March Madness Cinderella Picks: 2024 Longshots and Upset Predictions

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Matt Marquart


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I'm a college basketball contributor here at Pickswise. I have been a longtime NCAAB fan and bettor, as I love to dive deep into every aspect of a particular matchup. In no other sport are there as many teams with different styles of play like college basketball, so I'm fortunate enough to share my thoughts at Pickswise. For Matt Marquart media enquiries, please email
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Seemingly every season, a Cinderella emerges during March Madness and makes a surprising run in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, there were several that would qualify, as we saw #15 seed Princeton reach the Sweet 16 and a Final Four made up of a #4 seed, a #9 seed, and two #5 seeds. The year prior, #15 seed Saint Peter’s made a run to the Elite Eight. In this article, we are going to try to pick out a few teams that could be Cinderellas in this year’s tournament. For the purposes of this discussion, we will consider a Cinderella to be a team whose odds are at least +1000 to make the respective stage in the tournament (Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four). Let’s dive in, but make sure you read our college basketball picks for EVERY NCAA Tournament matchup.

To reach the Sweet 16: Colorado Buffaloes (+1100)

Odds available at DraftKings Sportsbook at time of publishing.

The first choice for a potential Cinderella is Colorado to reach the Sweet 16 (+1100 at DraftKings Sportsbook). Unlike most teams, Colorado will need to win 3 games in order to reach the Sweet 16, as they play Boise State in the First Four. The Buffaloes are a small favorite in that game and if they were to win, they would face #7 seed Florida on Friday. That matchup would likely be a coinflip and Colorado could even be favored. The Buffaloes sit 3 spots higher than Florida in KenPom’s rankings and the Gators recently lost their starting center Micah Handlogten to injury. His loss would be felt against a Colorado team that takes the 12th-most shots at the rim, per Hoop-Math.

If Colorado can get past Florida, they would almost certainly play #2 seed Marquette. Marquette would be around a 4 or 5-point favorite, but Colorado has the talent to win that game. Marquette allows threes at a top-25 rate in the country and Colorado ranks 5th nationally in three-point percentage. It’s also worth mentioning that Marquette star Tyler Kolek missed the Big East Tournament due to injury. He’s going to be available for the NCAA Tournament, but it’s possible he is less than 100 percent.

See our expert’s NCAA Tournament winner predictions for March Madness, including a +4000 longshot!

To reach the Sweet 16: Akron Zips (+2000)

Odds available at DraftKings Sportsbook at time of publishing.

Another potential Cinderella I am targeting is Akron to reach the Sweet 16 (+2000 at DraftKings Sportsbook). Akron is sitting around a 13-point underdog in their opening-round matchup, but there is some optimism in their chances of competing with the Bluejays. Akron has four starters back from their 2022 NCAA Tournament team that nearly beat #4 seed UCLA. Creighton is an excellent team but they can be prone to bad games due to their reliance on three-pointers. Only six teams in the country have a higher three-point attempt rate than Creighton, so it is possible that they “die by the three.” Akron is very good at contesting jump shots, as they forced “guarded jumpers” at the 31st-highest rate in the country, per Synergy. 

Despite that, Akron is still unlikely to get past Creighton. However, if they do, they’ll face the winner of #6 South Carolina and #11 Oregon. Akron would be an underdog against either of those teams, but South Carolina is the weakest #6 seed in the bracket according to KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin and Oregon would not have been in the field if not for winning the Pac-12 Tournament. It’s certainly a long shot, but at +2000, Akron has some Cinderella potential.

Read our full March Madness 68-team bracket guide for info on EVERY team!

To reach the Final Four: Michigan State Spartans (+2200)

Odds available at DraftKings Sportsbook at time of publishing.

It’s hard to believe that Michigan State would be considered a Cinderella after where the Spartans were picked in the preseason. Michigan State ranked 4th in the preseason AP Poll but earned just a #9 seed in the Big Dance. Some would say they did not even earn that, as they finished just 19-14 overall. However, the metrics still like the Spartans, as they rank 18th in KenPom, 23rd in BartTorvik, and 24th in ShotQuality. These metrics would lead the Spartans to be only about a four-point underdog to #1 seed North Carolina, should Michigan State get past Mississippi State. To reach the Final Four, you’re likely going to need to knock off the #1 seed in the region at some point, so why not in the Second Round? 

If Michigan State could defeat UNC, their most likely opponents would be #4 Alabama or #5 Saint Mary’s, both of which would have likely point spreads of less than one possession. Lurking in the bottom half of the region is #3 Baylor and #2 Arizona. Michigan State beat Baylor by 24 points in December and lost to Arizona by just six points in November. The eye test would tell you that Michigan State has virtually no shot of reaching the Final Four, and it’s very possible they lose their opening game. However, their metrics suggest that there is the slightest chance that they are this year’s Cinderella Final Four team.

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