2013 Cinderella Casting: Colonial Athletic, Metro Atlantic, Southern, Sun Belt, West Coast Auto Bids

March 12, 2013

After all the hype that surrounded it, the West Coast Conference final ended up being one of the more boring games to watch last night. Five more teams punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, and Gonzaga’s victory over St. Mary’s was the most newsworthy only due to the fact that the Bulldogs made a case for why they should be a No. 1 seed.

Several of the teams that won last night capped off what was an amazing three or four day run, earning them a tournament berth after having seasons that were good but not necessarily great. Of course, none of that matters now as those teams know they have a spot in the NCAA Tournament and won’t be sweating it out on Sunday. Let’s take a look at the five most recent automatic bids to the Big Dance.

Colonial Athletic

Automatic Bid: James Madison

Projected Seed: 15 or 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

It has been 19 years since James Madison has played in an NCAA Tournament game, and while the Dukes probably won’t receive nearly as high a seed as some CAA teams have gotten in recent years, they will be happy to be playing nonetheless. There isn’t really anything special about Matt Brady’s team, but that is what makes them a candidate to totally shock everyone in about a week. The Dukes are led by six seniors that have played in just one postseason tournament game in their collegiate careers, which essentially provides them a “nothing to lose” mentality going up against one of the top seeds.

The Dukes are probably going to receive too low of a seed to be taken seriously by most fans, but don’t be surprised if they give a team trouble for a half or so. James Madison has appeared in just five NCAA Tournaments all-time, but has amassed a very impressive 3-4 record in those appearances. Plus, the CAA is one of the better conferences for a 15 or 16 seed to come from.

Metro Atlantic

Automatic Bid: Iona

Projected Seed: 15 or 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Gaels will be making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history, but don’t expect the team to cause as much of an uproar as they did last season. For one, Iona secured an automatic berth to the tournament as opposed to receiving a controversial at-large bid. Also, while the team is third in the nation in total scoring, the Gaels are not very strong on the defensive end and could have a lot of trouble stopping whatever high-powered opponent they are matched up against.

Tim Cluess’s team is led by a couple of high scoring guards in Lamont Jones and Sean Armand, both of whom were around to experience last season’s exciting run by the Gaels. And although the team is one of the better ones in the nation at distributing the ball even without point guard Scott Machado, it is unlikely that their up-tempo style will catch teams such as Gonzaga or Louisville off guard. It might be harsh to say that this team is a shell of the one that made the Big Dance last year, but there really isn’t any better way to spin it. The team should be congratulated for making it back to the tournament, but it will likely be a one game stay.


Automatic Bid: Davidson

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Southern Conference could not have asked for a better team to represent it in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Bob McKillop’s team is making its second consecutive trip to the Big Dance, and once again will be a chic pick to upset a higher seed in the second round. The Wildcats were far and away the best team in the conference, last suffering a defeat back on January 17th, and played well out-of-conference as well, holding their own against teams such as New Mexico, Gonzaga and Duke.

Davidson has solid senior leadership in seniors Jake Cohen, Nik Cochran and JP Kuhlman, all of whom have NCAA Tournament experience. In particular, Davidson’s backcourt is one of the best in the country thanks to Cochran and Kuhlman, averaging just fewer than 11 turnovers per game. The Wildcats may not have any players that will blow you away, but they are talented enough to hang around with anyone and disciplined enough to close the deal if they do have a lead near the end of the game. Even if you’re someone who only picks a couple upsets in their bracket, Davidson should be on your radar.

Sun Belt

Automatic Bid: Western Kentucky

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

Continuing the trend of the past few years, the Sun Belt Conference tournament ended up being crazy and didn’t spit out the team that we thought it would. This year, Middle Tennessee State was the favorite, but instead Western Kentucky snuck out of Hot Springs with the automatic bid and will be making its second NCAA Tournament appearance in as many years. While it isn’t a stretch to say the Hilltoppers’ run this season was about as unlikely as the one they made last year, chances are the players want something more out of their Big Dance experience this time around. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen.

Western Kentucky doesn’t do anything particularly well, which makes it even more heartbreaking for Middle Tennessee State (who lost in the Sun Belt semis) because the Blue Raiders actually do. As a squad that needed all of its conference tournament victories to reach 20 wins, the Hilltoppers will almost surely be a 16 seed once again and may even have to make the trip back to Dayton for a play-in game. Despite returning all but one player from last season, Western Kentucky will probably experience a similar NCAA Tournament run. Thus, very little chance of being this year’s Cinderella team.

West Coast

Automatic Bid: Gonzaga

Projected Seed: 1

Probability of being a Cinderella: N/A

Other teams from the conference that will probably get in: St. Mary’s

We’re not going to talk about the chances of Gonzaga being a Cinderella, because the Bulldogs have the chance to be the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. Instead, let’s talk about why the Zags could be cutting down the nets in Atlanta.

People that haven’t followed Mark Few’s team may think that Gonzaga is simply beating up on inferior competition. But non-conference victories over Oklahoma, Davidson, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor debunk that myth. People that haven’t watched the Bulldogs play may think that the team’s best player, Kelly Olynyk, looks like a surfer/stoner and couldn’t possibly be as good as the biased media says he is. But as this dunk last night proved, the National Player of the Year candidate has some athleticism, so that myth has been debunked as well. Finally, people may not be ready to accept the fact that Gonzaga isn’t just a cute little team out West that might excite some people for a round or two then politely bow out.

Here’s a tip: Accept it. This isn’t Adam Morrison’s Gonzaga team. Three players average double-digits in scoring and the bench depth for the Bulldogs is incredible (10 players average at least 10 minutes per game). Get on board with Gonzaga, because this team is for real.

– K. Becks

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