6’10 Trevion Williams. With a clear size advantage, Purdue can play classic Big Ten style basketball which heavily features scoring in the paint and getting the ball down low.  

Purdue may be bigger than St. Peter’s at every position, but so were Kentucky and Murray State. The Peacocks have put the nation on alert after becoming the third 15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16. Head Coach Shaheen Holloway has been unphased all tournament, despite being outsized. It has been his team’s consistency, discipline, and toughness that have taken them this far. If they can muster up another awe-inspiring performance, the Peacocks will have a shot at the Final Four and won’t have to defeat a 1 seed. As Coach Holloway would say, “It’s just basketball.” 

  • Miami (FL) (No. 10 seed, Midwest Region): 

Now, onto teams that I knew existed before last weekend…. Despite coming out of a weaker than usual ACC, Miami finds itself in the Sweet 16 after a nail-biter against USC in round one and a wire-to-wire dismantling of No. 2 seed Auburn on Sunday. Miami will face a defensively sound yet offensively challenged Iowa State team Friday night to advance to the Elite Eight.  

The mission for Miami is easier said than done – score 70 points. Iowa State has not come close to 70 points four of their last five games. Their point totals over the last five games are 36, 68, 41, 59, and 54. Four of the last five games have seen Iowa State fail to score 60 points. However, the last two games have seen Iowa State’s defense give up less than 55 points.  

What Iowa State’s defense is doing right now is unsustainable; in today’s era of basketball, nobody can be expected to take the floor on defense and give up less than 60 points per game on a consistent basis. Something will give. Iowa State’s defense will be a new task for the Hurricanes. Miami hammered Auburn despite shooting 3/15 from deep and still scored 79 points in the process. If the Hurricanes can have more success beyond the three-point arc, they can coast in this one.  

With that said, if the Hurricanes can take Izaiah Brockington out of the equation, Miami can score 60 points and still win the game by more than 10. Miami was successful in making Jabari Smith, an NBA lottery pick, an almost nonfactor in their game against Auburn. If they can repeat their success defensively against Brockington, Miami will ease into the Elite Eight.  

This is where things will get complicated for Hurricane fans as it will be either Providence or Kansas standing in the way of a Final Four appearance. Kansas is everything Iowa State is, but bigger and more talented. Providence is the Big East regular season champion that took out upset minded South Dakota State in the first round, then blasted Richmond in the second round after the Spiders upset Iowa in one of the more surprising results of the first round. Each team would present a formidable challenge for Miami, but their defense has not given up more than 70 points in the last two games. 

 Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty each scored over 20 points against Auburn, which means things are heating up in Miami. Any team that dismantles the two seed in their region the way Miami did is an immediate threat to whoever awaits them next.  

  • Iowa State (No. 11 seed, Midwest Region)  

Next up is the team with no offense that has found its way to the second weekend of the tournament. The phrase “Defense wins championships” seems to be the motto for this Iowa State team because they keep winning games with their suffocating defense and underwhelming offense. While defense does win championships, the Cyclones still have some work to do before they get there.  

It starts with Miami who is coming off one of the more impressive all-around performances in the round of 32. I am not going to repeat everything I said about Miami, but I am going to reiterate the success of the Iowa State defense and why it continues to translate to Cyclone victories. Iowa State limited LSU to 54 points and Wisconsin to 49 points. Prior to facing Iowa State, Wisconsin had not been held under 50 points in a game all season, and LSU had been held under 55 points only one other time this season. There seems to be a common theme when teams face Iowa State. – an unexplainably bad shooting day and a remarkably low score.  

Like I said before, what Iowa State is doing defensively right now is unsustainable, but until it breaks, it seems like nobody can beat this team. If the Big Ten Player of the Year and the rest of his Badgers could not find a way to solve this Iowa State defense, who is to suggest that Miami will?  

If Izaiah Brockington can get someone else on offense to score more than 15 points with him, Iowa State will be in the Final Four without question. In the LSU game, Brockington had 19 points, Tyrese Hunter had 23 points, and the next highest scorer had eight points. In the Wisconsin game, Brockington only had 10 points, Gabe Kalscheur had 22, and the next highest scorer had seven. The offense will always flow through Brockington, but if he can get consistent help and force the opposing defense to respect at least one other Cyclone on the floor offensively, this Iowa State team will win more than one game this weekend.  

Kansas or Providence would await the Cyclones. Iowa State is familiar with Kansas in a bad way this season, losing 61-62 and 61-70. Beating a conference team three times in the same season is no easy task, even for the top seed in the Midwest. Providence will get a taste of its best opponent by far this post-season Friday night, and if they survive, they could face an even more suffocating defense in the Elite Eight.  

  • Michigan (No. 11 seed, South Region):  

The final team on this list is one of two Big Ten teams remaining in the tournament after a brutal Round of 32 for the conference. Michigan played against one of the better defenses in the country and scored 76 points on the way to an upset victory over third-seeded Tennessee. After winning back-to-back games for the first time since early February, it seems like the committee got it right when they put Michigan straight through to the Round of 64.  

Michigan faces No. 2 seed Villanova in the Sweet 16 Thursday night. Villanova matches up against Michigan in a comparable way to how Colorado State did in the Round of 64, a game in which Michigan was down by 15 and won by 12. The tallest player in Villanova’s rotation is Eric Dixon, a 6’8 redshirt sophomore forward. Michigan has 6’11 Moussa Diabate and 7’1 Hunter Dickinson. The next tallest player in Villanova’s rotation is 6’7 Jermaine Samuels. The bigger problem for Villanova, outside of the size disadvantage, is that it is not uncommon for Dickinson and Diabate to be on the floor at the same time for the Wolverines.  

Dickinson functions as the team’s main center down low who can also hit jump shots, and. Diabate is a stretch forward who can attack off the dribble and in the post. Villanova also has a six-man rotation, whereas Michigan gets productive minutes from eight players. With Devante’ Jones’ health in question, the Wolverines could be slightly shorthanded, but in slugfest games like this one could turn out to be, it is depth that wins games. When there is a minute left and the score is tied, those whose legs are fresh enough to play one more defensive possession and highly execute one more offensive set will win. Michigan’s height and depth advantage over Villanova make them a tough team to beat, hence Villanova only being listed as a five-point favorite over a No. 11 seed. In games like this, size, depth, and experience matter most. Michigan has made five straight Sweet 16 appearances, and that experience has value, especially as a lower seed.  

If Michigan beats Villanova, they will face the winner of Houston and Arizona. Houston against Arizona could be the best game of the Sweet 16, especially after what Arizona pulled against TCU. Houston and Arizona play similarly to Michigan, and Arizona would strangely be the better matchup. Houston plays an intense, in-your-face style of defense that had Illinois reeling all game in the Round of 32. Arizona is an offensive minded team and has no issue getting into a shootout. If Michigan and Arizona face off in the Elite Eight, look for that to be a high scoring affair as both teams love shooting beyond the three-point line. That game would come down to who stays hot the longest. Houston would be a more difficult draw for Michigan because of how physical they are. However, if Michigan can get a standard 18-point (season average) performance from Hunter Dickinson and Caleb Houstan and/or Eli Brooks can get hot from deep to extend the Cougar defense to the outside, Michigan can do just enough to get into the Final Four. 


Daniel Krivacs is a Sports Writer at the Dakota Student and can be reached at  d[email protected]