2019 Cinderella Casting: America East, Atlantic 10, Big Sky, Big West, Conference USA, Ivy, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Mid-American, Mountain West, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Sun Belt and Western Athletic Auto Bids

March 17, 2019
By K. Becks

The day has finally arrived.

Selection Sunday, also known as “Second Christmas” to some, is a day filled with enough anticipation, anxiety and stress from teams to fill U.S. Bank Stadium. Those things will be replaced with two emotions – happiness or sadness – by about 6:30 PM ET, a harsh reality for some teams currently on the Bubble.

Not everyone wins here.

To lighten the mood, today Around The Corn will cover the teams that are already safe. The automatic bids are simply waiting for their seeding and destination, which is a much more relaxing state to be in today.

If only we could all be so lucky.

America East

Automatic Bid: Vermont

Projected Seed: 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

John Becker’s squad is a complete team, starting with its best. Go-to scorer Anthony Lamb (21.4 PPG) is also a force in the blocks, averaging nearly two blocks per game. Lamb’s scoring prowess will give this team a decent chance at going punch for punch with whomever it is matched up against. The Catamounts are also a good free throw shooting team, so if they are in a close one down the stretch where they need to salt the game away, count on Coach Becker’s guys to finish the job.

The America East Conference will always be synonymous with the term “Giant Killer” following UMBC’s improbable upset of No. 1 seed Virginia last season. But don’t expect things to stop there – this conference has produced good teams before that and this Vermont squad is a tough outfit as well. The Catamounts will be competitive and has what it takes to play multiple games in this year’s Tournament.

Atlantic 10

Automatic Bid: Saint Louis

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

Potential at-large bids: Virginia Commonwealth

The Billikens already have experience as a Cinderella this March, storming through the A-10 Tournament as the six seed, needing four victories in as many days to secure a spot in the Big Dance. Saint Louis needed some luck and a second half comeback to beat St. Bonaventure, the same team the Billikens lost to at the end of the regular season just over a week prior. Travis Ford’s squad is good on the defensive end, and will need to stifle its opponent in the NCAA Tournament to have a shot at playing multiple games. Javon Bess is a scorer and is good at creating his own opportunities, but overall the Billikens are not a particularly good shooting team from the field.

Although the Atlantic 10 is consistently one of the better conferences under the “mid-major” umbrella, 2019 has been a bit of a down year for the league. Saint Louis has obviously got to feel good about its chances after having blown through its conference tournament unexpectedly, but chances are that a several day break is not a good thing for this team and it will come back down to Earth by the time it plays its next game.

Big Sky

Automatic Bid: Montana

Projected Seed: 13 or 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Grizzlies are headed to the Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since 2012/2013 and looking to win its first Tournament game since 2006. That’ll be easier said than done for Travis DeCuire’s bunch, though. Montana shoots the ball very well, hitting shots at a 49.7 percent clip, good for seventh best in the country. The Grizzlies also have good balance offensively, with three players (Jamar Akoh, Ahmaad Rorie, Sayeed Pridgett) averaging 15 points per contest. And although it make not look it at first glance, the Grizzlies played a decent non-conference schedule according to KenPom’s metric.

The biggest unknown about this team is whether its offense will show up in the NCAA Tournament. The aforementioned non-conference schedule was somewhat rough for the Grizzlies, with blowout losses against Creighton and Arizona suggesting that Montana may have trouble with bigger teams. This team will have a shot only if it shoots the ball as well or better than its season average.

Big West

Automatic Bid: UC Irvine

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

Playing on the West Coast can make it difficult to gain attention from the East Coast based media outlets, which is a shame for teams like UC Irvine, a dangerous squad that has a good chance to do some major damage in the Big Dance. The Anteaters are a top 20 defense nationally and are No. 11 in the country in rebounding, thanks to plenty of size down low. Senior Jonathan Galloway averages more boards (8) than points (7) per game, doing so while averaging just 24 minutes per game. Galloway’s partner in crime down low, Colin Welp, is only a freshman but plays like a seasoned veteran.

While the Anteaters won’t be outmatched down low, their perimeter shooting is what makes them a good choice for an upset pick. Guards Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard, the two leading scorers on the team, average around 40 percent from behind the arc. Russell Turner’s team may have been overlooked during the regular season despite racking up 30 victories, but chances are good that they won’t be come Tournament time.

Conference USA

Automatic Bid: Old Dominion

Projected Seed: 13 or 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Monarchs play at one of the slowest paces of any team that will be in the Field of 68, which should allow Jeff Jones’s team to stay in its first game for the entire 40 minutes. Old Dominion gets good production offensively from a trio of guards in B.J. Stith, Ahmad Carver and Xavier Green, with Stith being most heavily relied upon. Although Carver leads the team in three point attempts, he is only about a 30 percent shooter from beyond the arc. Too many missed opportunities could hurt a team that only gets so many offensive possessions due to its pace.

On paper, the Monarchs look like a team that could make some noise in the Tournament. They were the class of their conference all season, have an 8-4 record in road games (including a big victory at the Carrier Dome against Syarcuse in mid-December) and often force opponents to take low percentage shots. At the very least, the Monarchs will have a lot of people holding their breath late in the second half of their Round of 64 game.

Ivy

Automatic Bid: Yale

Projected Seed: 12

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Ivy League no longer awards the regular season champ an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but its best team still managed to punch its ticket in 2019. Yale and Harvard shared the regular season title, but the Bulldogs were the better team by way of head-to-head battles, including the conference tournament final. Unsurprisingly, Yale will be a tough out, but this isn’t your grandfather’s Ivy League representative to the Big Dance. The Bulldogs can score, averaging 80.6 points per contest, good for No. 25 in the country. A pair of guards in Miye Oni and Alex Copeland lead the way for the Bulldogs, both of whom can hit the three point shot with regularity.

While Oni and Copeland are going to get their touches, Yale does utilize the frontcourt quite efficiently as well. Sophomore Paul Atkinson and junior Jordan Bruner, at 6’10” and 6’9” respectively, log significant minutes and Bruner in particular does a nice job on the boards. The Ivy League is known for putting teams into the Tournament that can ruin brackets, and there’s reason to suggest that Yale can continue that trend.

Mid-Eastern Athletic

Automatic Bid: North Carolina Central

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Eagles almost didn’t make it to the Big Dance, needing a furious comeback in the second half of the MEAC title game to take down Norfolk State 50-47. North Carolina Central is a solid basketball team, playing good defense that complements its slow-it-down tempo offensively. Expect the Eagles to want to keep the score in the low 60s max to have a chance at playing multiple games.

While LeVelle Moton’s team could win a First Four game with stifling defense, it won’t work to perfection against a top seed. The Eagles will have trouble dictating the pace against the big boys and physically will have trouble in the post. Center Raasean Davis is the team’s most consistent scorer, but he is only 6’8”.

Mid-American

Automatic Bid: Buffalo

Projected Seed: 6

Probability of being a Cinderella: N/A

The Bulls are a very good basketball team and would have made the NCAA Tournament without winning the MAC Tournament, so they’ll hardly be considered a Cinderella by winning just a couple games. However, for good measure Nate Oats’s guys did win the conference tournament anyway and eclipsed the 30 win mark in the semifinals. This senior laden squad (four of its top five scorers are seniors) knows what it takes to win Tournament games and can score points in a hurry. Guards CJ Massinburg and Jeremy Harris work well together on the perimeter and both are adept at finding Nick Perkins down low for easy buckets.

From a matchup standpoint, the Bulls will feel confident against almost any team they face. Massinburg and Harris are terrific guards, but the Bulls also clean up on the boards averaging over 41 rebounds per contest, which is tied for fourth in the country. This is not a squad that any team will want to see opposite its name, and Buffalo should be favored in at least one of its matchups in the Big Dance. This team has Sweet 16 written all over it.

Mountain West

Automatic Bid: Utah State

Projected Seed: 10

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

Potential at-large bids: Nevada

The Aggies were regular season co-champs of the Mountain West along with Nevada, and the only thing separating Utah State from the Wolf Pack was perception and a set of twins. Craig Smith’s team matches up well with Nevada in KenPom’s metrics, but the Aggies do tend to slow things down more offensively. Junior guard Sam Merrill is a terrific scorer and can take over games, while center Neemias Queta is tough to stop down low at 6’11”.

Utah State has all the tools necessary to make a deep run in the Tournament and is playing its best basketball right now, currently riding a 10 game winning streak. While Nevada got most of the attention in the MWC this season, the Aggies may actually be the better team and are more likely to make a run in the Big Dance.

Southland

Automatic Bid: Abilene Christian

Projected Seed: 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Wildcats have only been a Division 1 program for six seasons, so making its first NCAA Tournament appearance so quickly is an accomplishment in its own right. Abilene Christian has overcome adversity to get to this point, dealing with the dismissal of two of its better players (center Jalone Friday and guard B.J. Maxwell) about a month ago. The loss of Friday, who was the biggest body seeing significant minutes, will probably make itself apparent against a more physical top seeded team.

Senior Jaren Lewis, who had 20 points in the Southland title game against New Orelans, will be relied upon heavily for scoring output in the Wildcats’ Tournament game. If Lewis is unable to have a similar impact in the Big Dance, Abilene Christian will likely struggle to score points. The Wildcats faithful will just be happy to be making an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but it won’t last long.

Southwestern Athletic

Automatic Bid: Prairie View A&M

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The story of the 2019 Prairie View A&M squad is an interesting one. After starting the season 1-11, the Panthers reeled off 21 of its next 22 games en route to a SWAC regular season and tournament title. The Panthers were three games better than runner-up Texas Southern.

The Panthers like to push the pace and will be comfortable engaging in a high scoring affair. However, they often run a four guard set and could face some unenviable matchup issues against one of the top seeds in the Tournament. This team will have some exciting moments, but don’t expect Prairie View A&M to bust brackets.

Sun Belt

Automatic Bid: Georgia State

Projected Seed: 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Panthers are making back-to-back Tournament appearances for the first time in school history and are no stranger to being a Cinderella, most recently doing so in 2015 when head coach Ron Hunter’s son, R.J., was the hero for the team. While these Panthers don’t have a player with quite the individual talent of the younger Hunter, guard D’Marcus Simonds can get buckets, averaging 18.7 points per game. Overall, Georgia State is a good shooting team and five players average double-digits in scoring.

Coach Hunter trusts in his starting five, but a lack of bench depth could be an issue for this team. Only five players average at least 20 minutes of playing time, and against a bigger, more physical opponent, the Panthers risk running out of gas. In order to be a Cinderella, the Panthers may need to play to a slower pace than they are used to, and it’s not usually recommended to change the style that got you to this point.

Western Athletic

Automatic Bid: New Mexico State

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Aggies are making their third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament and their eighth this decade. That kind of consistency is difficult to achieve, even for a team playing in a conference like the WAC. And while New Mexico State doesn’t play the strongest competition in league, early season results against teams like Kansas (a 63-60 loss on the road) suggest the Aggies will be able to hang against whomever they play.

Chris Jans utilizes his bench as much as any coach in the country, with 13 players on New Mexico State’s roster average double-digit minutes this season. Bench depth paired with a true team approach offensively (only guard Terrell Brown averages double-digits in scoring) makes this a difficult team to prepare to play. The Aggies can score a lot of points and play solid defense as well, making them a complete team. New Mexico State has come close a number of times in recent years, but hasn’t won a Tournament game since 1993. Expect this squad to have a very good shot at ending the drought.

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