It is that time of the year again — March Madness. What makes March such a “mad” month is that fact that every year, some low-seeded team pulls off a stunning upset that busts brackets all over the nation and stuns the basketball world.
One of the most famous Cinderella stories is that of the 2006 George Mason team that took down several perennial powers along the way to a birth in the Final Four. Since then, teams like Virginia Commonwealth and Butler have made similar runs as mid-major, low-seeded teams to the Final Four.
Does this mean that the luster and magnificence of a Cinderella has lost its appeal? Not in a million years.
There are brackets around the world that are banking on a few unknown and low-ranked teams making a deep run to the Final Four in this year’s tournament, and the confidence that people have in making these predictions is fueled by the success of low-seeded teams like George Mason, VCU and Butler.
There was a time where people would be ridiculed for making “preposterous” picks — like a low-seeded George Mason — for a Final Four; but now, they are seen as innovative or a commonality.
With that mindset in place, there may be one or two “George Masons” in this year’s tournament. In order to be considered a “George Mason” in my book, a team must be ranked as a double digit seed and not come from a “Power Conference”. The two teams that, I believe, have the highest likelihood of making it to the Final Four as this year’s George Mason are Belmont and Bucknell.
Both Belmont and Bucknell are seeded 11th in their respective regions and both have tough matchups in the first round. Belmont will play against Arizona, while Bucknell will attempt to take down Butler. If both teams can survive their first round tests, the road to the Final Four will continue to become more difficult with second round possible dates being New Mexico for Belmont or Marquette for Bucknell.
No matter which way you look at it, both teams will face significant challenges if they are going to make the Final Four.
The reason for optimism with the Bucknell club can be related to their length and athleticism. This allows them to defend extremely well and hold teams to a poor shooting percentage, which you have to do in order to win in March.
Bucknell also has one of the best players in all of college basketball in Mike Muscala. As we know with past tournaments, teams need to have a big-time player they can depend on if they are going to make a run in the tournament. Bucknell has that player in Muscala and if the team is to compete and make a run, he will be a large factor in it. What sets the Bucknell team apart, however, is their length in the backcourt and ability to defend.
The reason the Belmont squad could make a run is because they shoot the ball very efficiently, and they have a player who could carry them to the Final Four in Ian Clark.
Clark is averaging around 47 percent from three point range and is also averaging over 18 points per game. His ability to hit 3-pointers, combined with a lot of teams’ problems with defending the three, gives Belmont a great chance to win every time out. Also, having a veteran coach like Rick Byrd helps give Belmont the moxie they need to win close games.
Out of the two options presented, both are long shots to make the Final Four in Atlanta. But, this season has been filled with so much parity that anything could happen. Just like when George Mason made their memorable run, they had to beat teams that they appeared to have no shot against.
When they did end up beating a higher ranked team and pulled the upset, their confidence swelled and it carried them throughout the rest of the tournament.
It may be a long shot and it may be a miracle, but remember what month we are in and prepare for the madness!