2013 Cinderella Casting: Atlantic Sun, Big South, Ivy, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley Auto Bids

March 11, 2013

Folks, the most wonderful time of the year (not to be confused with Capital One Bowl Week) has returned. It’s March Madness time.

The “Cinderella Casting” articles are one of my favorite segments to do each year, because I’m a big fan of trying to predict which small and mid-major conference teams will have a shot at upsetting one of the big boys. In my mind, there is nothing better than a team no one else has heard of beating one of the major powers and being able to say “yea, I thought they had a chance to do that. Go check out my blog.”

Of course, very few people ever go actually look for proof. But at least I can honestly say I had a hunch that a team would do well, and it’s in writing.

Not surprisingly, my bracket success doesn’t normally reflect the amount of attention that I pay to some of the smaller conferences throughout the season. In fact, I think it may actually work against me. But I’m not going to stop any time soon, because March is one of my favorite times to write for ATC.

So here’s the skinny for those of you that have never read one of my Casting Cinderella articles: As the small and mid-major conference tournaments finish up, I’ll break down each champion’s potential to be a Cinderella, project the seeding for those teams and let you know of any other teams from the conference that have a shot at making the Big Dance. New articles will pop up on the site all week long leading up to Selection Sunday, so be sure to check back every day.

Atlantic Sun

Automatic Bid: Florida Gulf Coast

Projected Seed: 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Eagles didn’t wait long to cash in on their NCAA Tournament eligibility, punching their first tournament bid in just their second season being able to do so. Although Florida Gulf Coast is from a small conference, one can’t really make the argument that they will be intimidated by their opponent in the NCAA Tournament. Andy Enfield’s team played a very difficult non-conference schedule, including games on the road against VCU, Duke and Iowa State. The Eagles also boast a victory over Miami, which isn’t something many ACC teams can say, let alone a team from the Atlantic Sun.

Although they are a fairly exciting team because of their pesky defensive style (averaging 9 steals per game as a team), chances are that Florida Gulf Coast will only hang around for about one half against a more athletic squad. Senior guard Sherwood Brown is a very solid player to keep an eye on, but other than him the Eagles are a pretty overachieving bunch. They deserve congratulations for making it this far, but probably aren’t a true threat to make it past the second round.

Big South

Automatic Bid: Liberty

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Flames are just the second team in the history of the NCAA Tournament to earn a berth while losing at least 20 games during the regular season. The other team to do so was Coppin State in 2008, and the Eagles ended up in Dayton for the play-in game. Barring some odd turn of events where at least two more teams with 20-plus losses win their conference tournament, Liberty will end up in Dayton as well.

Since most people don’t count a play-in game victory as a true upset, the Flames would have to not only win that game, but also knock off a No. 1 seed to be considered a bracket buster. I’m always one for leaving the door open just a crack, but I don’t think the chances of that happening are very good. Liberty is likely a one-and-done squad next week, but will be enjoying the experience either way.


Automatic Bid: Harvard

Projected Seed: 14 or 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

One thing you can be sure about the Ivy League representative is that it is the best team in the league, because the regular season champion receives the automatic bid as opposed to the conference tournament champion. This season, Harvard was far and away the best team in the conference, winning the league by two games over Princeton. The bad thing about the league is that sometimes the regular season champion can back its way into the tournament, and isn’t the team that is truly playing the best basketball right now. Luckily, that isn’t the case for Harvard, as the Crimson have won six of eight and were competitive in the two road losses. Thus, Harvard really deserves to be playing in the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year.

While the Crimson aren’t necessarily a bad team, they weren’t able to secure a marquee win this season and will probably be relegated to one of the lower seeds in the tournament. With two of its best players not available due to an academic cheating scandal that took place last September, Harvard is not the same team as the one that nearly upset Vanderbilt in the 2012 Big Dance. An Ivy League team is never one to take lightly, and it isn’t crazy to think that the Crimson could once again give its opponent trouble. But an actual victory in this year’s tournament seems unlikely.

Missouri Valley

Automatic Bid: Creighton

Projected Seed: Anywhere from 8 to 10

Probability of being a Cinderella: N/A

Other teams from the conference that will probably get in: Wichita State

Like last year, the Blue Jays have been in the national spotlight enough thanks to National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott that they cannot seriously be considered a Cinderella, unless they make it past the Sweet 16. Not much has changed for Greg McDermott’s team, as Creighton is still a very solid offensive team and would like to simply outscore opponents. However, the Blue Jays are even more deadly from three point range this season, hitting 42.1% of their shots from behind the arc, good enough for second best in the nation.

If Creighton is hitting the three ball and McDermott is allowed room to work down low as a result, this is a very dangerous team that has the talent to knock off one of the top seeds. This is also a team that could lose in the first round though, as the Blue Jays do not play particularly solid defense. If the regular season is any indication, teams facing McDermott for the first time will have difficulty slowing him down. Few teams had success shutting down McDermott this season, and most of them were squads that had seen the Blue Jays twice. This is good news for Creighton fans, because the coach’s son is the focal point of the offense and his play often times dictates how well the team is doing.

Ohio Valley

Automatic Bid: Belmont

Projected Seed: 12

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Bruins have to be considered a tournament regular now, as 2013 will mark the team’s sixth NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. This is no small feat considering that the conference it played in (Atlantic Sun) and currently plays in (Ohio Valley) typically only send the conference tournament champion to the Big Dance. As usual, Belmont is a suspect bracket buster, rolling into the tournament with a 26-6 overall record and being one of the nation’s better three point shooting squads (at 38.6%).

Rick Byrd’s 2013 team isn’t really any more talented than any of his other squads that have made the tournament in recent years, which could spell trouble since Belmont has yet to win a single NCAA Tournament game in its five previous appearances. But seeding has a lot to do with past results, as the Bruins have taken on very tough squads in the first round including Georgetown, Wisconsin and Duke. If Belmont does in fact draw a No. 5 seed in its first game, they are more than capable of shooting lights out and leaving their opponent wondering what hit them. Not that many people were going to anyway, but this is not a team to totally overlook.

– K. Becks

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