March will saturate you with you basketball, over saturate you with phone commercials and drown you with Cinderella. Pumpkins, slippers, glass slippers, the slipper still fits, another pumpkin, another slipper, a third pumpkin--you'll suffocate under that weight. It'll kill you, eventually. But it's such a damn fine analogy, who can complain?
The definitive "Cinderella" is the first one--the dirty, disrespected girl, who cleans the cellar. Of course she's lovely, and of course she's beautiful. But she's filthy. She lives in a hole. No one sees her but dust and animals. It's only when she finds a bit of magic and wipes the dirt off her face that people realize, "Ah, yes, I should have noticed you before."
Even that revelation requires the good fortune of timing. If she cleans up nice, but doesn't have a ball to attend, she's the SMU Mustangs. If she heads to the party with invitation in hand but can't shower off the basement dirt, she's the Iowa Hawkeyes. No one wants to be Iowa because Iowa is just one half of a two-part formula so wonderful that it makes the month-long barrage of glass slippers worthwhile.
Four teams put it together this year and, thus, made the dance a good time. Such a good time, in fact, that we want to see them again. Will they be able to earn an invitation in 2015?
2013-14: 32-3 (18-0 Southland), Round of 32
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin defeated No. 5 VCU by--and let's not overstate this--divine intervention. Down four points with three seconds to go, Lumberjacks guard Desmond Haymon dribbled to the right wing, stepped back, fired a 3-pointer, buried it, drew the foul and tied the game on the free throw.
A 4-point play is the ultimate swindle in a game played by 2's and 3's, and the Lumberjacks pulled it out of their bag of tricks when it was the only trick that would work. This makes me want to see them again in the tournament that counts. The problem, however, is that the ‘4' was made by Haymon, a senior, who head coach Brad Underwood called, "the best leader I've ever been around."
Two other impact players also graduate, but what's left over is, surprisingly, a lot. Three starters stay in the program, including Southland Conference Player of the Year, Jacob Parker. Underwood will also stay in Nacogdoches, Tex. after he withdrew his candidacy for the head coaching job at Marshall earlier this week.
The 2015 Lumberjacks may not match up to the 32-3 squad from this season, but they won't be much worse.
Dancing in 2015: Yes
North Dakota State Bison
2013-14 Season: 26-7 (12-2 Summit), Round of 32
Four Bison players averaged double figures for 2013-14 season, and three of them are graduating. That's bad news. Lawrence Alexander, the fist-pumping, three-point burying hero of No. 12 North Dakota State's upset over No. 5 Oklahoma is not one of those players. He provided the magic, he's sticking around, and that's good news. Kind of. Magic can only take you so far. Here's what the Bison will be without for next year:
- Head Coach Saul Phillips (hired by Ohio University)
- 68% of their offense
- Six seniors
- Three starters
Alexander proved himself to be a talent, but even professional talent can't do it alone. A Bison run in 2015 seems improbable.
Dancing in 2015: Probably not
2013-14 Season: 27-9 (14-4 Atlantic Sun), Round of 32
Oh, these lovely Bears. They made the tournament on the backs of an Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championship, which included a double OT win in the semifinals and a championship victory over last year's lovelies, Florida Gulf Coast. Then they made the tournament by defeating Duke, a team 90 spots better in the KenPom rankings and an infinite number of spots more recognizable by the casual viewer. They enjoyed their run, and I'm glad they did because they won't be back. Here's what Mercer is losing:
Head coach Bob Hoffman looks to be sticking around (although he received looks from Tulsa and South Florida, and could potentially receive more) along with several bench contributors. Butwhen you're Mercer, you need everything to come together. That's what happened, and that's how they won. Now, the moment has passed, gone as soon as it arrived.
It couldn't have been more wonderful, though.
Dancing in 2015: No
2013-14 Season: 26-11 (10-6 A-10), Elite 8
The Flyers really aren't Cinderellas. Even before this season, they own a history filled with a Final Four, six Sweet 16s and, in recent history, four tournament appearances since 2000. Still, they get the underdog treatment in 2014 because they a) were an 11-seed; b) made the Elite 8; and c) touted a forward named Scoochie Smith.
It also feels wrong to put them here because they shouldn't be anywhere near Cinderella-status in 2015. They lose two starters for next season, but they bring back Jordan Sibert (leading scorer vs. No. 10 Stanford) and Dyshawn Pierre (leading scorer vs. No. 6 Ohio State, No. 3 Syracuse and No. 1 Florida), along with fellow starter, Khari Price.
They also bring back young coaching star Archie Miller, which makes a world of difference with a young, developing team. They're following the Shaka Smart-VCU prototype, which means soon, they'll be the higher seed fending off underdogs, not the other way around.