Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Roundtable: What Cinderella Can Repeat At The NCAA Tournament?

Who doesn't want to dance in March? (Sarah Coward/AP Photo)

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: Which Cinderella team has the best chance at making a repeat to the NCAA tourney? 

Wichita State. I know it isn't the sexy choice and their dorms are mired in a college hill area with a less-than-stellar reputation rather than on a beach, but this works not only for the homer angle but because the Shockers knocked off a then-No. 1 Gonzaga and came within minutes of upsetting eventual national champion Louisville and making it to the biggest game in college basketball. WSU returns tournament spark plug Ron Baker in a talented guard corps than also includes Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton, plus forward Cleanthony Early will be the Shockers go-to when the team needs baskets and make no mistake -- Early is likely one of the best scorers in the NCAA. However, the loss of point guard Malcolm Armstead's senior leadership and Carl Hall's commanding defensive presence in the paint leave holes that head coach Gregg Marshall will have to patch. Compounding the problem of needing a dominant big man in the paint due to Hall's graduation is the fact that the Shockers also lost 7-footer Ehimen Orukpe, who was at least good for committing fouls, when needed.

Not to be underestimated is the Shockers' undisputed big man on campus status in the Missouri Valley Conference now that Creighton and that Doug McDermott guy bolted for the new Big East. It was usually a two-man race between WSU and the Bluejays for the MVC title, with Indiana State making a valiant effort to contend and ultimately collapsing at the end of last season. The conference's crab-in-a-bucket mentality (Creighton and WSU finished first and second, respectively, in 2012-13 with each successive team trailing by just one game with a three-way tie near the bottom) sees a looming Northern Iowa, but should be able to stave off the Panthers for at least one more season atop the MVC and an easy entry into the big dance.
Yes, I'll admit I'm jumping on the bandwagon. I'll also admit that the team popped into my head first out of emotion and reaction. How can you not think of Florida Gulf Coast after what that team did in March? The Eagles were the talk of the tournament, and overall were just really fun to watch. Who doesn't like Dunk City? Then I did some research. FGCU lost it's leading scorer in senior Sherwood Brown, but he and senior Eddie Murray (who averaged 3.8 ppg last season) are the only players not returning. Everyone else is back. Bernard Thompson, Brett Comer and Chase Fieler will lead the Eagles and revive Dunk City for another year. FGCU also lost head coach Andy Enfield to USC, but brought on long-time KU assistant Joe Dooley. Dooley has been offered head coaching jobs for years now, and the fact he took this one should mean he's ready. Dooley has long been seen as one of the best assistants in the country, and if he can bring a piece of Bill Self's system to FGCU, the Eagles should be fine.

FGCU's schedule is also favorable. The Eagles scheduled games against power-conference teams, traveling to Nebraska to start the season, then going to NC State in late November and back-to-back games against South Florida and Mississippi State on the road right before Christmas. Those are opponents that are recognizable names, but also teams that can be beaten. The Eagles will then head to conference play in the very winnable Atlantic Sun Conference. FGCU actually finished second last year to Mercer (14-4, 24-12) but they were the only two conference teams with more than 15 wins. Be honest with yourselves, a piece of you wants to see Dunk City back in the big dance for another year.

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