Ranking the 2022 Cinderella Candidates That Could Bust Your Bracket

March Madness is officially here, with all 68 teams officially locked into the 2022 men’s NCAA tournament bracket and games set to tip off Tuesday with the First Four. Inevitably, a team you’ve never watched this season will shock the sports world and introduce itself with a memorable upset or two in the Big Dance.

Identifying that team beforehand, though, can be the hard part. Which Cinderella teams could blow up your bracket? We’ve been tracking top contenders all season and have ranked the 10 most likely clubs to do just that.

1. Colorado State (No. 6 seed, South Region) After experiencing heartbreak on Selection Sunday a year ago, Colorado State left no doubt in 2021–22, putting together an incredibly impressive résumé and spending time in the top 25. The Rams feature one of the best players in the country in David Roddy, an incredibly unique forward with elite shooting touch despite a frame that looks more like that of a defensive lineman.

But it’s not just Roddy that makes this team special—point guard Isaiah Stevens is one of the nation’s best floor generals and put up 17 points and 11 assists without a turnover in an early-season win over Creighton.

The Rams rank in the top 20 nationally in offensive efficiency per KenPom, but have proved in Mountain West wins over the likes of San Diego State and Boise State that they are capable of winning a grind-it-out style of game. To make a run to the Sweet 16 (or further), CSU will have to deal with some elite-level length and athleticism, especially up front.

If there’s a weakness on this Rams team, it’s the center position, and it will have to deal with Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson in the first round and a potential date with Tennessee’s athletic roster in the second. But a team with two elite players like Roddy and Stevens will be a tough out, especially as well coached as this group is.

2. Loyola Chicago (No. 10 seed, South Region) The Ramblers may have a new coach, but they’re back and capable of yet another run in the Big Dance. Drew Valentine is the youngest head coach in Division I but was part of both of Loyola’s recent runs and has his stamp on the program in his first year leading the Ramblers.

Six of the seven key rotation players from last year’s Ramblers team that went to the Sweet 16 are still with this group. And this year, Loyola played tight games with Auburn and Michigan State and has beaten San Francisco, Vanderbilt, DePaul and Arizona State. It won’t be scared of the moment or intimidated by the size that first-round opponent Ohio State presents

3. San Diego State (No. 8 seed, Midwest Region) It’s hard to believe that any high seed would want to see the Aztecs in this tournament with the way that they defend. SDSU ranks second nationally in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, trailing only Texas Tech in that statistic. The Aztecs are long, athletic and extremely well coached on that end 

4. UAB (No. 12 seed, South Region) Former Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy has built something of a “Transfer U” at his alma mater to great success. The Blazers won 27 games in 2021–22, culminating in a C-USA tournament title, and did so while starting five transfers—all of whom are in their fourth, fifth or sixth year of college basketball. 

5. San Francisco (No. 10 seed, East Region) The Dons became the first WCC team not named Gonzaga, BYU or Saint Mary’s to earn an at-large bid in two decades, a remarkable feat for Todd Golden’s program. They’ve done it with tremendous guard play, savvy work in the transfer portal and an analytics-heavy approach that has allowed them to build this program to a top-25 finish in KenPom and the NET.

6. Murray State (No. 7 seed, East Region) The Racers haven’t lost since Christmas and sport the best record in men’s college basketball. That’s a pretty compelling case alone for why Murray State can make a run in March Madness, but let’s dive into why the Racers have been so good in 2021–22.

7. Indiana (No. 12 seed, East Region) No, Indiana doesn’t exactly fit your traditional “Cinderella” label. But if there’s a team that can go from the First Four to a deep run like UCLA did last season, it’s the Hoosiers. IU is coming off an inspiring run at the Big Ten tournament that secured its place in the Big Dance, with wins over Michigan and Illinois before blowing a late lead against Iowa in the tournament semifinal.