The madness is set to begin before we even reach March this year. However, it is never too early to start thinking about a strategy for winning the office bracket challenge or the family bragging rights battle. The best strategy to use is the high-risk high-reward Cinderella pick. Fortunately for those looking to implement that strategy, there are plenty of early Cinderella choices that are poised for deep tournament runs.
The Rams finished their season strong last year and got themselves an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. In the first round, they knocked off a banged up Creighton team and then were beaten by Oregon in the round of thirty-two. This season, the Rams will look to go even further in the tournament, and they definitely have the means to do so. Rhode Island returns three of their five starters from last year and over fifty percent of their scoring.
This year’s team will be run by guards E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, and Jeff Dowtin. All three averaged above 5.0 points per game last year and will look to improve on those numbers. The only achilles’ heel for the Rams is their inability to shoot from beyond the arc (33.3% last season). If Dan Hurley’s club can transition into a higher paced offense, they could do some damage this season in the consistently underrated Atlantic-10 conference.
If you watch the Knights play, it is very hard to miss 7-foot-6-inch center Tacko Fall. However, UCF is more than just a one trick pony. After four straight wins by Johnny Dawkins’ squad to start the season, UCF has lost three games in a row and have also had to deal with some early season injuries. But don’t write them off just yet. The Knights have five players averaging above 9 points per game and obviously are very tough to play defensively with Fall on the inside. The problems have come on the offensive end for Central Florida as they have only scored 63.7 points per game as a team early on. UCF made a deep NIT tournament run last season and are hoping to build off the momentum and earn a bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.
The Catamounts are off to a fast start in the 2017-2018 season. They’ve picked up 6 wins in their first 7 games and their only loss came in a close game to 4th ranked Kentucky. Vermont can score in bunches and they shoot 46 percent from the field. UVM plays 12 players a game and their depth down the stretch could really help them get some big wins in close games. The reigning America East conference tournament champions are led by sophomore forward Anthony Lamb who was an ESPN 100 recruit coming out of high school and was the top scorer on last seasons’ team. The Catamounts will look to avenge last year’s’ first round loss to Purdue in the NCAA Tournament.
After rattling off four straight wins to start the season the Gaels were ranked as high as #21 in the AP Top 25 poll. Since then, Randy Bennett’s squad has lost two in a row and subsequently dropped out of the rankings. The Gaels have been carried thus far by the scoring of center Jock Landale who averages 20.4 points per game. St. Mary’s has two other double digit scorers in Calvin Mermanson and Emmett Naar. The Gaels certainly like to run and it shows in the 83 points per game average as a team. If SMC can clean their act up on the defensive side of the ball, they could get past the first weekend of the tournament this season and challenge Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference title.