2019 Cinderella Casting: Patriot, Summit and West Coast Auto Bids

March 14, 2019
By K. Becks

Following Wednesday evening, the constant stream of mid-major conference champions being crowned will slow until the weekend, with the power conferences taking over the television networks for the next few days. But in no way can that news be misconstrued as a break in the pre-NCAA Tournament coverage.

The Bubble picture continues to alter its shape by the literal hour, with games like Thursday afternoon’s Ohio State-Indiana battle in the Big Ten serving as a de facto play-in game for both teams. Given this fluidity and the number of solid mid-majors on that Bubble, it begs the question, “when is the best time for a small or mid-major conference to schedule its tournament?”

The answer, unsurprisingly, is complicated. Weighing the tradeoff between prime television spots and the opportunity to secure extra Tournament slots in the event several solid teams exist within your league is a real headache. The former provides additional revenue and crucial visibility, but the latter takes advantage of the Committee’s tendency to remain slightly undecided until the final whistle blows on Sunday afternoon.

Today, we’ll cover teams that may have nailed the happy medium – not too early to be forgotten, but not too late to be overshadowed.

Patriot

Automatic Bid: Colgate

Projected Seed: 14 or 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

It has been 23 years since the Raiders have been to the NCAA Tournament, so the Colgate faithful are going to be ecstatic just to be playing next week. But Matt Langel’s squad will be looking to do more than just enjoy the moment having run through the Patriot League tournament this week without a ton of trouble, beating all three of its opponents by at least 10 points.

Sophomore guard Jordan Burns is a proven scorer who lead the way in the conference title game with 35 points, but the Raiders are a good shooting team overall and will likely rely on forward Rapolas Ivanauskas to set the offensive tone. Colgate isn’t likely to be able to drop 90 points on anyone in the NCAA Tournament, but the 6’10” Ivanauskas gives Coach Langel’s team the opportunity to slow things down and look for efficient shots and trips to the free throw line. The big man shoots 78.6 percent from the charity stripe, good for someone his size. It would not be implausible that Colgate gives its Round of 64 opponent a scare.

Summit

Automatic Bid: North Dakota State

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Bison have appeared in three previous NCAA Tournaments, all within the past 10 years, but 2019’s team will likely be the first to receive the Tournament’s lowest seed. North Dakota State was a surprise coming out of the Summit League, entering the conference’s tournament at .500 overall and having lost three of its last four games. But the Summit League is also a stronger conference than most of the others that will see its representative to the Big Dance receive a No. 16 seed, so there is hope for David Richman’s squad.

By playing at a snail’s pace, North Dakota State may be able to weather the storm of a high powered offense better than most low seeds. But unless Vinnie Shahid, Tyson Ward & Co. have an otherworldly game shooting the ball, the Bison lack the movement on offense to make a top seed too uncomfortable. Coach Richman’s squad should be favored in any play-in game, but don’t expect a Cinderella story here.

West Coast

Automatic Bid: Saint Mary’s (CA)

Projected Seed: 11 or 12

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

Potential at-large bids: Gonzaga

It became clear midway through the West Coast Conference’s title game that Saint Mary’s was not a team that others will want to see opposite their name in the NCAA Tournament. The Gaels, most often the bridesmaid to the ‘Zags in a conference few casual basketball fans even know exist, held the Bulldogs to their lowest point total in a game this season, by 20 points. This is significant for two reasons: Gonzaga led the nation in points per game (88.8 PPG) this year, and stifling defense has been Saint Mary’s M.O. all season long.

This isn’t Randy Bennett’s first rodeo, so he’ll definitely have his team focused for its first round of the Big Dance. And while they weren’t the impact players last time the Gaels played in the NCAA Tournament, in 2017, four of the top five scorers from this year’s squad were on that team and have a sense of the Tournament atmosphere. Tough defense along with a go-to guy offensively in guard Jordan Ford makes this team a difficult out for whomever they play, and a good bet to be one of the popular bracket buster picks in this year’s Dance thanks to some name recognition. The Gaels don’t play the sexist brand of basketball, but their style has proven to be successful in the postseason and probably will be again.

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