Cinderella didn’t get invited to the ball

One of the many things about the NCAA men’s basketball tournament that draws people in is the advancement of an underdog, a Cinderella, if you will, as they defeat heavily favored opponents from power conferences. The excitement builds even more if they can advance to the second weekend, but this year’s Sweet Sixteen is, sadly, devoid of the traditional Cinderella story.

The first day of the Round of 64 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was absolute insanity, with multiple high seeds getting all they could handle, and several others falling victim to the upsets (looking at you, Big 12). The second day was profoundly less dramatic, with chalk holding true until the final game of the day when 11-seeded Dayton, the darlings of the 2014 tournament, knocked off six-seed Providence.

The Round of 32 did provide some compelling matchups as well as some intriguing upsets with Villanova, the top seed in the East region, falling to the eighth-seeded North Carolina State, and Wichita State prevailing over Kansas in a long overdue in-state matchup. But after four days of whittling the field down and destroying brackets in the process (including mine. Thanks Iowa State) we are now left with 16 familiar faces. Kentucky, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Wichita State, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Xavier, Arizona, NC State, Louisville, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Duke, Utah, Gonzaga and UCLA. No one that exactly screams “Cinderella,” which is disappointing to the fans of the underdog like myself.

Of this year’s Sweet Sixteen, 10 teams (Kentucky, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Arizona, NC State, Louisville, Michigan State, Duke, Utah and UCLA) have won at least one Division I championship, though Wisconsin and Utah won theirs in 1941 and ’44, respectively. The only double-digit seed to advance to this point was UCLA, and I highly doubt anyone will call a school with a record 11 championships a Cinderella. If you Google search for images of the UCLA trophy room, you’ll see what the evil stepsister’s trophy room would look like. Oklahoma doesn’t get upset status, fairly or not, based on their football team. You expect success to spill over at some point at major traditional powerhouses, and the same goes for Notre Dame. West Virginia made the Final Four as recently as 2010 and are a five-seed hailing from a power conference so they don’t have that Dream Run feel to them. Oklahoma and WVU have both been National Runners-up before as well, in 1947 and ’59.

That leaves us with the mid-majors of Wichita State, Gonzaga, and Xavier. Gonzaga was the Cinderella of the 90’s but now they are a known powerhouse. Xavier has missed the tournament just twice since 2000, with a pair of Elite Eight appearances in that time, (2003, 2008). They haven’t made a Final Four, but the tradition and brand of the program are too strong for them to be a big surprise.

Now, the Shockers of Wichita State have a Cinderella feeling to many basketball fans, but I think they have achieved too much recently to be The One. They were a number one-seed last year, after making the Final Four the year before that. That resume doesn’t exactly scream upset. I’ll admit that beating Kentucky in the regional Final and taking the crown would be an absolutely amazing accomplishment for the Shockers, but after the run they put together the last couple years, it would feel more like the natural progression than some amazing upset. 

There isn’t a 2014 Dayton. There isn’t a 2013 Florida Gulf Coast. There is no 2006 George Mason (Fun Fact: The ’06 Patriots upsets included a win over Wichita State). There is just 16 teams that all absolutely feel like they belong at this stage. We might not have an absolute underdog to root for this year, but in compensation we should see some high quality basketball from talented, well-coached teams. And that is what the tournament is really about.