It’s that time of year again: March Madness. The brackets have been revealed and now everyone is rushing to find the next Cinderella story. After all, that’s a big reason why we watch the NCAA Tournament. If you’re looking for a Cinderella in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, here are five candidates.
The Flames have now won the Big South Tournament in three straight seasons, bring both experience and depth to the table. Keep in mind Liberty beat Mississippi State in the first round of the tournament two years ago and nearly pushed their way into the Sweet 16.
Ritchie McKay’s team might be even more prepared to make a Cinderella run this time around. They will create trouble for a hot Oklahoma State team.
The Eagles are no strangers to the big stage and always seem to give high seeds a difficult time in the Big Dance. More importantly, this year’s Winthrop team is special. They enter the NCAA Tournament 23-1 and can go 11 deep in their rotation, meaning it’s tough to scout them or get in a rhythm because they come at you in waves.
That’s exactly the type of team that can wreak havoc in the NCAA Tournament. With an undermanned Villanova team in the first round, this could be the year the Eagles get a win in the Big Dance.
Rick Pitino’s first season at Iona has been a clear success with the Gaels returning to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time since 2012. While Iona hasn’t won a tournament game since 1980, the program is accustomed to being at this stage.
Also, amidst several pauses, the Gaels were the most talented team in the MAAC all season and have a bonafide star in Isaiah Ross. Iona is much better than the average no. 15 seed, which is bad news for Alabama.
EWU didn’t dominate the Big Sky as some expected, but the Eagles won 13 of 14 to finish the season, giving them a ton of momentum and confidence. In many ways, Eastern Washington is a poor man’s version of Gonzaga because they have an international flair, five players who average double figures, and more size than most teams that come out of the Big Sky.
If Kansas is rusty after COVID knocked them out of the Big 12 Tournament, the Eagles could swoop in and take advantage.
UC Santa Barbara
The Gauchos already have the nickname of a beloved Cinderella team. They also have a veteran team that’s led by the multi-dimensional JaQuori McLaughlin.
A lot of the ingredients are there for Santa Barbara, including a First Round opponent in Creighton that looks vulnerable after their dreadful performance against Georgetown on Saturday.