Ranking the NCAA tournament's best-ever Cinderellas: The Championship
Cinderella's run hasn't ended yet. In the beginning of this contest, SI.com writers and editors selected 16 Cinderellas from the seeding era (1979-present) and seeded them according to Basketball Reference's Simple Rating System. We eliminated high-major programs like 1983 N.C. State and 1985 Villanova from contention, and didn't select any teams seeded higher than 8 in the NCAA tournament. And after three rounds of voting, we're down to the championship round.
Gone are Steph Curry's 2008 Wildcats, which came within a shot of sending Kansas home and going to the Final Four; gone are the 2011 Butler Bulldogs, which couldn't be eliminated until the championship game; gone are 1990 Loyola Marymount, 1999 Gonzaga and so many other memorable Cinderellas. We're left now to decide between two teams that actually played in the same NCAA tournament: the Shockers and Dunk City. Wichita is known as a major player now, but this Final Four run featuring freshmen Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet is what put Wichita back on the map. And FGCU took down Georgetown and San Diego State decisively to reach the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed. So which team is the best Cinderella? Vote below and check back Thursday when a champion is crowned.
Editor's note: Voting has now closed. A screenshot with the final tally is below.
No. 1 Wichita State (2013) vs. No. 14 FGCU (2013)
Wichita State Shockers
Record: 30-9 (12-6 Missouri Valley Conference)
NCAA tournament result: Entered the tournament as a No. 9 seed in West Regional. Beat No. 8 Pittsburgh, No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 13 La Salle and No. 2 Ohio State. Lost to No. 2 Louisville in the Final Four.
A year before the aptly named Shockers became the first team in 10 years to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated, they heeded coach Gregg Marshall’s call to “play angry” all the way to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed. That anger translated to a smothering man defense that bludgeoned Pitt in their opening tournament win and helped them grind out an Elite Eight victory over Ohio State, but Wichita State’s signature performance may have come when its defense most had its hands full. Facing top-seeded Gonzaga in the Round of 32, the Shockers opened a 13-point first half lead, only to see the Bulldogs rally and take an eight-point lead with fewer than 12 minutes to play. That’s when Wichita State launched a rally of its own, connecting on five straight threes from four different players to pull back ahead for good.
Those were the 2013 Shockers: timely, balanced, and undaunted. Begoggled forward Carl Hall and point guard Malcolm Armstead were the team’s senior core; freshmen Ron Baker (42.9% from three in the tourney) and Fred VanVleet (25 total points off the bench in the Gonzaga and Ohio State wins) proved burgeoning stars; 6’8” wing Cleanthony Early was all over the place as he led Wichita State in scoring and rebounding. The result was the West region’s top seeds no longer playing, and surely angry. — Dan Greene
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
Record: 26-11 (13-5 Atlantic Sun)
NCAA tournament result: Entered the tournament as a No. 15 seed in the South Regionals. Beat No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State. Lost to No. 3 Florida in the Sweet 16.
There are a few dark corners of Dunk City that its inhabitants would prefer you ignore. The first is that the party crashers of the 2013 NCAA tournament were less run-and-gun than run-of-the-mill for most of the year. Per kenpom.com, the Eagles ranked 104th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 109th in adjusted defensive efficiency. What’s more, FGCU wasn’t even even an exceptionally great team in transition; its 1.066 points per possession in that scenario ranked in the 60th percentile nationally, per Synergy Sports Data. (The Eagles, in fact, spent almost 80% of their offensive possessions in the half-court.) But coach Andy Enfield’s crew had three individually efficient offensive players. Guards Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson and forward Chase Fieler all ranked in the 83rd percentile or better for points per possession overall—Synergy’s “Excellent” range—and collectively they averaged 1.017 points per possession in isolation scenarios.
Essentially, an FGCU that played as it did in the NCAA tournament—and not necessarily as it had for the bulk of the season—would be a threat to nearly anyone. The Eagles were the aggressors and made a living at the line in their first NCAA outing (going 30-for-44 on free throws against Georgetown) and then posted a 112.8 offensive efficiency rating in the next round against San Diego State. In retrospect, the numbers don’t suggest this was a well-kept-secret team all year. But bottle the NCAA tournament formula, and release it on a bracket of Cinderellas? Then FGCU has a trio of double-digit scorers who are adept at making individual plays in the context of a free-flowing offense that is as efficient as it is aggressive. — Brian Hamilton