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How To Spot A Cinderella In The NCAA (And The Pick For 2017)

If you can identify a Cinderella in the NCAA tournament, you’re gonna boost your bankroll and you’ll probably give yourself a shot at winning your bracket pool. 

The trick is identifying who it will be. It has to be a No. 9 seed or worse that makes it to at least the Elite Eight. 

We’ve only seen nine in the last 16 years, most recently Syracuse last year when the Orange advanced to the Final Four as a 10 seed. So they are rare and hard to spot.   

Fortunately, NCAA.com found some common ground among Cinderellas in a study done last year. What we’re looking for is this: they have elite offenses, they need at least a so-so defense, they shoot a lot of 3-pointers and they rebound well.

I looked at these criteria last year and found Gonzaga fit best after falling into three of the four categories. They lost to Syracuse in a close game in the second round.  

The Orange fit two of the four categories as a team that shot a lot of treys and had a decent defense.

Below is a look at the potential Cinderellas this year, and the best fits for the glass slipper are below.

Here is also a look at how these nine improbable underdogs have fared against the spread (a combined 36-4-1 ATS):      

CINderellas against the spread Last 16 years
TeamYearATS tourney record
Kent State20023-1
George Mason20064-1
Wichita State20135-0

They have elite offenses:

Six of the Cinderellas had an adjusted offensive efficiency rating ranked among the top 40, which is points per possession based on opponent. Here’s a look at the most efficient offenses from KenPom.com for the teams that fit into our Cinderella analysis:

Oklahoma State (1st) 124.8
Marquette (7th) 121.0 
Wake Forest (8th) 120.9 
Wichita State (12th) 119.6 
UNC Wilmington (18th) 117.8 
Virginia Tech (21st) 117.4 
Xavier (33rd) 114.8
Nevada (34th) 114.5

They shoot a lot of 3-pointers: 

This isn’t so much about efficiency as much as it is about heaving it up a lot. Four of the nine teams ranked in the top seven in the nation in 3-point attempts per game. Syracuse ranked third among most 3-pointers attempted last year for Cinderella potentials. 

Vanderbilt 9th (895)
South Dakota St 12th (863)  
Iona 19th (836) 
Iowa State 33rd (818) 
Nevada 35th (811) 
Kent State 55th (781) 
Marquette 72nd (755) 
Creighton 78th (744) 
Princeton 100th (732)  

They are at least OK on defense:

Each team had a defense that ranked in the top 84 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The teams that fell into that category this year are:
Wichita State 19th (93.2) 
Kansas State 27th (94.5) 
Rhode Island 32nd (95.0) 
Providence 33rd (95.2) 
Michigan State 34th (95.6)  
VCU 36th (95.7) 
Seton Hall 38th (95.9) 
Vanderbilt 41st (96.1)  
East Tenn State 44th (96.5) 
Princeton 46th (96.9) 
Vermont 66th (98.9) 
Xavier 74th (99.5)

They rebound well: 

Seven of the nine Cinderellas finished the year ranked in the top 40 in terms of rebounds per game. Here are the teams that fit into that distinction this year:  

Wichita State 5th (40.1 rpg) 
Kent State 8th (40.5 rpg) 
Seton Hall 20th (39.6 rpg) 
Nevada 35th (38.9 rpg) 

The pick: 

Wichita State is your Cinderella. The Shockers qualified in three of the four categories. The one category the Shockers missed was 3-point attempts. They make up for that in accuracy, though, as the fourth-most accurate 3-point shooting team in the country. 

Honorable mentions: 

Nevada – Also landed in three of four categories (efficiency offense, 3-point attempts and rebounds) but Wichita State ranked higher in each category it qualified for.

Seton Hall – two of the three categories (defense and rebounding). 

Marquette – two of the three categories (efficiency offense and 3-point attempts). Marquette is also the most accurate 3-point shooting team in the nation. 

Vanderbilt – two of three categories (3-point shooting and OK on defense). 

Xavier – two of three categories (offense efficiency rating and OK on defense). 

Princeton – two of three categories (OK on D and 3-pointers).  

Kent State – two of three categories (rebound well and 3-point attempts). 

Note: Last season Syracuse fell into two categories: It ranked 32nd in 3-point attempts with 776 and ranked 38th on defense efficiency rating at 96.4.

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