CALGARY, Alta. — As soon as the 2016-17 season came to an end, the 2017-18 season became the focal point for fans all across the country.
Everyone has made some sort of snap judgment about how things will play out next season, with the major books verified by analysts at Sports Betting Dime focused on odds for the major contenders, or pretenders, of the power conferences.
But, what about the teams that fill the role of ‘Cinderella’ each and every season? These are the teams that captivate a nation as they make their incredible runs through the NCAA Tournament, knocking off power conference foes with each passing game as the field dwindles down.
Every year, fans get on the bandwagon of certain teams, with the hope that they make a deep run in March. It’s never too early to pick a Cinderella team, and we’ve got four of our own teams who will put a serious scare into power conference teams over the course of the upcoming 2017-18 season.
Grand Canyon Antelopes
The 2017-18 season marks the first year that the Grand Canyon Antelopes are eligible for the NCAA Tournament, and they could make some serious noise over the course of the 2017-18 season. We could see the WAC represented in the Big Dance by a team other than the New Mexico State Aggies or Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners for the first time since 2012.
While the Antelopes said goodbye to DeWayne Russell following last season, they return a core group of talented players, and added a power conference graduate transfer who has family ties to the Grand Canyon program.
The Antelopes welcome back Joshua Braun, Keonta Vernon, and Oscar Frayer, while adding graduate transfer Casey Benson from the Oregon Ducks. Benson is the brother of Antleopes’ assistant coach TJ Benson.
With the steady rise of the Antelopes in recent years, power conference teams have avoided adding them to their schedule. Grand Canyon has released their full schedule for the upcoming season, and only the Illinois Fighting Illini and Louisville Cardinals scheduled the Antelopes on their own home courts.
Come March, nobody will want to see a healthy Grand Canyon team opposite them in a bracket. It’s as simple as that.
In the past two seasons alone, the Mavericks have notched wins over the likes of the Texas Longhorns, Saint Mary’s Gaels, Ohio State Buckeyes, and Memphis Tigers. They’ve also played several other big time programs close, and have showcased why they’re one of the top programs outside of the power conferences.
After falling in the NIT Quarter-finals last season, head coach Scott Cross and the Mavericks have unfinished business in 2017-18. Headlined by Kevin Hervey and Erick Neal, who make up one of the nation’s top one-two punches, the Mavericks enter the season as the favourite in the Sun Belt Conference.
The toughest thing for UT-Arlington this off-season has been scheduling, as power conference teams have steered clear of the Mavericks, for the fear of suffering a home loss and negatively impacting their tournament resume.
UT-Arlington has road games against the Alabama Crimson Tide, Northern Iowa Panthers, BYU Cougars, and the Creighton Bluejays on their non-conference schedule, all of which are winnable games for the Mavericks. Wins over any of these teams away from home would give Cross and company a big boost of confidence moving forward and into conference play.
Look for Kaelon Wilson and Nathan Hawkins to step up and provide support to Neal and Hervey, as the Mavericks have their sights set on the Big Dance.
It’s tough to imagine a team improving after a perfect season in conference play and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. However, that’s the situation that Vermont finds itself in as the 2017-18 season quickly approaches.
Vermont will return Trae Bell-Haynes, the reigning America East Player of the Year, Anthony Lamb, the reigning Freshman of the Year, Drew Urquhart, the Duncan twins, and more. They all helped the Catamounts go a perfect 16-0 last season in conference play, and took the Purdue Boilermakers to the limit in the NCAA Tournament.
This season, the Catamount are the clear-cut favourites to win the America East crown for the second season in a row, and for good reason. Their combination of talent and experience goes a long way, and they now know what it takes to win and advance to the Big Dance.
So far this off-season, the Catamounts have been linked to games against the Kentucky Wildcats, Richmond Spiders, and Marquette Golden Eagles, along with three games in the Bahamas as a part of the Bahamas Showcase. The Catamounts are in a field of eight teams with the likes of the Iona Gaels and Weber State Wildcats, but it appears as though it’s their event to lose.
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
It’s hard to fathom the idea that the 2018 NCAA Tournament marks the five-year anniversary of Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed. Wins over the Georgetown Hoyas and San Diego State Aztecs put Dunk City on the map, and they’ve been a permanent fixture ever since.
The Eagles have made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been able to quite remake the magic from 2013. This year could be the year that they make some serious noise in the Big Dance, as they enter the 2017-18 season as the clear favourite in the Atlantic Sun.
Leading up to conference play, the Eagles will have plenty of opportunities to showcase their talents in non-conference play. Dates against the Wichita State Shockers, Rhode Island Rams, and a home-and-home series with the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders highlight the non-conference slate for Dunk City.
Brandon Goodwin is one of the best guards in the conference, and one of the top guards in the country who doesn’t get the attention he deserves. The former UCF guard will finally get the love and admiration he deserves, and he and the rest of the Eagles will have Dunk City flying high once again in 2017-18.
– T. Bennett