March Madness Underdogs Shine With Sunstone Way To Sweet Sixteen 

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Welcome back to The Sunstone Way. 

Are you excited yet? I am! Those first two rounds of games in the NCAA March Madness tournament were something. 

It’s hard to believe that North Carolina State is in the Sweet 16, and maybe harder to believe that Kentucky isn’t. But that’s the wonder and joy of college basketball – on any given day, any team can win if the ball bounces the right way. 

I speak here of the men’s tournament. Historically, there are more upsets in the men’s bracket than there are in the women’s bracket – I’m not sure why, but statistics don’t lie. There was only one mild upset in the first round of the women’s tournament. 

Back of the Pack 

I hope you are familiar with the concept of seeding. It is a way to create sports brackets by ranking teams, then matching the “best” against the “worst,” the “second-best” against the “second-worst” and so forth to reward the higher seeded teams for playing better during the regular season.  

And at least in March Madness, it is the judgment of a selection committee of who are the best teams.  But those low seeds can be pretty great teams, too. They made it to the tournament, didn’t they? And everyone loves to root for the underdog in sports, particularly when it involves someone pursuing their dream against all odds. 

So when you see a run of wins from someone like Colorado, who had to win a “First Four” game just to get in the tournament, it can be thrilling to become part of their journey by picking them to take down a higher seed who is favored by everyone else to go deep into the tournament. (Especially if you’re from Colorado like our Managing Editor at Sunstone Harry Saltzgaver). 


While it’s true that the big-name programs like UConn, North Carolina or Duke have more money than the Duquesne Dukes or the McNeese State Cowboys, all of the teams know the value of preparation. They all work hard on conditioning throughout the season, and they all have professional trainers (some actual M.D.s) to keep their athletes in the best shape possible. 

They study film of their opponents and film of themselves, always looking for an edge or a way to eliminate a negative tendency. A talented coach puts their players in a position to succeed – those with less talent tell their players to find a position.  They also pull their strategies from great coaches like John Wooden and the Pyramid of Success — remember that one which we discussed a few weeks ago? 

If it sounds like I’m trying to create a metaphor for a good startup company (or any company, for that matter), that’s because I am. No good Founder tries to start a company without doing the work to prepare themselves by tuning up their skills. They have to work to build the endurance needed for the long fight to success.  It also takes a lot of courage, creativity, cost and risk because there is no guarantee that the outcome will be successful.  Sound a little like the American Dream? 

At Sunstone, we believe that we are both a fan and a coach able to develop these players’ talents, and to put these players in the position to succeed. There are other successful coaches out there, to be sure. We plan to have our team ready to compete, as well. 


So if all these teams are so talented and motivated, how does an underdog get on a winning streak? 


Players on these less-than-marquee teams seldom if ever expect to be lottery picks in the next NBA draft. In this era of Name-Image-Likeness (NIL) money being paid to college athletes, precious little of that cash trickles down to the Samford Universities of the world. 

Instead, these teams are driven by the passion to show they belong. When Florida Atlantic made it to the Final Four last year, it wasn’t their overwhelming size that got them there – at least not the height size. It was the size of their hearts and some tenacious defense required to compensate for fewer resources. 

They played with passion, and they played as a team. They brought their whole university community together around them. By the time they took the court in the Final Four, they had brought the whole country (at least the basketball fans) together around them. 

It’s still too early to tell who the real Cinderella will be in 2024. The games this weekend, starting today, will determine that. 

But one thing is for sure. That team will show its preparation, its passion, and its heart. That’s The Sunstone Way. 

And as always, be a Sunstone! 

John Keisler 

CEO & Managing Partner 

Sunstone Management, Inc. 

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More About Sunstone Management 
Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital sponsor firm headquartered in Southern California. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row. In the latest Pitchbook rankings, Sunstone Management was #15 in the third quarter of 2023 nationally, and #18 in the fourth quarter.1 

© Sunstone Management Inc., 2024 

1-As reported in PitchBook Venture Monitor Q3 2023 and Q4 2023. 

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