2013 Cinderella Casting: Big Sky, Big West, Mid-American, Mountain West, Southland, Western Athletic Auto Bids

March 17, 2013

It’s finally here!

Today is the day that I look forward to about five minutes after the college bowl season has concluded. Selection Sunday is kind of like Christmas for sports nerds, if Christmas consisted of arguing about which present you got is actually going to survive the first few weeks of use.

Six more teams from small or mid-major conferences punched their ticket to the Big Dance last night after my first article was published, so we’ll take a look at those teams. Also, only one mid-major conference (Atlantic 10) has yet to determine its automatic bid recipient, so it’s likely that I’ll cover the A-10 once the brackets have already been released.

Big Sky

Automatic Bid: Montana

Projected Seed: 14 or 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Big Sky Conference lucked out and its best team during the regular season came through during the conference tournament. Montana went 19-1 in the Big Sky this season, and its only loss came to the conference’s second best team, Weber State, which compiled an 18-2 conference record. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, the rest of the conference wasn’t very good, and the seed they receive in the NCAA Tournament will likely reflect that.

Montana isn’t going to be an easy out for any team, though. The Grizzlies appear to be about as good as some of the other mid-major teams across the country based on head-to-head matchups. Close games against Davidson and South Dakota State (two teams I’m buying into right now) suggest that Montana would be a dangerous team were they given a No. 13 or possibly even a No. 14 seed. If things hold true and they receive a No. 15 seed, though, the athleticism of Montana’s opponent will probably be too much to overcome. As with many teams, seeding will play a big role in Montana’s potential to be a Cinderella.

Big West

Automatic Bid: Pacific

Projected Seed: 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Tigers are one of the more interesting mid-major teams you will encounter in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Pacific is stock full of upperclassmen, with 15 of them listed on the roster. Bob Thomason’s team is also very deep, as an astounding 12 players have appeared in at least 19 games this season and average at least six minutes of playing time per game. Only one player (Lorenzo McCloud) averages double-digits in scoring, but eight guys can shoot the three with decent accuracy (the Tigers are tied for 24th in the nation in three point shooting percentage).

What this all means is that Pacific is an extremely difficult team to prepare for in a short amount of time. The Tigers aren’t one of the premier mid-major squads this season, but they are a bit of a mystery as to how good they can really be if they play flawlessly. Chances are they’ll be beat pretty soundly by a top seed, but if they come out shooting well, don’t be surprised if they are in a dogfight (or catfight?) at halftime.


Automatic Bid: Akron

Projected Seed: 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

Think the Pacific Tigers are a mystery? Try figuring out the Akron Zips, the best team that no one can prove is actually good. Akron doesn’t have a whole lot on the resume (its best victory is over a Middle Tennessee State team that should but might not be dancing), but took care of business for most of the season, including a 19-game win streak that was the best in the nation at the time. However, the Zips did falter a bit near the end of the year, stumbling at Buffalo and at home against Kent State to end the regular season.

The ace up Akron’s sleeve is a solid basis of upperclassmen leadership headed by senior center Zeke Marshall, one of the nation’s leading shot blockers and also one of the best at finishing underneath the basket. Marshall’s efforts willed his team to victory over Ohio in the MAC championship game, and his tenacity will serve this team well in the NCAA Tournament. Marshall will scare teams into taking shots they don’t want to, and it will be up to Akron’s guards to hit shots on the other end. This is definitely a team that has the ability to beat good teams; we just haven’t seen them do it yet. They’ll get their chance in less than a week.

Mountain West

Automatic Bid: New Mexico

Projected Seed: 2 or 3

Probability of being a Cinderella: N/A

Other teams from the conference that will probably get in: San Diego State, UNLV, Colorado State, Boise State

According to conference RPI rankings, the Mountain West is the strongest conference in college basketball this year. While many Big Ten fans would argue that, and rightly so, it should be noted that the Mountain West Conference is perhaps the most balanced league from top to bottom in the nation, and it would be a tragedy if its best teams were not rewarded for that. Being rewarded starts with giving New Mexico the seed that it deserves, which is a No. 2 seed and at the very lowest a No. 3 seed.

The Lobos won’t be a Cinderella story by any stretch, but Steve Alford’s team is good enough to make it to Atlanta. The guard play on this team is very solid, and although New Mexico has come out flat against some teams this season, it is clear that they are capable of beating anyone when they play well. This isn’t a team to sleep on, but it’s also probably not a team to put all your trust in either, because they have been known to sleepwalk through games and come up empty in the past.


Automatic Bid: Northwestern State

Projected Seed: 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

I’m not exactly thrilled with the Demons, not only because they knocked off one of my small conference favorites in Stephen F. Austin, but also because their win in the Southland title game snapped my 12-game win streak in ESPN’s Streak for the Cash (for the record, that was the longest streak I’ve ever had). However, the Demons deserved the victory, and they’ve probably got about as good a chance of being a Cinderella as the Lumberjacks would have had.

While Stephen F. Austin was the nation’s second best defensive team in terms of points allowed per game, Northwestern State is the nation’s best offensive team. The Demons will obviously look to get out to a quick start against whomever they play, and although I wouldn’t hold my breath for them to shock anyone, they have done it before. Since they can score at will, they should be a fun team to watch, much like LIU Brooklyn. But Northwestern State’s tournament stay will probably be a short one.

Western Athletic

Automatic Bid: New Mexico State

Projected Seed: 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Aggies probably won’t be playing in more than one NCAA Tournament game this year, but try to watch them anyways because you won’t be disappointed. New Mexico State has a monster at center in 7’5″ Canadian Sim Bhullar which is enough to make it worth your while. Bhullar isn’t just in the game for kicks, either. The freshman averages 10.2 points and 2.4 blocks per game, and simply cannot be moved out of the post since he is 355 pounds.

Four players average double digits in scoring, so the Aggies are not a one man show. In fact, they’re not even that bad a team, finishing third in the WAC which typically produces one or two decent squads each year. However, Louisiana Tech was the prize pig in the conference this season, and it’s likely that the Bulldogs were the only team from the WAC that could have made significant noise in the NCAA Tournament. What a terrible year to be a Louisiana Tech fan after the bowl game fiasco, huh?

– K. Becks

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