2022 NCAA Tournament Cinderella Picks

These four teams have what it takes to make a run

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Due to the new NCAA transfer rules, nearly 1,500 college basketball players worked their way to new schools this season, which is one of the main reasons why there was so much parity during the regular season and conference tournaments. Every year, at least one “Cinderella” team shocks the nation, but in a year like this with no truly “dominant” frontrunner, this is a wide-open field that is more susceptible than usual to upsets and general chaos. Per NCAA.com, there have only been three years in the last 36 NCAA Tournaments in which there were fewer than nine upsets in a single year (2007 was the only year in which there were fewer than eight). The four sleeper teams below have what it takes to pull off a few surprises.

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Sleeper: #13 Vermont (28-5, America East Champions)

Player To Watch: Ryan Davis (17.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists in 26.3 minutes over 28 games)
Conference Tournament Wins: NJIT (98-59), Binghamton (74-42), UMBC (82-43)
BetQL Model: 61.2% win rate across all bets in Vermont games
First Matchup: vs. #4 Arkansas

Vermont rolled over their competition in the America East Conference Tournament, as you can see from the three blowout scores above. In fact, they became the first team in over 30 seasons to win three straight league tournament games by 30+ points and their 110+ point differential was the largest by any team in one year over the last 40 seasons, per ESPN Stats & Info. Led by two-time America East Player of the Year Ryan Davis, they rank 1st out of 358 Division-I teams in team defensive rebounding percentage (82.5%), 4th in opposing rebounds per game (28.9), 6th in shooting percentage (49.0%), 7th in average scoring margin (+13.3), 8th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.53), 13th in points per game allowed (61.3) and 14th in assists allowed (10.0) per game. Dating back to December 10th, Vermont has gone 22-1 SU (with the one loss coming by a single point) and they also kept things pretty close against then-No. 11 Providence on December 7th (68-58), matching the Friars with 38 points in the second half. Overall, this team is clicking on all cylinders and even though they’re coming from a weak conference, they’re clearly a cohesive unit that is playing stellar basketball on both ends of the court, generally a formula that works well at this time of the year. 

It's also worth mentioning that #13 UVM will play #4 Arkansas in nearby Buffalo and will undoubtedly have a huge homecourt advantage. If they pull off that upset, they’ll play the winner of #5 UConn vs. #12 New Mexico State.

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Sleeper: #13 South Dakota State (30-4, Summit)

Player To Watch: Baylor Scheierman (16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists in 33.1 minutes over 34 games)
Conference Tournament Wins: Omaha (87-79), South Dakota (83-60), North Dakota State (75-69)
BetQL Model: 58.2% win rate across all Summit League bets all-time
First Matchup: vs. #4 Providence

If you like watching a team score the basketball, you’re going to love watching South Dakota State. Led by Summit League Player of the Year Baylor Scheierman, who put up a well-rounded stat line, the Jackrabbits averaged 85.5 points per game, which ranked 2nd among all Division-I schools this year. The main reason for that was their blistering-hot shooting from three-point range. They shot a ridiculous 44.2% as a team from deep, which led the entire nation, ranked 2nd in the nation in shooting percentage (52.1%) and ranked 16th in average scoring margin (+11.0). Like some of the teams before them, they’ve also been on quite the heater, having won 21 consecutive games dating back to the middle of December (the longest active streak in D-I). In case you’re skeptical about whether or not their offense can hang with better conferences, they put up 88 points in a loss to then-No. 14 Alabama in their second game of the season back in November. Even though the Jackrabbits may be a popular early-round pick, don’t be surprised if they make a run at the Sweet 16 or Elite 8. 

If #13 South Dakota State can get by #4 Providence, they'll play the winner of #5 Iowa and #12 Richmond.

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Sleeper: #7 Murray State (30-2, Ohio Valley)

Player To Watch: KJ Williams (18.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals in 28.6 minutes over 32 games)
Conference Tournament Wins: SEMO (88-74), Morehead State (71-67)
BetQL Model: 40-27 (59.7%, +$950 on $100 bets) on Murray State ATS bets
First Matchup: #10 San Francisco

Murray State enters the NCAA Tournament having won 20 consecutive games (the 2nd-longest active win streak in Division-I) dating all the way back to late December. They held a Top 25 ranking for much of the regular season, had a quality road win at Memphis and fought hard in a 13-point loss to Auburn, so they’re legit. OVC Player of the Year KJ Williams will pace the Racers, who rank 5th in Division-I in average scoring margin (+14.0), 9th in extra scoring chances per game (5.9), 20th in points per game allowed (62.3) and 39th in scoring (76.3). Like Vermont, this team might not come from the strongest conference, but they’re on a streak that can’t be ignored right now.

While #7 Murray State will be favored against #10 San Francisco, they'll presumably be a healthy underdog against #2 Kentucky in their second game. If you're going to make a splash, choosing the 7th seed to upset the 2nd seed could be a spot to do so.

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Deep Sleeper: #13 Chattanooga (27-7, Southern)

Player To Watch: Malachi Smith (20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists in 35.4 minutes over 34 games)
Conference Tournament Wins: Citadel (71-66), Wofford (79-56), Furman (64-63)
BetQL Model: 72.5% win rate on Chattanooga ML bets all-time
First Matchup: vs. #4 Illinois

Smith’s 20.1 points per game ranked 18th among NCAA Division-I players and he was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year as a result. Kansas transfer Silvio De Sousa averages 11.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, but flashed his potential in the conference championship win over Furman when he went for 17 points and 14 boards. Overall, this Chattanooga team had a +7.3 average scoring margin which ranked 47th in D-I and went 14-3 overall in their last 17 games leading up to this point. Last year, we were introduced to Max Abmas in Oral Roberts’ Cinderella run and I’m going to predict that we will be introduced to Smith in a similar way in this tournament, even if they got to the tournament after a miracle three-point halfcourt shot by David Jean-Baptiste at the buzzer got them there. The Mocs will be playing with max effort to honor Eric Robertson, a former player and vocal leader within the program from 2013 to 2016, who tragically passed away at the age of 28 on March 7. 

#13 Chattanooga will take on #4 Illinois in the first round and the winner will move on to play the winner of #5 Houston and #12 UAB.