NCAA Tournament: OBW’s favorite Cinderellas

T.J. Sorrentine. Photo Credit: Vermont Athletics / Sally McCay
T.J. Sorrentine. Photo Credit: Vermont Athletics / Sally McCay

This year’s NCAA Tournament is a tad short on the Cinderella story.

UCLA is the worst seed in the Sweet 16 at No. 11, and we all know the Bruins’ storied history. Wichita State and Gonzaga are the only Sweet 16 teams that don’t hail from a power conference. Neither could really be considered a Cinderella anymore, anyway, not with the Shockers two years removed from a Final Four, one year from a No. 1 seed and not even a week from a top-15 national ranking, and not with the Bulldogs, a No. 2 seed.

So Sam Perkins and Doric Sam took a trip down memory lane, recounting their favorite Cinderella stories from NCAA Tournaments past.

Sam Perkins

This is a really tough one for me. Although my earliest college hoops memories are of rooting on “Tark the Shark,” Larry “Grandmama” Johnson and the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, and I grew up in the John Calipari “Refuse to Lose” UMass Minutemen family (where my father played college hoops way back in the day), I’ve always been a fan of college basketball’s Cinderellas and underdogs, so choosing just one is hard.

I have to give honorable mention to the Casey Calvary/Matt Santangelo/Quinton Hall “The Slipper Still Fits” Gonzaga team of the 98-99 season that went to the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed — THE team in which the entire subsequent Bulldogs program has built upon. That was one hell of a tough, physical, gritty team that showed no fear against the college hoops big boys, knocking off No. 7 Minnesota, No. 2 Stanford and then a Florida team featuring about a half-dozen future NBA players — I can still remember watching that whole run as a high school freshman, screaming at my TV with my brother, my good friend Noah, and his younger brother.

Also major props to the Bryce Drew Valparaiso team of a year earlier that went to the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed, shocking No. 4 Mississippi with “The Shot” in the opening round, before beating Florida State. That Valpo team had so many great story lines — Drew playing for his father, Homer, and drilling big shot after big shot, including one of the most improbable, full-court inbounds plays in college hoops history; twins Bill an Bob Jenkins; foreign 7-footers Anatas “Tony” Vilcinskas (Lithuania) and Zoran Viskovic (Croatia) chief among them.

The University of Rhode Island team that ended Valparaiso’s magical run in 1998 also deserves recognition. The 1997-1998 Rams were one of the most fun teams I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Yes, they were a No. 8 seed, and thus in the top half of their bracket, and they came from the Atlantic-10 at the tail end of the league’s golden era when the A-10 was putting anywhere from 4-6 teams in the NCAA Tournament. But this was a URI squad that was overlooked and undervalued in its own league, and a squad that no one — and I mean no one outside of the that locker room — expected to go to the Elite Eight and be a minute and a half (and essentially a blown inbounds) away from the Final Four. The Rams were super physical and extremely talented, with 6-foot-5 power forward Antonio Reynolds-Dean bringing toughness, intangibles and a heart the size of a basketball, playing alongside a dynamic backcourt of Cuttino Mobley and pint-sized Tyson Wheeler. But they were also selfless and a team that’s sum remained far greater than its individual parts.

However, my favorite Cinderella of all time remains the 2004-2005 Vermont Catamounts. Don’t get me wrong, the 04-05 Catamounts don’t have the NCAA Tournament resume of the teams listed above — they won a grand total of one game. But the Taylor Coppenrath/T.J. Sorrentine Catamounts will forever have a special place in my heart because they were a team that I got to know on a far deeper level than any other Cinderella. I watched the senior class that carried them from the time they were wet behind the ears freshmen (“puppies” as head coach Tom Brennan called them) to the final horn of their careers — a second round (back when the “second round” was the field of 32) loss to Michigan State.

The Catamounts had legitimate high-major level stars in Coppenrath, a 6-foot-9 backwoods Paul Bunyon of sorts who was country strong and could score from anywhere on the floor, and Sorrentine, a scrappy, smack-talking spark plug who played with crazy swag and had range from anywhere inside the state line. Both Coppenrath and Sorrentine were completely overlooked by the basketball establishment, and both used that to fuel them through their careers.

But the Catamounts were more than a two-man team (although both Coppernath and Sorrentine were completely irreplaceable) with the rest of the roster not only knowing and embracing their respective roles, but excelling at them (with players like Germain Mopa-Njila and David Hehn bringing tenacious defense and rebounding).

What was great about the 04-05 UVM squad was that they spent the entire season with a bullseye on their backs, not only in the tiny America East Conference, but on the national level, with feature articles in both ESPN the Magazine and SI, while also being followed around by a camera crew for ESPN’s “The Season” and playing in the marquee matchup of the inaugural Bracket Buster. And they responded every time.

Their 60-57 shocker over Syracuse was one of the most amazing events I’ve ever experienced, with the Orange selling out to stop Coppenrath and Sorrentine at all costs, and Mopa-Njila stepping up to have the best game of his career in the biggest game of his life (20 points on 9-of-10 shooting to go with nine rebounds, five assists and four steals). And, of course, there was Coppenrath knocking down the elbow jumper to force overtime and Sorrentine’s “nah, coach, I got this” shot “from the parking lot” to win the game.

The Catamounts were the ultimate underdog that grabbed their one, fleeting, shining moment. They were the embodiment of why I love March Madness. They also had an incredibly special meaning for me, as I had started watching Vermont with my father three years earlier (he was a big fan of the late Trevor Gaines and of Sorrentine), and had continued to watch them after he was killed in a car accident in January of 2004.

The year since had been one of the worst of my life, and following the America East had given me one final connection to him that couldn’t be severed by death or heartbreak, and the impact of Vermont’s win meant much more in keeping his memory alive than I can put into words.

Doric Sam
I’m probably exposing myself as a young’n of the OBW staff with this pick, but I remember being completely encapsulated with the 2010-11 VCU team during my senior year at Stony Brook. I even used them as the subject of an assignment in a broadcast journalism class, having my professor pretend to be Shaka Smart while I interviewed her (I aced that assignment, by the way).

Shaka Smart just had this energy and swagger about him — it was fun watching a young coach, one who doesn’t wear a suit jacket during games as if it’s a fashion statement, running up and down the sidelines like a madman, something not normally seen from coaches on the big stage. The advent of the “First Four” that year seemed ridiculous to me at first, but it helped the Rams make history by being the first team to win five games to reach the Final Four. Their wins over Georgetown, Purdue and Florida State were impressive, but when they ran into No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight, I thought, “There’s no way.” But then power forward Jamie Skeen dominated inside and outside (four three-pointers) against the twin towers of Marcus and Markieff Morris on his way to 26 points and 10 rebounds.

The other true Cinderella team during my college basketball fandom was the 2005-06 George Mason team, but all that team really did was make me want to set fire to my bracket and say, “Who the f— is George Mason?” I wanted to know who VCU was, making that Rams team my favorite Cinderella squad of all-time.

NCAA Tournament: Meet the automatic bids

It’s Championship Week, and we have a growing list of  automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. Take a few minutes to get to know them as you prepare for March Madness.

This list will update as new conference champions are crowned.

Albany Great Danes

Conference: America East

Record: 24-8, 15-1

Coach: Will Brown

How they got here: Peter Hooley nailed a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left to beat Stony Brook, 51-50, in the America East championship.

Who they are: Albany is a gritty, well-coached team that has won three straight America East tournaments. The Great Danes have NCAA Tournament experience — they lost to Duke, 73-61, in 2013 and to Florida, 67-55, last year — they displayed their resolve in battling out of a seven-point hole with fewer than two minutes remaining against Stony Brook. Albany is a solid rebounding team (No. 119 with a 32.4 percent offensive rebounding percentage; No. 12 with a 25.5 percent offensive rebounding percentage allowed), and despite a 1-for-10 showing from beyond the arc against Stony Brook, the Great Danes convert 36.5 percent of their treys.

Notable wins: W 64-60 at Yale

Notable losses: L 64-60 at Providence; L 75-59 at UNLV

Arizona Wildcats

Conference: Pac-12

Record: 31-3, 16-2

Coach: Sean Miller

How they got here: Arizona obviously did not need to win the Pac-12 tournament to make the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats throttled Oregon, 80-52, in the final to make their case for a No. 1 seed.

Who they are: Arizona is tough, physical and versatile, an absolute force that has flown under the national radar because it plays out west. The Wildcats are an elite defensive squad (No. 3 at 86.4 points per 100 possessions) that shuts down the paint. They’re not the best shot blockers, but Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are big bodies that will change shots. Ashley, in particular, is an intriguing player because of his ability to step outside, put the ball on the deck and bang in the post as a 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward. And we haven’t even gotten to T.J. McConnell and Stanley Johnson yet, one of the toughest, smartest point guards in the nation and his running mate and future NBA lottery pick.

Notable wins: W 71-54 vs. UC Irvine; W 61-59 vs. San Diego State (neutral); W 66-63 OT vs. Gonzaga; W 80-53 vs. Michigan; W 80-62 at Oregon; W 69-51 vs. Utah; W 89-82 at Stanford; W 90-56 vs. Oregon; W 57-47 vs. UCLA; W 63-57 at Utah; W 91-69 vs. Stanford; W 70-64 vs. UCLA (neutral); W 80-52 vs. Oregon (neutral)

Notable losses: L 71-67 at UNLV; L 58-56 at Oregon State; L 81-78 at Arizona State

Belmont Bruins

Conference: Ohio Valley

Record: 22-10, 11-5

Coach: Rick Byrd

How they got here: Taylor Barnette sank a last-second 3-pointer to beat Murray State, 88-87, in the OVC final.

Who they are: Barnette, a 39.9 percent 3-point shooter, isn’t even Belmont’s top marksman. That honor goes to Craig Bradshaw, a 41.6 percent shooter who averaged 18.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. As a team, the Bruins rank 45th in the country at 37.9 percent from deep and sixth with a 56.5 percent effective field-goal percentage. The problem is the defense is sub-par — No. 257 at 106.4 points allowed per 100 possessions — and the Bruins rely heavily on the deep ball, which accounts for 40.1 percent of their points (No. 7 nationally).

Notable wins: W 88-87 vs. Murray State

Notable losses: L 78-51 at VCU; L 67-56 at Butler

Buffalo Bulls

Conference: Mid-American

Record: 23-9, 12-6

Coach: Bobby Hurley

How they got here: The Bulls held on to beat Central Michigan, 89-84, in the MAC final.

Who they are: Buffalo plays a fun, fast-paced style and is a sleeper candidate. The Bulls, who rank 21st with 69.1 possessions per game, hung with Kentucky and Wisconsin into the second half and have an offense that excels in transition and gets to the foul line. Sure, the Bulls shoot a below-average 33.6 percent from deep, but they take care of the ball (No. 40 with a 16.5 percent turnover rate) and do a solid job on the glass (No. 63 at 34.6 percent offensive rebounding percentage). And they have Justin Moss, one of the few players to ever posterize Willie Cauley-Stein. What makes Buffalo’s first-ever NCAA bid even more impressive is who graduated last year, particularly Javon McCrea, an undersized big that got NBA looks.

Notable wins: W 89-84 vs. Central Michigan (neutral)

Notable losses: L 71-52 at Kentucky; L 68-56 at Wisconsin

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Conference: Big South

Record: 24-9, 12-6

Coach: Cliff Ellis

How they got here: Warren Gillis’ 22 points led Coastal Carolina to an 81-70 victory over Winthrop in the Big South title game.

Who they are: The Chanticleers returned almost every key player from the team that lost to Virginia, 70-59, in last year’s Round of 64, and they added Shivaughn Wiggins from Mount St. Mary’s. They’ve got solid guard play with Gillis, Wiggins, Josh Cameron and Elijah Wilson. They take care of the ball — 17.8 percent turnover rate, No. 86 nationally — and they’re a decent 3-point shooting team at 35.4 percent (No. 113).

Notable wins: none

Notable losses: L 84-71 at UCLA; L 71-68

Eastern Washington Eagles

Conference: Big Sky

Record: 26-8, 14-4

Coach: Jim Hayford

How they got here: Eastern Washington battled back from an 11-point deficit late in the second half to beat Montana, 69-65, in the Big Sky championship.

Who they are: If you’ve scanned the NCAA leaderboards this year, you might have become familiar with a kid named Tyler Harvey. He’s the nation’s top scorer and the key to Eastern Washington’s high-octane offense. The Eagles don’t exactly soar, but they get up and down the floor and shoot 40 percent from long range (No. 10 nationally). We have seen this team stun a power conference program already — Indiana in Assembly Hall — and the components are there for an upset in the Big Dance.

Notable wins: W 88-86 at Indiana

Notable losses: L 77-68 at Southern Methodist; L 81-77 at Washington; L 76-52 at Sam Houston State; L 78-67 at California

Georgia State Panthers

Conference: Sun Belt

Record: 24-9, 15-5

Coach: Ron Hunter

How they got here: Without point guard and No. 2 scorer Ryan Harrow, Georgia State squeaked out a 38-36 win over Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt final.

Who they are: Georgia State might have more talent than any other mid-major team. The Panthers have Harrow, a Kentucky transfer, and Louisville transfer Kevin Ware. They also have R.J. Hunter, the coach’s son and a projected early second round pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Sunday’s paltry offensive output was an aberration for a team that ranks 47th in the country at 109.8 points per 100 possessions. How are the Panthers so efficient? Their 13.7 percent steal rate ranks fourth nationally, leading to transition opportunities where they rank 57th with a 59.4 percent effective field-goal percentage.

Notable wins: W 72-48 vs. Green Bay

Notable losses: L 81-58 at Iowa State; L 80-70 at Colorado State; L 58-54 OT at Old Dominion; L 78-61 at Green Bay;

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Conference: West Coast

Record: 32-2, 17-1

Coach: Mark Few

How they got here: Gonzaga avenged its only WCC loss by beating BYU, 91-75, in the conference championship.

Who they are: Gonzaga is a well-rounded team with a versatile offense capable of beating teams inside and outside. The Bulldogs rank fifth nationally with 119.5 points per 100 possessions and second with a 58.4 percent effective field-goal percentage. Kyle Wiltjer embodies Gonzaga’s offensive versatility as a 6-foot-10 forward who shoots 46.5 percent from deep but also scores around the rim. This is also Few’s most efficient defensive team at 93.3 points allowed per 100 possessions.

Notable wins: W 72-56 vs. Southern Methodist; W 88-76 vs. Georgia (neutral); W 73-66 at St. John’s; W 87-74 at UCLA; W 87-80 at BYU; W 82-64 vs. Memphis; W 70-60 at Saint Mary’s

Notable losses: L 66-63 OT at Arizona; L 73-70 vs. BYU

Hampton Pirates

Conference: MEAC

Record: 16-17, 8-8

Coach: Edward Joyner Jr.

How they got here: Hampton beat Delaware State, 82-61, in the MEAC final.

Who they are: The Pirates are not an efficient offensive team — No. 305 at 95.1 points per 100 possessions — but Dwight Meikle (13 ppg), Reggie Johnson (11.6 ppg), Deron Powers (10.3 ppg) and Quinton Chievous (10.3 ppg) all average double-figures. Hampton is likely headed to Dayton.

Notable wins: None

Notable losses: L 90-56 at Iowa; L 65-47 at Syracuse; L 73-55 at Illinois

Harvard Crimson

Conference: Ivy

Record: 22-7, 11-3

Coach: Tommy Amaker

How they got here: Steve Moundou-Missi’s 18-footer with seven seconds left beat Yale, 53-51, in the Ivy tiebreaker.

Who they are: You should know Harvard by now. This will be the Crimson’s fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, a year after they upset Cincinnati. Harvard still slows the pace (No. 301 at 62 possessions per game) and plays stingy defense (No. 32 at 94.3 points per 100 possessions), but the offense has taken a step back since last year. Why? One reason is the lack of marksmen, unlike last year with Laurent Rivard (43.2 percent from deep) and Brandyn Curry (37.3 percent). As a team, Harvard is shooting 34.1 percent from long range. The Crimson will still be hard to write off primarily because of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, an elite mid-major guard-wing duo.

Notable wins: W 52-50 at Yale; W 53-51 vs. Yale (neutral)

Notable losses: L 76-27 at Virginia; L 56-46 at Arizona State; L 64-57 OT at Boston College; L 62-52 vs. Yale

Iowa State Cyclones

Conference: Big 12

Record: 25-8, 12-6

Coach: Fred Hoiberg

How they got here: Iowa State overcame a 37-23 halftime deficit to beat Kansas, 70-66, for its second straight Big 12 tournament championship.

Who they are: Iowa State is fun to watch. The Cyclones play at the 14th fastest pace and score a lot of points — 119 per 100 possessions, which ranks seventh nationally. The question is can they win on a bad shooting night? Well, Iowa State scored just 23 points in the first half of the Big 12 final against Kansas and ended with 70. The Cyclones can fill it up fast. Georges Niang is a versatile forward — one of the best in America — and Monte Morris is the point guard that makes everything go, but the Cyclones are solid at every position.

Notable wins: W 81-58 vs. Georgia State; W 95-77 vs. Arkansas; W 90-75 at Iowa; W 63-61 vs. Oklahoma State; W 74-72 at West Virginia; W 86-81 vs. Kansas; W 89-86 vs. Texas; W 79-59 vs. West Virginia; W 70-65 at Oklahoma State; W 85-77 at Texas; W 77-70 vs. Oklahoma; W 69-67 vs. Texas (neutral); W 67-65 vs. Oklahoma (neutral); W 70-66 vs. Kansas (neutral)

Notable losses: L 72-63 vs. Maryland (neutral); L 74-73 at Baylor; L 89-76 at Kansas; L 94-83 at Oklahoma; L 79-70 vs. Baylor

Kentucky Wildcats

Conference: SEC

Record: 34-0, 18-0

Coach: John Calipari

How they got here: Is this really necessary? Kentucky ran away from Arkansas for a 78-63 win in the SEC championship.

Who they are: If you’re new to this thing called college basketball, Kentucky kind of dominated this season. Just a little bit. The Wildcats are deep and loaded with future NBA players, and they do just about everything very well or better. The two areas for concern: the defensive glass — yes, surprising for a team with so much size, but true, nonetheless — and shooting. The Wildcats rank 190th with a 31.4 percent offensive rebounding percentage allowed and 162nd with a 34.4 percent clip from deep. They’ve more than made up for those deficiencies throughout the season.

Notable wins: W 71-52 vs. Buffalo; W 72-40 vs. Kansas (neutral); W 58-38 vs. Providence; W 63-51 vs. Texas; W 84-70 vs. UNC; W 83-44 vs. UCLA (neutral); W 58-50 at Louisville; W 89-86 OT vs. Ole Miss; W 70-64 2OT at Texas A&M; W 69-58 vs. Georgia; W 68-61 at Florida; W 71-69 at LSU; W 84-67 vs. Arkansas; W 72-64 at Georgia; W 67-50 vs. Florida; W 64-49 vs. Florida (neutral); W 78-63 vs. Arkansas (neutral)

Notable losses: None

Lafayette Leopards

Conference: Patriot

Record: 20-12, 9-9

Coach: Fran O’Hanlon

How they got here: The Leopards upset top-seeded Bucknell in the semifinals and defeated American, 65-63, in the Patriot League championship.

Who they are: Put it this way: Lafayette will not beat many teams with its defense. The offense, however, can be lethal. Led by Dan Trist, the Leopards rank eighth in the country with a 56.3 percent effective field-goal percentage. They shoot 41.4 percent from deep (No. 2 nationally) and turn over the ball on just 16.9 percent of their possessions (No. 45). Just about everyone but Trist is a marksman, including a kid named Monty Boykins. How cool is that?

Notable wins: None

Notable losses: L 83-56 at West Virginia; L 82-60 at Yale; L 96-69 at Kansas

Manhattan Jaspers

Conference: Metro Atlantic

Record: 19-13, 13-7

Coach: Steve Masiello

How they got here: The Jaspers upset No. 1 Iona, 79-69, for their second straight MAAC championship.

Who they are: The Jaspers’ primary goals are to turn over opponents and lock down the 3-point line. They’re ninth nationally with a 24.1 percent turnover rate and 73rd with a 32.2 percent 3-point defense. In the MAAC championship, they held Iona — the country’s ninth-best 3-point shooting team at 40 percent — to 5-for-22 shooting from deep. Emmy Andujar is a 6-foot-6 do-it-all forward, and the 6-foot-10 Ashton Pankey has been on a tear since early January. His 21 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks against Iona helped him earn tournament MVP honors.

Notable wins: W 79-69 vs. Iona (neutral)

Notable losses: L 81-66 at Florida State; L 77-68 OT at UMass; L 65-51 vs. Northeastern (neutral); L 65-56 at Pittsburgh; L 63-55 vs. Rutgers (neutral)

New Mexico State Aggies

Conference: WAC

Record: 23-10, 13-1

Coach: Marvin Menzies

How they got here: After an 8-9 non-conference slate, New Mexico State rolled through the WAC all the way to an 80-61 win over Seattle in the championship.

Who they are: The Aggies are dancing for the fourth straight year. They’re prone to turnovers (No. 326 at 21.9 percent), but they hit the offensive glass (No. 9 at 39.5 percent offensive rebounding percentage), force turnovers (No. 89 at 20.5 percent) and shut down the perimeter (No. 7 at 29.5 percent 3-point defense). They’re also a respectable 3-point shooting team at 36.3 percent, good for 82nd nationally.

Notable wins: W 70-67 vs. UC Irvine

Notable losses: L 71-54 at Wichita State; L 83-71 at Saint Mary’s; L 78-75 at Wyoming; L 66-55 at Baylor; L 58-57 OT vs. Colorado State

Northeastern Huskies

Conference: Colonial

Record: 23-11, 12-6

Coach: Bill Coen

How they got here: After winning just six of their last 11 conference games, Northeastern won three straight in the conference tournament and beat William & Mary, 72-61, for the CAA’s auto-bid.

Who they are: Northeastern’s ball movement, patience and 3-point shooting can give solid defensive teams fits — just ask Florida State and Manhattan. The Huskies rank 28th in 3-point shooting at 38.8 percent, and they don’t live and die beyond the arc. Two-pointers account for 52.4 percent of their points, and they knock them down at a 52.9 percent clip. Their 54.6 percent effective field-goal percentage ranks 21st.

Notable wins: W 76-73 at Florida State; W 58-57 at Richmond

Notable losses: L 79-54 at UMass; L 60-46 at Harvard; L 72-68 OT at Saint Mary’s

Northern Iowa Panthers

Conference: Missouri Valley

Record: 30-3, 16-2

Coach: Ben Jacobson

How they got here: The Panthers beat Illinois State, 69-60, in the MVC final.

Who they are: The 2010 Cinderella is back and better than ever, and Seth Tuttle is the favorite to follow in Ali Farokhmanesh’s footsteps as the hero. The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the best players in America. He’s an elite passer for his size — 29.7 percent assist rate — and can also step out and hit the three at 42.9 percent. As a team, the Panthers are sound on both ends of the floor. They slow down the game (No. 348 at 58.5 possessions), keep teams off the offensive glass (26.9 percent offensive rebounding allowed) and shoot 39.7 percent from long range (No. 11).

Notable wins: W 79-77 OT at Stephen F. Austin; W 55-50 vs. Richmond; W 56-44 vs. Iowa (neutral); W 70-54 vs. Wichita State

Notable losses: L 93-87 2OT at VCU; L 74-60 vs. Wichita State

North Dakota State Bison

Conference: Summit

Record: 23-9, 12-4

Coach: Dave Richman

How they got here: The Bison forced a pair of tough shots on South Dakota State’s last two possessions to win the Summit championship game, 57-56.

Who they are: The Bison returned just two key players — Lawrence Alexander and Kory Brown — from last year’s NCAA team. They brought in a new coach, too. Nonetheless, North Dakota State is back in the Big Dance. Alexander had a phenomenal season, taking over Taylor Braun’s role as go-to-guy, and won the Summit Player of the Year award. The Bison are another mid-major team that slows the pace (No. 324 at 61.2 possessions per game) and hits 3-pointers (No. 47 at 37.8 percent).

Notable wins: None

Notables losses: L 85-50 at Texas; L 87-56 at Iowa

North Florida Ospreys

Conference: Atlantic Sun

Record: 23-11, 12-2

Coach: Matthew Driscoll

How they got here: North Florida beat USC Upstate, 63-57, in the Atlantic Sun final.

Who they are: After a 7-9 start, the Ospreys have won 16 of their last 18. The only two losses were to Upstate. North Florida is a solid offensive team that launches from deep with regularity. The Ospreys take 42.1 percent of their field goals from long range, and they convert at a 38 percent clip (No. 43 nationally). Dallas Moore is the leading scorer (15.9 ppg) and playmaker.

Notable wins: W 73-70 at Purdue

Notable losses: L 81-56 at South Carolina; L 66-49 at Northern Iowa; L 93-77 at Florida State; L 80-70 at Iowa; L 76-61 at Alabama

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Conference: ACC

Record: 29-5, 14-4

Coach: Mike Brey

How they got here: Notre Dame was securely in the NCAA Tournament for weeks, but the Fighting Irish beat UNC, 90-82, for their first-ever conference tournament championship.

Who they are: Not may teams have a better offense than Notre Dame. In fact, only three teams — Wisconsin, Duke and Villanova — score more points per 100 possessions than Notre Dame’s 121. They have players who do things like this and this. Yes, Notre Dame is fun to watch. The Fighting Irish’s problem? The defense isn’t even near the same level as the offense. It exists, though, and it fueled Notre Dame’s comeback against UNC.

Notable wins: W 79-78 OT vs. Michigan State; W 94-63 vs. Purdue (neutral); W 71-70 at UNC; W 75-70 vs. Miami (Florida); W 81-78 OT at NC State; W 77-73 vs. Notre Dame; W 71-59 at Louisville; W 70-63 vs. Miami (Florida) (neutral); W 74-64 vs. Duke (neutral); W 90-82 vs. UNC (neutral)

Notable losses: L 75-74 vs. Providence (neutral); L 62-56 vs. Virginia; L 76-72 at Pittsburgh; L 90-60 at Duke; L 65-60 vs. Syracuse

Robert Morris Colonials

Conference: Northeast

Record: 19-14, 12-6

Coach: Andy Toole

How they got here: Picked up a 66-63 NEC championship win at St. Francis N.Y., which was seeking its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

Who they are: Rodney Pryor (15.2 ppg), Marcquise Reed (14.8 ppg) and Lucky Jones (14.3 ppg) are solid mid-major scorers for a team whose success is predicated on forcing turnovers (No. 31 at 21.7 percent rate). When they’re not getting out in transition off turnovers, the Colonials are prone to bouts of inefficiency on the offensive end. They can overcome a deficit quickly, though, thanks to the pressure and 38 percent 3-point shooting.

Notable wins: None

Notable losses: L 103-59 at UNC; L 80-66 at Georgetown; L 74-59 vs. Buffalo; L 64-57 at Clemson

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

Conference: Southland

Record: 29-4, 17-1

Coach: Brad Underwood

How they got here: The Lumberjacks beat Sam Houston State, 83-70, in the Southland final.

Who they are: Underwood is off to an okay start to his head coaching career: 61-7, no big deal. The Lumberjacks were great last year, when they knocked off VCU in the Round of 64, and they might be even better this year. At least the numbers say they are. Stephen F. Austin is 23rd in adjusted offensive efficiency at 112.4 points per 100 possessions, ninth in effective field-goal percentage at 56.2 percent and fifth in defensive turnover rate at 24.6 percent. And they’re led by Thomas Walkup and Jacob Parker, a pair of upperclassmen who experienced last year’s NCAA Tournament trip.

Notable wins: W 64-52 at Memphis; W 79-68 at Sam Houston State; W 64-55 vs. Sam Houston State; W 83-70 vs. Sam Houston State (neutral)

Notable losses: L 79-77 OT vs. Northern Iowa; L 81-63 at Xavier; L 67-51 at Baylor

Texas Southern Tigers

Conference: SWAC

Record: 21-12, 16-2

Coach: Mike Davis

How they got here: Oddly, Texas Southern punched its ticket with a 90-77 win over Prairie View A&M in a SWAC semifinal because Southern — the other championship contestant — is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament.

Who they are: The Tigers aren’t your typical SWAC team, in that they’ve actually proven they can beat quality teams. In a non-conference schedule loaded with power conference games, Texas Southern beat Michigan State and Kansas State — both games, obviously, were on the road. The Tigers had the SWAC’s most efficient offense at 108.7 points per 100 possessions in league play, and they’ve got a pair of top players named Madarious Gibbs and Deverell Biggs. That rolls off the tongue. The third member of Texas Southern’s big three is Chris Thomas, a former five-star recruit who had committed to Xavier and Manhattan before playing a year at Marshall.

Notable wins: W 71-64 OT at Michigan State; W 58-56 at Kansas State

Notable losses: L 83-64 at Indiana; L 70-58 at Tennessee; L 72-59 at Southern Methodist; L 75-49 at Baylor; L 75-50 at Florida; L 94-54 at Gonzaga

UAB Blazers

Conference: Conference USA

Record: 19-15, 12-6

Coach: Jerod Haase

How they got here: UAB beat Middle Tennessee, 73-60, in the C-USA final.

Who they are: UAB is a solid defensive team whose glaring weakness is a propensity to go cold on offense. The Blazers are 244th in the country with a 47.4 percent effective field-goal percentage. The reasons they’re slightly above average in offensive efficiency: a 34 percent offensive rebounding percentage (No. 82) and a 74.1 percent free throw clip (No. 29).

Notable wins: W 72-62 OT vs. Louisiana Tech (neutral); W 81-68 vs. Old Dominion

Notable losses: L 72-43 vs. Wisconsin (neutral); L 56-47 vs. Florida (neutral); L 88-76 vs. UCLA (neutral); L 78-74 vs. Illinois State; L 79-70 vs. LSU; L 89-58 at UNC; L 74-71 at Louisiana Tech

UC Irvine Anteaters

Conference: Big West

Record: 21-12, 11-5

Coach: Russell Turner

How they got here: UC Irvine beat Hawaii, 67-58, in the Big West final.

Who they are: Probably the first thing you’ll notice when watching UC Irvine in the NCAA Tournament is the enormous human being stationed in the lane. He’s 7-foot-6, and his name is Mamadou Ndiaye. He averaged 10.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 14 games this season. Ndiaye’s the player to watch, but the rest of the Anteaters are solid. As a team, UC Irvine is 23rd nationally with a 44.7 percent effective field-goal percentage. Teams have trouble scoring inside because of Ndiaye and fellow 7-footer Ioannis Dimakopoulos, and the Anteaters shoot 38.3 percent from deep (No. 32).

Notable wins: W 72-70 vs. Green Bay (neutral)

Notable losses: L 71-54 at Arizona; L 72-69 at Saint Mary’s; L 69-67 OT at Oregon; L 70-67 at New Mexico State

Valparaiso Crusaders

Conference: Horizon

Record: 28-5, 13-3

Coach: Bryce Drew

How they got here: The Crusaders pulled away late to beat Green Bay, 54-44, in the Horizon championship.

Who they are: After a down year, the Crusaders are back in the Big Dance. They slow the pace (No. 278 at 62.8 possessions per game) and make scoring inside a challenge. Vashil Fernandez (No. 6 at 13.2 percent block rate) is the rim protector, but as a team, Valpo is 14th with a field-goal defense of 42.1 percent. Alec Peters, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, is the leading scorer at 16.7 points per game. He also shoots 46.2 percent from deep.

Notable wins: W 93-58 vs. Murray State (neutral), W 54-44 vs. Green Bay

Notable losses: L 51-50 at Green Bay

VCU Rams

Conference: Atlantic 10

Record: 26-9, 12-6

Coach: Shaka Smart

How they got here: VCU held on to beat a pesky Dayton team, 71-65, in the Atlantic 10 championship.

Who they are: Even without Briante Weber, who tore his ACL just a handful of steals shy of the NCAA record, VCU has the same approach as always under Smart. The Rams harass opponents with their “Havoc” defense, forcing turnovers (No. 2 with a 14.5 percent steal rate) and getting out in transition. When they’re hitting 3-pointers, like they did in various stretches of the Atlantic 10 tournament, they’re extremely tough to beat.

Notable wins: W 77-63 vs. Oregon (neutral); W 93-87 2OT vs. Northern Iowa; W 68-47 at Cincinnati; W 71-65 vs. Davidson; W 65-60 at Rhode Island; W 70-67 vs. Richmond (neutral); W 93-73 vs. Davidson (neutral); W 71-65 vs. Dayton (neutral)

Notable losses: L 77-53 vs. Villanova (neutral); L 74-57 vs. Virginia; L 64-55 vs Richmond; L 67-63 2OT at Richmond; L 59-55 vs. Dayton; L 82-55 at Dayton

Villanova Wildcats

Conference: Big East

Record: 32-2, 16-2

Coach: Jay Wright

How they got here: Villanova vanquished Xavier, 69-52, in the Big East final.

Who they are: A strong candidate for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Villanova does just about everything well. It’s fairly difficult to pinpoint a glaring weakness in the Wildcats’ game, except, perhaps, their lack of frontcourt depth behind JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu. Ryan Arcidiacano is their rock at point guard, and guard Dylan Ennis is one of the country’s most improved players. That’s to say nothing of Darrun Hilliard and Josh Hart, their leading scorer and top 3-point shooter, respectively. The Wildcats’ ability to force turnovers (No. 27 at 21.9 percent turnover rate; No. 21 at 11.9 percent steal rate) and knock down 3-pointers (No. 24 at 38.9 percent) enables them to turn close games into blowouts rather quickly.

Notable wins: W 77-53 vs. VCU (neutral); W 60-55 vs. Michigan (neutral); W 73-59 vs. Illinois (neutral); W 85-62 vs. Temple; W 82-77 OT vs. Syracuse; W 67-55 vs. Butler; W 90-72 at St. John’s; W 88-75 vs. Xavier; W 69-53 vs. Georgetown; W 74-68 at Providence; W 68-65 at Butler; W 89-61 vs. Providence; W 78-66 at Xavier; W 105-68 vs. St. John’s; W 63-61 vs. Providence (neutral); W 69-52 vs. Xavier (neutral)

Notable losses: L 66-61 OT vs. Seton Hall; L 78-58 at Georgetown

Wofford Terriers

Conference: Southern

Record: 28-6, 16-2

Coach: Mike Young

How they got here: Wofford fended off Furman’s upset bid in the Southern championship, advancing to the NCAA tournament with a 67-64 win.

Who they are: A well-coached and fundamentally sound team, Wofford didn’t have much competition in conference play. The Terriers are solid defensively — No. 76 at 97.4 points allowed per 100 possessions — and that showed in a 55-54 win at NC State in December. Karl Cochran, Lee Skinner and Spencer Collins form one of mid-major basketball’s best trios.

Notable wins: W 86-73 vs. Iona; W 64-53 vs. Sam Houston State (neutral); W 55-54 at NC State

Notable losses: L 74-59 at Stanford; L 77-44 at West Virginia; L 84-55 at Duke

Wyoming Cowboys

Conference: Mountain West

Record: 25-9, 11-7

Coach: Larry Shyatt

How they got here: Wyoming popped someone’s bubble by beating San Diego State, 45-43, in the Mountain West championship

Who they are: Though Wyoming is a grind-it-out defensive team (No. 343 at 59.7 possessions per game; No. 73 at 97.2 points per 100 possessions), Saturday’s result was a bit of an aberration: The Cowboys had not won a game this year in which they scored in the 40s. They’re a solid team with solid players — particularly Larry Nance Jr. — but the question has always been, “Can they win away from home?” Wyoming was 17-2 at home and 5-7 on the road. Well, the Cowboys just won three straight on a neutral floor in Las Vegas.

Notable wins: W 56-33 vs. Colorado; W 78-75 vs. New Mexico State; W 76-71 vs. UNLV; W 60-54 at Colorado State; W 65-54 vs. Boise State; W 59-48 vs. Colorado State; W 71-66 OT vs. Boise State (neutral); W 45-43 vs. San Diego State (neutral)

Notable losses: L 66-53 at Southern Methodist; L 45-42 at California; L 60-52 vs. San Diego State; L 67-41 at San Diego State; L 69-57 at UNLV