It’s that time of year again. The NCAA College Basketball tournament is just days away, and March Madness has officially begun.
One of the most exciting parts of the tournament is watching those underrated, unheralded, and sometimes unheard of teams upset the powerhouses in their unlikely quest to get to the top–the “Cinderella teams” as we’ve come to call them.
Typically, the Cinderellas don’t come from the major conferences; they are typically the ones that receive automatic bids by winning their mid-major conference tournaments.
This weekend, three teams did just that.
UNC-Asheville, Belmont, and Murray State each won their respective conference tournaments on Saturday, making them the first to reserve their spots in this year’s Big Dance.
UNC-Asheville, with an overall record of 24-9 this season, clenched a tournament spot with a win over VMI in the Big South Conference championship game. It is their second straight bid to the tournament, and just the third trip in the program’s history.
The Belmont Bruins, who suffered a one point loss to Duke to begin the season, also landed an automatic spot in the Big Dance by defeating Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship. The Bruins are 27-7 on the season, and are riding a 14 game winning streak into the tournament. It marks their 5th trip to the NCAA Tourney in the last 7 years. Last season, they lost to Wisconsin in the second round.
Murray State (30-1), currently ranked No.9 in the country, would have received a tournament invite regardless of how they fared in the Ohio Valley Conference. However, they avenged their sole loss of the season, a defeat at the hands of Tennessee State, by handing them a two-point loss in their conference tournament, giving the Racers are automatic bid, rather than than an at-large bid. This will be the Racers 15th appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Over the next several days leading up to the Big Dance, Rant Sports will take a closer look at each of the mid-major teams that have earned tournament berths this season. After all, they typically don’t receive as much mainstream media coverage as their mainstream counterparts, and who knows….one of them will likely become this year’s Cinderella.