- Ron Buck
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There was a time not so long ago when the Cinderella Watch was limited to eight teams each week.
Not anymore. This year, as you can see below, 21 mid-major team logos appear each week on the Watch.
Still, it's not enough.
As we expected (and requested), e-mails flowed into ESPN.com all week with datelines far and wide. Lafayette, La. ... Reno, Nev. ... El Paso, Texas ... Richmond, Va. ... Honolulu, Hawaii ... each with a simple question: "Why weren't we included?"
In some cases, those writing the e-mails were a bit confused. Maybe it was our fault, so let us explain a simple rule:
- In the eyes of ESPN.com, a team in the Mid-Major Top 10 (see chart below) may not "officially" be on the Cinderella Watch.
Those 10 teams certainly could qualify as Cinderellas come March. But, for now, those 10 teams are a bit more mainstream in our view. (See: Gonzaga rule below).
So, just because Utah State, Southern Illinois or Murray State isn't on the Cinderella Watch, it doesn't mean they aren't Cinderella-worthy come tourney time. In fact, we'd be surprised if at least two or three teams on our final Top 10 list in March didn't win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.
We hope this clears things up a little in places like Kalamazoo, Mich., Manhattan and Kent, Ohio. Don't worry, each week leading up to Selection Sunday (March 14), we'll chronicle the progress of all deserving mid-major teams around the country -- via the Cinderella Watch and Mid-Major Top 10. The goal is to identify a few teams that fans should become familiar with heading into the Big Dance.
The teams we feature this week may become regulars. They may fall by the wayside. But chances are the Watch will have its share of changes during the next two months.
As for the definition of a Cinderella? Well, the only rule when it comes to the Watch is a team can't play in Big East, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC or Pac-10. So, unlike the Mid-Major Top Ten (which doesn't include the Atlantic-10, WAC or Mountain West), those conferences can produce Cinderellas. But, just because South Carolina is enjoying surprising success in the SEC, don't look for the Gamecocks on the Watch.
Why? Because we said so.
One aspect to the Watch hasn't changed this year: Fans will still play a major role in the look of the Watch. Not only can you vote for the most deserving Cinderellas each week in the poll below, but be sure to send in your Cinderella Watch comments, telling us why your school should get more attention from not only us but the selection committee, as well. Last week, the fans spoke and Austin Peay was eliminated
Oh, and remember the Gonzaga Rule: The Zags outgrew their slipper several years ago.
Aside from that, the Watch is pretty much open to everyone. So, with all of this in mind, let's take a look at the teams the big boys should be watching along with us this week.
Richmond: It's been a couple years since the Spiders made national headlines, but they were up to their old tricks last week -- stunning 10th-ranked Kansas in the Jayhawks' own barn on ESPN. Tony Dobbins' fade-away jumper in the lane gave Jerry Wainwright his biggest win since arriving at Richmond last season. It also snapped the Jayhawks' 52-game home winning streak against unranked opponents. The Spiders haven't been the NCAAs since 1998 (when they upset South Carolina in the first round), and remain a longshot to go dancing this year at 11-8 overall and 3-3 in the A-10. But, Wainwright weaved a few webs at UNC-Wilmington, so an upset or two in the A-10 tournament isn't out of the question. Richmond did follow its win at Kansas by winning at Xavier. But, even if the Spiders don't go dancing, at least for a night, it was like old times for a program that all but coined the term "Cinderella."
Slipping Into A Slipper
Georgia Southern: The only thing cooling off the Eagles these days is the weather. Ice postponed Tuesday night's game against Davidson, so Georgia Southern will had to wait to try to extend its winning streak to 11 games. Georgia Southern seems determined to make the SoCon a three-team affair after beating College of Charleston 85-80 last week for its 10th straight win. The Eagles are just a half-game behind College of Charleston in the South Division with its lone SoCon loss coming at East Tennessee State in early December. How are the 14-3 Eagles doing it? With a new focus on defense and thievery. Four starters returned from a year ago, but gone was the program's career scoring leader Julius Jenkins. No matter. Georgia Southern simply leads the nation with 12.1 steals per game. In fact, twice this season Georgia Southern has had 20 or more steal -- swiping 22 against The Citadel. Only one team will dance out of the SoCon, and any of the three will be a Cinderella.
Slipping Out of Its Slipper
BYU: It was only a few weeks ago that ESPN.com was calling BYU the fourth-best team out West. Well, that was before the Cougars made a trip to Tobacco Road and lost their way on the return trip to Provo. BYU still hasn't recovered from a 27-point, nationally-televised loss to N.C. State. In fact, it's lost it's lost three more away from home since -- at San Diego State, Air Force and New Mexico. Trips to New Mexico and Utah await this week. At 2-2 in the MWC, the Cougars' slipper is about to shatter.
Does The Slipper Fit?
The following teams may or may not have the stuff to be included in this week's Mid-Major Top 10, but certainly could become a Cinderella story. And here's where you come into play. Vote in the poll to the right. Your vote will help eliminate one team users don't feel has shown it can be a Cinderella in March. Want to express yourself more? Click here to let us know who we missed, or why your team should stay on next week's guest list. Click here to read last week's best comments.
Ron Buck is ESPN.com's men's college basketball editor.
ESPN.com tracks the mid-major teams to know come March Madness.