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).