While the 2019 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was full of excitement, highlights and redemption stories, there was one thing it really missed.
There was no Cinderella.
The 2019 tournament didn’t see any double-digit seed crack the Elite Eight field, and March Madness mainstay Gonzaga was the only team from a non-Power 5 conference to advance that far. No team seeded lower than fifth made the Final Four.
But as we look way into the future at the 2020 tournament, things look promising for a Cinderella to emerge. Will 2020 bring us the next Loyola Chicago? The next VCU? The next George Mason? Maybe.
Here’s a quick look at three teams who should have decent shots at making deep tournament runs in 2020.
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New Mexico State
18-19 record: 30-5
18-19 finish: Won the WAC title; Lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Auburn
Starters returning (PPG): Terrell Brown(11.3), AJ Harris (9.5), CJ Bobbitt (4.6), Clayton Henry (5.4)
Outlook: The Aggies were nearly a Cinderella story this past season, pushing eventual Final Four team Auburn to the brink in the first round of the NCAA tournament. If a few plays went their way in the wild final 29 seconds of the game, we might be talking about the Aggies as 2019’s Cinderella. Alas, it didn’t go that way. With the game on the line, two free throws missed the mark and Auburn advanced.
But Chris Jans’ side brings back nearly everyone next season from its 2018-19 squad, including the five players that were on the floor when the buzzer sounded against Auburn. Jans’ used a 14-man rotation this past season, giving valuable playing time to everyone on the bench. Johnny McCants — who missed the first half of the 2018-19 season due to injury — will be available for a full season next year, too. New Mexico State finished this past season 11th in offensive rating (113.9), second in total rebound percentage (57.2) and as the 53rd most efficient team in KenPom.
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18-19 record: 24-10
18-19 finish: Second in the A-10; Lost in the first round of the NIT to Lipscomb
Starters returning (PPG): Jon Axel Gudmundsson (16.9), Kellan Grady (17.3), Luka Brajkovic (11.1), Kishawn Pritchett (6.9), Luke Frampton (10.3)
Outlook: Barring injuries, transfers or players leaving early for the NBA Draft, Davidson may have the best offensive starting five in the A-10 next season. It’s entire starting lineup returns, and each of those players shot better than 34 percent from three-point range, 37 percent from the floor and 65 percent from the charity stripe. Brajkovic and Frampton will be looking to take big steps forward as sophomores.
Gudmundsson was the A-10 Player of the Year and an All-American honorable mention. Grady was tabbed as the league’s preseason player of the year, but battled some injuries. Still, he made the first team. Bob McKillop’s side finished 35th in country in assist percentage (58.6), 77th in effective field goal percentage (53.2), 37th in free throw percentage (74.9) and 34th in field goal defense, allowing opponents to make just 40.8 percent of their shots.
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18-19 record: 19-12
18-19 finish: Share of regular season Ivy League title; Lost in the second round of the NIT to N.C. State
Starters returning (PPG): Christian Juzang (8.1), Chris Lewis (10.4), Justin Bassey (9.1), Bryce Aiken (22.2), Danilo Djuricic (6.2)
Outlook: The Crimson pushed N.C. State to the limit in the second round of the NIT, but lost in Raleigh by a single point. Tommy Amaker returns all of his starters next season, plus Noah Kirkwood, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year who averaged 11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per-game. Another returner for Amaker is Seth Towns, a junior from Columbus, Ohio who sat out the 2018-19 season, nursing an injury. A year ago, Towns was an All-American honorable mention and the Ivy League Player of the Year. While Towns was out, Aiken led the way, earning All-Ivy First Team honors.
Putting Aiken, Towns and Kirkwood on the floor at the same time will make the Crimson very hard to defend, especially along the perimeter. In the paint, Lewis will continue to control things and protect the rim. In addition to the starters and Kirkwood, reliable bench players Rio Haskett and Robert Baker also return. This past season, Harvard was 69th in effective field goal percentage (53.6), 71st in true shooting percentage (56.5) and had a KenPom top 100 defense.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.