One of the joys of filling out a bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, better known as March Madness, is finding that Cinderella team, the unheralded school that confounds the self-appointed experts and reaches the Final Four.
In recent years, Cinderella has come from a mid-major conference—a school like Gonzaga, George Mason, or last year’s finalist Butler. Those teams usually follow the same script: They upset some highly seeded teams in the early rounds and reap enough national publicity to get their coach a better job at a bigger school, but they don’t actually win the tournament.
The last Cinderella to wear the crown during March Madness was North Carolina State, a 13-loss team during the regular season that shocked a Houston squad featuring future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the 1983 championship game.
The team poised to be this year’s Cinderella is New York City’s St. John’s. The Red Storm have all the characteristics of a giant killer:
• A breakout star in guard Dwight Hardy, who has averaged 26 points in his last six games and is deserving of Big East Conference Player of the Year honors.
• A roster composed mostly of seniors who have grown together because none of them were talented enough to leave early for the NBA.
• Embarrassing early-season losses to doormats Fordham and St. Bonaventure, which has allowed St. John’s to fly under the radar ever since.
Many were surprised when Steve Lavin left a cushy job as an ESPN college basketball commentator to become St. John’s coach in 2010. The school has not qualified for March Madness since 2002, and has not reached the Final Four since 1985. But under Lavin, the Red Storm will be in the tournament this year, and their best is yet to come. The school that sent Ron Artest, Mark Jackson, and Chris Mullin to the NBA appears ready to put on the glass slipper this year.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.
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