This is arguably my favorite sporting event of the year: March Madness.
The madness already began with Championship Week, but one leaky bracket and dragged-out selection show later, we have our field of 68, and it's time for the tournament to begin. "Experts" will tell you what they think, but the truth is, anything can happen, and that's why this event is one of the most exciting of the year.
A lot of analysts will predict top seeds to go to the Final Four, but did you know that a 7-seed has made the Final Four in each of the last two tournaments, and a 7-seed, Connecticut, won in 2014? March Madness is about the Top Dogs, but what about the Cinderellas?
Cinderellas are teams that unexpectedly win a game when you think they can't. Last year's Cinderella was Michigan State, a 7-seed who made it all the way to the Final Four. Other examples include 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in 2013, and 11-seed Dayton in 2014. Who will this year's team be? Here are my six potential Cinderellas who could be lucky enough to have a long stay at the ball.
(6 seed) Seton Hall Pirates
Seton Hall has been on a tear since the end of February and has won 10 of 12 games. Three of those wins came against 2-seeds Xavier and Villanova. This team is legitimate. They are led by sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead and openly gay transfer Derrick Gordon, who is the first player in NCAA to make it to the NCAA Tournament with three different schools.
With a furious run to the first Big East championship in 23 years for Seton Hall, they looked like they warranted a 4 or 5 seed. Being ranked as the sixth seed in the Midwest makes them a sneaky pick, and they could go far. However, they face a very difficult 11-seeded Gonzaga team, which is returning several of their players from the team that made it to the Elite 8 last year. If they can get past this opening trap game against Gonzaga, they could make it to the Sweet 16 and beyond.
(8 seed) St. Joseph's Hawks
St. Joe's is the eighth seed in what many call the weakest region in the bracket, the West. The top of the bracket features Oregon, the lowest of the top seeds, as well as Baylor, which has lost 7 of 12, and Duke, one of the poorest rebounding teams in the tournament.
An 8- or 9-seed has advanced to the Sweet 16 in five of the last six tournaments, and they normally are the teams riding the most momentum. St. Joe's won the A10 tournament, and beat another tournament team, VCU, in convincing fashion on Sunday. This is a team with big men who can play out on the perimeter, which allows them to match up well with potential future opponents Oregon and Duke. The A10 has had success recently in the tournament. 13-seeded La Salle made it to the Sweet 16 in 2013, and Dayton made it to the Elite 8 in 2014, St. Joe's is looking to follow in their footsteps, and their draw gives them all the opportunity in the world to do just that.
(9 seed) Connecticut Huskies
After UConn's freshman guard Jalen Adams gave us the highlight of the year with his 60-foot shot to tie a conference tournament game and send it to a fourth overtime, a certain confidence has been found with the Huskies. Momentum is everything in the tournament, and UConn might have the most of it.
Head Coach Kevin Ollie has a National Championship and is one of the better coaches in the tournament. I was prepared to put them in my Final Four, but then the bracket came out. UConn's projected second-round matchup would be against top-seeded Kansas, so I became hesitant.
If you're feeling lucky, pick UConn to beat Kansas, because if the Huskies do, UConn can go all the way to the National Championship. Not many people had them going all the way as a 7-seed two years ago, and fewer will have them going as a 9-seed. They have the talent and momentum, but the draw is what they don't have. However, if they can pull off that second-round upset, watch out for the Huskies.
(10 seed) Temple Owls
Temple won the American Conference regular season, but lost in the semifinals in their tournament to UConn. In the first round, the Owls draw an Iowa team that was upset by a poor Illinois team in the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa has not been playing well lately, which could open the door for Temple to claim a small first round upset. If they can survive Iowa, they will likely face Big Five rival Villanova, who they lost to earlier in the year. It's very difficult to beat the same team twice in one season, and Villanova has had poor showings in the tournament the last few years. It won't be easy for Temple to get past the weekend in Brooklyn, but it is definitely doable.
(13 seed) Iona Gaels
The Gaels are one of the best-scoring teams in the country and are led by senior A.J. English. They beat Monmouth in the MAAC Final to reach the tournament. Their win against Monmouth might have been their most impressive, as Monmouth was close to receiving an at-large bid. Iona faces the Iowa State Cyclones, a team that lost their opening round game last season. History could repeat itself if the Cyclones aren't careful. Iowa State has lost 7 of 12 and hasn't won three straight games since January. If Iona gets hot, they can make this a shootout, which makes them a dangerous team. Iona scores, scores, and scores some more, and that makes them a dangerous bunch. Give them a suspect opponent and now you have the perfect concoction for a potential Cinderella.
(13) Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
Before I talk about their Cinderella chances, I'd like to mention that this is the best name in the NCAA Tournament. There are some cool names in the tournament like the California-Bakersfield Roadrunners, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, but none beat the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
On the court, the Rainbow Warriors gave Oklahoma a close game earlier this year, only losing by three points, and they match up well with California. Cal and Hawaii both play strong on the defensive end and are bold on offense. They match up pretty evenly in most statistical categories with the Bears. If they can get past Cal, they meet an inconsistent Maryland squad in Round Two, and they could be off and running.