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Giant Killers: Beware of 'Wounded Lions' like Cincinnati and Syracuse

Cincinnati junior guard Troy Caupain leads the Bearcats in assists with 4.4 per game. Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

We usually think of Cinderella as a fresh-faced ingenue, but who says she can’t be a grad student, returning after missing a prom or two to show everyone she can still dance?

That’s a question we have been facing more frequently as we search for Giant Killers, teams capable of pulling off big NCAA tournament upsets -- which we define as wins over opponents seeded at least five slots higher in the field of 68. Sure, Davids who launch from smaller conferences and rocket through their brackets, like Davidson in 2008 or VCU in 2011, give us all the greatest thrills. But another kind of underdogs also can find March Madness success: teams from multibid conferences that have taken some hits and piled up some losses but are still strong enough to upend Goliaths. We call these squads “Wounded Lions.”

Some have suffered injuries or suspensions, some have needed time to play well together and some have simply been underseeded. But whatever their issues, power-conference teams with Killer seeds can be scary. Think Minnesota in 2013, a team that lost 10 of its last 15 regular-season games, was under .500 in the Big Ten and was considered fortunate to land an 11-seed -- but that also led the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and went on to crush UCLA in the NCAA tournament.