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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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From Payrolls to Arenas, Cinderellas Are Often Underdogs Off the Court

  • Cinderella stories are inevitable during March Madness.
  • There are a number of potential feel-good stories on tap this year.
Daytona Beach News-Journal

Fans love March Madness for many reasons, whether it’s the chance to sneak in some basketball viewing at work or cash in on an office bracket pool contest. But perhaps one of the most universally endeared parts of the NCAA tournament is the inevitable David vs. Goliath upsets that bust said brackets and the ensuing Cinderella stories that follow.

Who will the shoe fit at this year’s dance? Well, we’re not bracketologists, but we do already notice a few schools that could make for some larger-than-life stories with an unforeseen win or two this month. While the Final Four may very well end up fairly chalk, it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the most interesting candidates that could produce this year’s feel-good stories.

Debut Ready

After decades without success, two 16-seeds have taken down the top team in their quadrants in the last five tournaments (UMBC over Virginia in 2018, Fairleigh Dickinson over Purdue last year). This year’s ultimate underdog crew is highlighted by NCAA tournament newbie Stetson (above), which won the ASUN with an estimated men’s basketball budget of just $2.1 million (according to most recent figures from ’22).

Back for More

Returning this year is No. 15 Saint Peter’s, the bracket buster of 2022 that upset No. 2 Kentucky on its way to a historic Elite Eight run, which led to its coach, Shaheen Holloway, getting poached by Seton Hall. But not to be outdone is fellow 15-seed Long Beach State, which informed coach Dan Monson he would not return next season, only for his team to win the Big West tournament and their first NCAA bid since ’12.

Crowd Control

No. 14 Colgate is coming out of the Patriot League for the school’s seventh March Madness appearance, and the Raiders will be in unfamiliar territory for their matchup against No. 3 Baylor at the 19,000-seat FedExForum in Memphis. Colgate’s 1,750-seat Cotterell Court is the smallest home arena of any team in the tournament. 

Despite not boasting anywhere near the largest campuses of teams in the bracket, 13-seeds Charleston (about 10,000 undergrads), Vermont (11,000), and Yale (6,500) are making at least their seventh tournament appearance, and all have one previous upset tournament victory on their résumé.

Coach ’Em Up

Perhaps the most interesting of the 12-seeds is McNeese State, the western Louisiana school led by former LSU coach Will Wade, who was fired in 2022 after several NCAA violation allegations. Wade, who took last season off, saw his salary drop from $2.5 million in Baton Rouge to $200,000 this year. But he’s already earned a contract extension that will pay him at least $700,000 annually, if he doesn’t get hired elsewhere. Meanwhile, No. 11 Duquesne, making its first tournament appearance since 1977, will be fighting hard for coach Keith Dambrot, who announced he will retire after March Madness, concluding a career that included coaching LeBron James in high school.

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