Where Are They Now: Catching Up With Cinderellas of Years PastPosted by Nicholas Patrick on February 26th, 2014
We find ourselves on the verge of annual basketball bliss. Over the next several weeks, the action will crescendo as we progress through the regular season sprint to the finish, with the conference tournaments on tap first followed by the NCAA Tournament. Much of the beauty of the Big Dance is that it doesn’t simply build to a single championship round. In essence, every round, from the opening games in Dayton to the title tilt in Arlington, will be a championship round for some teams, a golden chance to exceed their fans’ wildest expectations and make school history. The question every March isn’t if any teams will assume the Cinderella role, but which teams will. In some cases, teams are able to build on their NCAA success for the long term, especially if they return most of their key contributors or catch the eye of a bigger-fish conference. In other cases, Cinderella’s coach may receive a promotion of his own, moving up in prestige and pay scale, and leading to a rebuilding project for his former team.
Let’s catch up with a few of the O26 Cinderella teams from recent tourneys:
- Morehead State. As a #13 seed, the Eagles sent shock waves through the Bluegrass State by defeating Louisville before losing to Richmond in the round of 32. That team, led by rebounding machine Kenneth Faried, won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament after a third place regular season finish. Since then, Morehead State has taken two steps back before moving forward. The following season without Faried, the Eagles finished 10-6 in conference play. In 2012-13, after head coach Sean Woods (from Mississippi Valley State) replaced Donnie Tyndall (who left for Southern Mississippi), the Eagles slipped to 8-8 in the OVC. They now appear to be on the way back this season, approaching 20 wins and contending with Belmont and Murray State for an OVC title.
- Richmond. As a #12 seed, the Spiders defeated Vanderbilt and Morehead State before losing badly to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. Chris Mooney was rewarded with his first NCAA Tournament wins (and second appearance) in his sixth season at the school, after showing steady improvement throughout his tenure. That team, led by seniors Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper, won the Atlantic 10 Tournament after finishing in third place during the regular season. Richmond had to regroup after losing its stars, finishing 7-9 and 8-8 in conference play in subsequent seasons. But this season, led by a balanced attack that includes Cedric Lindsay (who was a freshman on that Cinderella team), the Spiders are on their way to 20 wins, in a tight race for second place in the Atlantic 10, and find themselves squarely on the bubble heading into the final two weeks (they are included on 32 of 95 brackets, according to Bracket Matrix, as of Tuesday evening).
- VCU. As a #11 seed, the Rams devoured a power conference sampler, defeating USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas before losing to Butler in the Final Four. Shaka Smart’s squad was a hotly-debated Tourney selection, joining the field as one of the last at-large bids after finishing fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association. After their magical run (and losing four seniors), most assumed Smart would move on to a more prominent program. He stayed on in Richmond, enjoying a Round of 32 appearance in 2012, the program’s promotion to the Atlantic 10 (where it has quickly established itself as a top contender), and another Round of 32 appearance in 2013. This season, VCU finds itself in a tight race for second in the A-10 and on their way back to the Dance, as they are included on 95 of 95 brackets (average: #8 seed).
- Butler. As a #8 seed, the Bulldogs followed their shocking national title game appearance in 2010 with an even more shocking national title game appearance in 2011. In thrilling fashion, Butler defeated Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Florida and VCU before an uninspired performance in a loss to Connecticut. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the program since then. After losing Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard to graduation, Butler’s streak of four straight NCAA tournament appearances ended as it finished third in the Horizon League in 2012. Butler moved up to the Atlantic 10 last year (and held its own, finishing 11-5), where it lost in heartbreaking fashion to Marquette in the Round of 32. Prior to this season, Brad Stevens left for the NBA’s Boston Celtics and Brandon Miller, a former player and assistant, stepped in. The Bulldogs have experienced growing pains in their new Big East Conference, hanging out near the cellar, but should return all but two key players next season.
- Lehigh. As a #15 seed, the Mountain Hawks shocked Duke before losing to Xavier in the Round of 32. That team won the Patriot League Tournament after finishing in second place during the regular season. It was led by junior guard CJ McCollum, the nation’s fifth-leading scorer, and it was head coach Brett Reed’s second NCAA appearance in his fifth year at the school. Two years later, the Mountain Hawks are looking to regain their footing. In 2012-13, with McCollum playing in only 12 games because of a broken foot, Lehigh again finished second in the Patriot League but did not make the NCAAs. This season, Lehigh is hovering around .500 and only has three contributors who were part of the Tournament team.
- Norfolk State. As a #15 seed, the Spartans defeated #2 Missouri in one of the Tourney’s great upsets before losing to Florida in the Round of 32. That team, led by senior Kyle O’Quinn, won the MEAC Tournament after finishing second during the regular season. The following year, Norfolk State went undefeated in conference play before being stunned in the first game of the league tournament. Head coach Anthony Evans moved on to Florida International in the offseason, making way for Robert Jones to take over. The Spartans have an outside shot at a MEAC regular season title this year, and may need to make some hay while they can. The veteran squad employs a 10-man rotation that includes seven seniors.
- Ohio. As a #13 seed, the Bobcats defeated Michigan and South Florida before losing to North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. That team, led by junior guard DJ Cooper, won the MAC Tournament after a third place finish. John Groce’s 29-win campaign would be his last at the school before departing to Illinois. The following season, Jim Christian arrived from TCU to take the reins, leading Ohio to a 14-2 finish in the MAC before losing in the conference tournament to Akron. The Bobcats have been respectable this season, but there is a lot of traffic in front of them in the MAC race.
- Xavier. As a #10 seed, the Musketeers defeated Notre Dame and Lehigh before losing to Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen. Cinderella seemed a misleading title for a program with a rich recent history of NCAA Tournament success, whether under Thad Matta (2003 Round of 32, 2004 Elite Eight), Sean Miller (2006 Round of 64, 2007 Round of 32, 2008 Elite Eight, 2009 Sweet Sixteen), or Chris Mack (2010 Sweet Sixteen and 2011 Round of 64 to go with this run). As impressive as those performances have been, Xavier has developed a pattern of being this close to taking things one step further – losing numerous heart-breakers to power conference teams. After 2012, the Musketeers lost Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, Kenny Frease, and Dez Wells for various reasons and slipped back to a seventh place finish in their final season in the Atlantic 10. Prior to this season, Xavier transitioned from a perennial favorite in a well-respected O26 conference to a likely perennial contender in a power conference as a member of the new Big East. Led by Semaj Christon, the Musketeers find themselves in a tight race for third place, and are included on 78 of 95 brackets.
- Harvard. As a #14 seed, the Crimson defeated New Mexico before losing to Arizona in the Round of 32. That team, led by head coach Tommy Amaker in his sixth year at the school, won the Ivy League with an 11-3 record. This season, with virtually all key contributors back, Harvard finds itself in first place again.
- Florida Gulf Coast. As a #15 seed, the Eagles defeated Georgetown and San Diego State before losing to Florida in the Sweet Sixteen. That team, led by head coach Andy Enfield in just his second season at the school, won the Atlantic Sun Tournament after a second place regular season finish. After Enfield left to USC following the season, Joe Dooley has taken over with much of the team still intact. The Eagles are on their way to a 20-win season and in a tight race with Mercer for the regular season conference title. Aside from Chase Fieler, all key contributors should return next season.
- La Salle. As a #13 seed, the Explorers defeated Boise State, Kansas State, and Ole Miss before losing to Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen. Many questioned La Salle’s at-large bid after finishing tied for third in the Atlantic 10 and losing its first conference tournament game. But the Explorers earned their respect, and head coach John Giannini was rewarded in his ninth season at the school. Even after returning virtually the entire team, La Salle has struggled this year, amassing a sub-.500 overall and conference record. Next season could present a challenge as well, as the collegiate careers of Tyrone Garland, Tyreek Duren, and Sam Mills will end.
- Wichita State. Oh yeah. Them. As a #9 seed, the Shockers defeated Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State before losing to Louisville in the Final Four. Led by head coach Gregg Marshall, senior Cleanthony Early, and sophomores Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, Wichita State has its sights set on a deeper (and perhaps historic) run this year.
Enjoy the ball.