Here’s How To Find A Cinderella For Your March Madness Bracket

Written By Darren Cooper on March 10, 2022
How To Find A Cinderella In Your March Madness Bracket

Sports fans know it’s about to get crazy, or mad. March Madness is upon us with the NCAA Tournament Selection Show this Sunday.

Followed by two-plus weeks of the best basketball ever, with star players, legendary coaches and incredible finishes. And don’t forget about Cinderella.

The thing that truly makes March Madness Mad is the appearance of the so-called Cinderella teams that pull upset after upset and capture the nation’s imagination with their luck, talent and success.

But are there trends to a Cinderella? Are there themes? Where do the Cinderellas come from and how can you spot them and put them in your bracket?

Since Texas sports betting isn’t legal, college basketball fans in the state can use this is a guide to fill out their winning bracket.

What is a March Madness Cinderella?

You know, Cinderella is a movie, a fairy tale, a girl who wants to be a Princess, meets her Prince Charming at the ball and all that. It’s a love story with a happy ending.

For our definition, a Cinderella is any team in the NCAA Tournament that gets at least two upsets by seed.

Using that definition and researching the last 10 Tournaments (remember there was no Tournament in 2020) there have been 24 basketball Official Cinderellas.

None have ever won the Tournament. So no happy ending.

How do we analyze the data?

Look at last year, Oral Roberts, a 15 seed, beat 2-seed Ohio State in the first round, then seventh-seeded Florida in the second round. Boom. They’re a Cinderella.

Sometimes though Cinderella can appear late in the Tournament.

Auburn was the fifth seed in 2019, the Tigers beat fourth-seeded Kansas in the second round, then number 1 seed North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen and two seed Kentucky in the Elite 8. Cinderella approved.

Auburn lost a heartbreaker to Virginia in the Final Four.

Sometimes teams may seem like Cinderellas, but really, just caught a break in the way the tournament worked out. Oregon was a great story in 2019 as the 12 seed, but it beat 13 UC Irvine in the second round.

The Ducks are not an official Cinderella.

Has anyone been an official Cinderella twice during March Madness?

In the last 10 Tournaments, one school, Syracuse has qualified as an official Cinderella twice.

The Orangemen won two games as the higher-seeded team in 2021 and 2016 were the 10 seed. It beat Dayton, a seven seed, in the first round, then top seed Virginia in the Elite Eight.

What’s the best seed for a Cinderella?

So now let’s get into the real facts when it comes down to working on your bracket. Of the 24 official Cinderella’s in the last 10 NCAA Tournaments, nine of them have been the 11 seed.

The underlying subtext to that is teams seeded anywhere from 6 to 11 are probably even. But then an 11 seed “upsets” the six seed in the first round and it starts feeling confident. Then, boom it takes down the third seed in the second round and Cinderella is born.

The nine schools that have been the 11th seeded official Cinderellas are:

  • UCLA (2021)
  • Syracuse (2021)
  • Loyola-Chicago (2018)
  • Xavier (2017)
  • Gonzaga (2016)
  • Dayton (2014)
  • NC State (2012)
  • Marquette (2011)
  • VCU (2011)

What’s the best conference for a Cinderella?

Everyone likes to think that there’s a great team somewhere in the Mid-Nowhere Conference (made up name) with a talented forward and a bunch of sharpshooters that can win the NCAA title.

Sorry, it just hasn’t happened yet. The best players are still recruited out of high school by the bigger schools and bigger conferences.

Even the Cinderella’s, too. Of our 24 Official Cinderella’s, 15 have come from one of the so-called Power Six Conferences, nine from smaller leagues.

The ACC and PAC-12 have each had four Cinderella teams. The Big East has had three, technically four, Butler was maybe the greatest Cinderella basketball story ever in 2011 reaching the final as an eighth seed.

Butler now plays in the Big East but was in the Horizon League back then. The only non-Power Six league to have more than one Cinderella team is the Atlantic 10 with LaSalle (2013), Dayton (2014) and VCU (2011).

So who or what do I look for in my March Madness bracket?

The data tells us to look at the 11 seed, preferably one from a larger conference. Think of a team like Arkansas in the SEC this year.

They finished fourth in the conference and 24-7 going into the SEC Tournament. They have Cinderella written all over them.

USC and UCLA fit that mold coming from the PAC-12. From the Big 10, it could be Iowa or Ohio State.

Here in Texas, we know Baylor is getting in. Texas Tech and Texas are potential official Cinderellas. Here are the Texas schools commanding their place in the NCAA Tourney.

Yeah, but I want the next Butler

Ok if you love finding that true small-school Cinderella, here are three to keep an eye on during conference tournament week.

No. 1 Toledo

The Rockets don’t have a single senior on the roster, but have four players who average in double figures and are 25-6 heading into the MAC Tournament.

No. 2 Iona

The Gaels are 25-6 going into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament and are coached by Rick Pitino, who knows a few things about winning an NCAA title.

No. 3 San Diego State

The Aztecs went through the Summit League undefeated this season. They lost to Syracuse in the first round last year, so will have a chip on their shoulder in 2022.

Photo by zimmytws /
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Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper was born and raised in Southern Louisiana, just a short pirogue ride away from New Orleans. He started his journalism career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has been a writer and columnist in New Jersey since 1998. He's won 14 statewide press awards and earned his first Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 award in 2022.

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