2023 NCAA Tournament Cinderella Teams

Mar 15, 2023 - 10:36 AM

Everyone’s favorite thing to do when filling out a bracket is to pick upsets and be right about a Cinderella team. It will be the talk at pretty much every sports bar in America over the next four to five days. For the sake of this article, we will consider Cinderella teams 7-seeds or higher. We will be looking at them making the Sweet 16 and possibly further. I know 5- and 6-seeds can be considered dark horses to go far in tournaments, but the odds are not enticing enough to take a stab at them. I will break down previous tournaments’ Cinderella teams and see if we can find any trends that will lead us to identify possible candidates for this tournament. Strap in because we have a lot of data to go through.

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2023 NCAA Tournament Cinderella Teams

In the KenPom era, there have been 75 teams seeded (7) or higher to make at least the Sweet 16. That is, on average, almost four teams a tournament. Let’s break it down by seed and how far each team progressed in the tournament.

Cinderella teams 7-seed or higher

  • 12 Final 4 teams
  • 15 Elite 8 teams
  • 48 Sweet 16 teams

This is the raw breakdown, so let’s dive in a little further based on seeds.


  • 3 Final 4s (1 championship UCONN 2014)
  • 4 Elite 8s
  • 10 Sweet 16s


  • 3 Final 4s
  • 1 Elite 8
  • 4 Sweet 16s


  • 1 Final 4
  • 2 Elite 8s
  • 2 Sweet 16s


  • 1 Final 4
  • 3 Elite 8s
  • 7 Sweet 16s


  • 4 Final 4s
  • 2 Elite 8s
  • 11 Sweet 16s


  • 0 Final 4s
  • 2 Elite 8s
  • 9 Sweet 16s


  • 0 Final 4s
  • 0 Elite 8s
  • 3 Sweet 16s


  • 0 Final 4s
  • 1 Elite 8
  • 2 Sweet 16s

That’s a lot to take in all at once. At first glance, a couple of things stand out. No 14-seed has ever made the Sweet 16, 11-seeds are criminally underrated, and 7-seeds advancing should not be considered a huge upset. The hardest path to a Sweet 16 birth is via 8-or 9-seeds. That is pretty obvious and makes sense considering even below-average 1-seeds are infinitely better than the vast majority of above-average 8- or 9-seeds. Let’s dive into any characteristics that stand out for these Cinderellas.

There are four statistical categories we will look at to determine these outliers.

  • AdjEM (Overall Efficiency)
  • AdjOE (Adjusted Offense)
  • AdjDE (Adjusted Defense)
  • TO/Reb Combo (Turnover percentage and Offensive Rebound%)

When looking at Cinderellas, the best way to compare them is to their seed counterparts. Comparing a 7-seed to an 11-seed is not a productive analysis. So when I say a 7-seed ranks top 20 in AdjEM that means they rank top 20 historically vs. the other 84 7-seeds.

The majority of these teams are unbalanced, which is fine because as long as they are elite in one of the four areas, they seem to pan out decently. One thing that stands out to me is only seven teams out of the 75 have ranked bottom 20 in the four areas without ranking top 30 in one of the other three categories. Now obviously, we are not going to get every single prediction correct, but that is a huge outlier. One other thing that stands out is only eight of the 75 teams have a negative TO/REB combo. Seven of those eight teams only made the Sweet 16. The only outlier was Loyola Chicago (2018) which made the Final Four. Remember, as stated in previous articles, only three teams in the last 20 years have made the Final Four with a negative TO/Reb Margin.

Let’s dive into the teams we have this year. Here is the list of teams with a negative TO/Reb Margin.

  • Michigan State 73rd (-0.66)
  • Illinois 72nd (-0.68)
  • Utah State 84th (-5.56)
  • Boise State 82nd (-3.71)
  • USC 76th (-1.85)
  • Penn State 83rd (-3.72)
  • Nevada 101st (-5.16)
  • VCU 86th (-3.57)
  • Grand Canyon 81st (-3.13)
  • Vermont 61st (-1.37)
  • UNC Asheville (-3.53)

As you can see, every single 10-seed has a negative TO/Reb Combo. There are also numerous other seeds that just do not measure up in that crucial statistic. I will be avoiding these teams, and if they bust a bracket, then so be it.

Let’s move on to teams that have the potential to make some noise.

Kent State (13-seed)

  • 14th in AdjEM
  • 40th in AdjOE
  • 25th in AdjDE
  • 7th in TO/REB Combo

Kent State draws Indiana, which is 77th in AdjEM, 71st in AdjDE, and 83rd in TO/Reb combo. That is a horrendous profile. If Kent State beats Indiana, their next opponent will be an even worse Miami team. Miami is 82nd in AdjEM, 12th in AdjOE, 84th in AdjDE, and 42nd in TO/Reb combo. This sets up two of the worst 4- and 5-seed combinations. Kent State is +520 to make the Sweet 16.

Mississippi State (11-Seed)

  • 58th in AdjEM
  • 97th in AdjOE
  • 7th in AdjDE
  • 14th in TO/REB Combo

Mississippi State will have to win the play-in game, and then they face off against an average Iowa State team. Iowa State is 45th in AdjEM, 71st in AdjOE, 17th in AdjDef, and 12th in TO/Reb Combo. This will be a tough test, but if Mississippi State can prevail, the next round will arguably be easier. Xavier is an extremely below-average 3-seed. They are 69th in AdjEM, 12th in AdjOE, 77th in AdjDE, and 55th in TO/Reb Combo. Mississippi State is +950 to make the Sweet 16, and there is a ton of value in that line.

Missouri (7-seed)

  • 76th in AdjEM
  • 5th in AdjOE
  • 84th in AdjDE
  • 38th in TO/Reb Combo

Missouri is a polarizing team as they boast the absolute worst defense for a 7-seed of all time. The flip side to that is they are elite offensively. They will draw Utah State in the first round, and it is a matchup built for Missouri. Utah State is 13th in AdjEM, 6th in AdjOE, 66th in AdjDE, and 84th in TO/Reb combo. Utah State will offer little resistance, and they are abysmal in TO/Reb Combo (-5.56). In the next round, Arizona quite possibly could be the weakest 2-seed in this tournament. Their profile is as follows: 65th in AdjEM, 20th in AdjOE, 79th in AdjDE, and 73rd in TO/Reb combo (-0.74). This will again be a shootout, and Missouri will have the advantage in TO/Reb combo. Missouri is +540 to make the Sweet 16.

If you have any questions about the process or data, you can reach out to me @goldendomer622 on Twitter. Thanks again for reading. Tune into our next article as we make Final Four picks and look at possible National Champions.

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