NCAA Tournament 2001 - Who'll stick around to dance longest?


Who'll stick around to dance longest?

The Cinderella Watch took Championship Week off. And if you watched the week of wild upsets, you know why. By the time your computer loaded up the page, teams were gone from conference tournaments and thus un-Watchable.

But the NCAA Tournament edition of the Watch still features a few teams familiar to those loyal Watchers. A couple others aren't around to watch any longer.

UC Irvine broke the Watch's heart in the semifinals of the Big West Tournament. The Anteaters didn't have a chance at an at-large bid after what happened around the country in other conference tournaments. Don't worry, we'll keep an sentimental eye on the Zots in the NIT.

Gone too, are the Chippewas, who lost in the quarterfinals of the MAC. Central Michigan didn't even get an NIT invite. And yes, we can still hear all the Kent State fans yelling at their laptops "We told you so!"

But the six other Cinderella hopefuls prior to Championship Week are dancing: Butler, Creighton, Hofstra, Georgia State, Gonzaga and Oklahoma State. The Bluejays and Cowboys even got at-large bids.

So we start the postseason Watch with the following teams. And no, you won't find Gonzaga. Calling the Zags a Cinderella at this time of the season is just silly. You also won't see Winthrop or Northwestern State on the Watch. But, as for the play-in game, we like the Demons to win (that's Northwestern State, in case you're not sure). We don't like the Demons, however, to beat Illinois three days later in Dayton, Ohio.

After you read about who will be watching, be sure to vote in the poll below to let us know which team is your bracket's Cinderella. Will this year's Cinderella team be the usual No. 12 who knocks off a 5th seed? Or will the No. 13 be lucky for one of these eight teams? Be sure to check back throughout March Madness, as we track the team that emerges as this year's Cinderella story.

Utah State
Region: East | Seed: 12 | Record: 27-5
Round Opponent: Ohio State
Maybe the most vocal of any fans of the Watch, those in Logan must have been dancing even before beating Pacific in the Big West championship game. Why? The Aggies didn't have to worry about beating UC Irvine to get the automatic bid (the teams split their two regular season games). Now that they're in the dance, the Aggies can be dangerous. To beat the Buckeyes, however, they'll have to play their best game of the season. It will also have to be a low-scoring affair. The Aggies have to get Ohio State into a defensive struggle. It was able to do just that in the Big West tourney, holding all three teams to under 50 points. Holding the Buckeyes under 70 will be a chore.

Region: East | Seed: 13 | Record: 26-4
Round Opponent: UCLA
The Pride still can't earn the respect of the country -- even with the country's longest winning streak (18 games). But this could be a blessing in disguise, playing much closer to home then a Bruins club who must travel across the country to Greensboro, N.C. Still, beating UCLA is going to take more than relying on jetlag. Since losing to Princeton in the first round of the '96 NCAA Tournament, the Bruins have been wary of taking teams lightly in the first round. Hofstra will see a press unlike any its seen this season, and defensively can't match up with UCLA's frontline of 6-11 Dan Gadzuric, 6-9 T.J. Cummings and 6-7 Matt Barnes. Hofstra can't run with the Bruins. Slow it down, get Norman Richardson the ball and hope the Bruins' Jason Kapono doesn't like the Greensboro rims.

Kent State
Region: West | Seed: 13 | Record: 23-9
Round Opponent: Indiana
All season, Kent State played second-fiddle to teams in the MAC when it came to the Watch. First it was Toledo. Then Central Michigan. But in typical MAC Tournament fashion, the champion wasn't predictable. And hey, we screwed up. The Golden Flashes were indeed the team to Watch and now we'll see what they can do in a West Region filled with potential Cinderella stories. We'll get to a few others below, but we could add a few more. How does Kent stay longer than one round against a Hoosiers team playing its best basketball of the season? It certainly won't be from beating a tall Indiana team inside. The Kent guards will have to shoot lights out in San Diego. Trevor Huffman scored 27 in the MAC title game. He'll be matched up with Tom Coverdale and could win this battle. But will the Golden Flashes win the war? We've doubted Kent too long to doubt the Flashes in this one.

Region: West | Seed: 12 | Record: 23-8
Round Opponent: Cincinnati
The Cougars are new to this season's Watch, but have been watched in past seasons. This year, however, they finally got back to the dance. And the program's rebuilding process has been something to behold. Just four seasons ago, BYU won a single game. Now, they are the Mountain West Conference's only team in the tourney. Look for the Cougars' matchup with the Bearcats to be a high-scoring affair, and the first team who hits a dry spell could be in trouble. BYU is a very dangerous team. The Cougars can score in the 80s and 90s if they have to. Defensively, they don't figure to shut down Cincy. But if they can get into a track meet, the Cougars can compete with a inconsistent Cincinnati and then face the Indiana-Kent State winner.

Georgia State
Region: West | Seed: 11 | Record: 28-4
Round Opponent: Wisconsin
This is certainly a contrast in styles. First the Panthers' patience will be tested by the methodical Badgers. Then, if the game remains close, it'll be interesting to see how Left Driesell's group handles the pressure of the tournament against a team that reached the Final Four last season. Georgia State can win this game. But it'll be a test of wills. Georgia State will want to run-and-gun (the Panthers hoisted up 40 three-pointers in beating Troy State in the TAAC championship game). Wisconsin is willing to grind it out on both ends of the court. If the Panthers can get out and run behind Shernard Long and company, this game has all the makings of a upset. One side note: It'll be interesting to see how much a possible matchup with Lefty's old school (Maryland) in the second round motivates his current group of talent transfers who've gelled into a team nobody wants to play at this time of the year.

Region: Midwest | Seed: 12 | Record: 17-13
Round Opponent: Syracuse
The Rainbows, er, Warriors are the second team in the Watch to change their name this season. (The Pride is the artist formerly known as the Flying Dutchmen). Maybe that's why we didn't have our eye on them sooner. Or maybe its the fact they play on a damn island in 80-degree weather all season. (Yes, it's snowed for what seems like 30 days on the campus of Bristol U.) Anyway, getting back to basketball. Hawaii is poised to squeeze another game out of the Orangemen, especially with Preston Shumpert's shooting eye a little blurred. Hawaii beat Fresno State, a former member of the Watch, in the WAC semifinals and then outlasted Tulsa in overtime on the Hurricane's home floor to take the title. Predrag Savovic has an NBA body and combined with Troy Ostler may have a slight edge against the 'Cuse big men. If the 'Bows can get another solid game from Carl English in his matchup with Allen Griffin, it could get interesting in Dayton, Ohio.

Region: Midwest | Seed: 10 | Record: 23-7
Round Opponent: Wake Forest
With Gonzaga no longer "eligible" to be a Cinderella, the Bulldogs may be the team that takes the Zags' torch and runs right through to the Sweet Sixteen. Remember last season? Mike Miller's buzzer-beater was the only thing keeping the Bulldogs from beating the team that eventually played for the national championship. Standing in the way this season is a Wake Forest team that may not have been in the dance where it playing in another conference. And should the Butler do it this season, up next is an Arizona program known for early flameouts. Butler enters the tourney hot, as well, winners of 12 of 13 including a victory over Wisconsin in Madison. If their 3-pointers fall, the game should remain close. Four of the Bulldogs' seven losses were on last-second shots, and the dance owes 'em a few seconds.

Region: East | Seed: 10 | Record: 24-7
Round Opponent: Iowa
We're hoping the Bluejays got losing out of their system in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Yes, we could have picked the team that beat them and made 'em sweat out Selection Sunday. But we're going to be loyal to the 'Jays -- even with a first-round monster in Iowa staring them in the face. We're banking on Ryan Sears and Ben Walker stepping up and controlling things on the perimeter. Nobody on Creighton will matchup with Reggie Evans, but few in the country do. If Luke Recker plays, even more reason to worry. But did Iowa leave it all on the United Center floor?

Ron Buck is the college basketball editor.

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories

NCAA seeds set: Duke, Stanford, Illinois, Michigan State

Katz: UNC, Florida waiting for Spartans to stumble

Katz: West should belong to Stanford

Katz: Committee didn't do Duke any favors

Katz: No easy outs in Midwest