2014 Cinderella Casting: Atlantic Sun, Big South, Ivy, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley Auto Bids

March 10, 2014

Some folks at my college would say that it’s “spring break”.

I hate to break it to you young people, but there is something more important than no classes and sunny beaches this week. It’s Championship Week, the precursor to that thing that we like to call March Madness. I love it more than the beaches and the lack of classes, and I’m perfectly fine with feeling like I have work to do covering the action as it unfolds.

Championship Week allows me to do two things: fill out seven to nine brackets that no one will ever see, and also put into writing my thoughts about those little known teams that in just over a week will become the talk of the nation for upsetting one of the big boys.

You see, I title this segment Cinderella Casting for a reason. Not only is it sort of clever, but that’s exactly what some of the teams mentioned in these posts will become. The little guys from the little conferences doing big things are the reason we love the NCAA Tournament. They are the Cinderella, wearing the proverbial glass slipper.

So here’s the rundown for those of you who 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 of those teams and let you know if any other teams from the conference have a shot at making the Big Dance as well. New articles will posted on the site all week long leading up to Selection Sunday, so be sure to check back every day.

Atlantic Sun

Automatic Bid: Mercer

Projected Seed: 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

Remember Dunk City? Well, the Bears hail from the same conference as Florida Gulf Coast and even had to beat the Eagles in the Atlantic Sun final to punch their ticket to the Dance. But while Mercer is unlikely to be compared to its conference foe on the basis of athleticism, any team that draws the A-Sun’s representative will surely be reminded of what happened to Georgetown and San Diego State in the 2013 tournament. Unfortunately, that sets Mercer up for a tough second round game where a stronger team from a bigger conference probably won’t overlook Bob Hoffman’s squad.

The Bears aren’t a bad three point shooting team (38.4%) and will likely live and die by the long ball, as they are the No. 20 team in the nation with regards to triples attempted. Anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament, and Mercer has the right modus operandi for taking down one of the big boys. But more than likely, Florida Gulf Coast’s success in last year’s tournament leaves any Atlantic Sun representative for the next decade to deal with the fallout, which is teams facing them like it’s a Sweet 16 matchup rather than a second round affair.

Big South

Automatic Bid: Coastal Carolina

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

For those unfamiliar, a chanticleer is a fictional rooster that first appeared in middle-century fables. It is also the mascot of the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team. So led by seventh year head coach Cliff Ellis and a fighting rooster, Coastal Carolina will be making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993 and just its third appearance ever.

Joking aside, all signs point to the Chanticleers earning a No. 16 seed and having a major uphill battle in their first Big Dance this century. Despite finishing first in the South Division of the Big South Conference, Coastal Carolina will likely have trouble playing the individualistic basketball that got it this far. The team ranks No. 317 in the nation in assists per game and No. 127 in total scoring. One area where the team won’t have an issue is under the basket, where 6’10” center El Hadji Ndieguene will be a handful for even the best big men. Other than the senior from Senegal, though, the Chanticleers are almost surely to be severely overmatched.


Automatic Bid: Harvard

Projected Seed: 11 or 12

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Ivy League is the only conference in college basketball to award its regular season champion the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament rather than the conference tournament champion. On one hand, you know that you’re awarding the most deserving team and not just one that put things together for four days. On the other hand, sometimes it’s better for a small conference to send the team that is hot at the right time. Fortunately for the conference of academics, with Harvard it has both.

At 26-4 overall with a 13-1 conference mark, the Crimson were far and away the class of the Ivy League this season. In addition, Harvard is on quite the winning streak, emerging victorious in its last eight games and 12 of its last 14. The Crimson are a well-coached squad and have several upperclassmen with tournament experience, including leading scorer Wesley Saunders and captains Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey. Although it would be foolish to overlook a team that upset third seeded New Mexico in the second round of last year’s tournament, it wouldn’t be overly surprising if Harvard is able add to its NCAA Tournament victory total in 2014.

Missouri Valley

Automatic Bid: Wichita State

Projected Seed: 1

Probability of being a Cinderella: N/A

In order to say you’ve seen what the Wichita State Shockers have done season before, you’d have to be older than I am. The last time a team entered the NCAA Tournament in 1991, I was but an embryo in my mother’s womb. So I don’t really know what the opinion of Jerry Tarkanian’s team was heading into that tournament, but from what I’ve heard it was pretty good. The team was filled with NBA talent and was looking to defend a national championship from the prior year.

Wichita State isn’t the 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. The Shockers aren’t the 2004 Saint Joseph’s Hawks, either (the last team to finish the regular season undefeated). The NBA talent isn’t there, and the argument can be made that Gregg Marshall’s team hasn’t played competition reflecting that of which it will face in the Big Dance. But the Shockers have welcomed all challengers and sent them away disappointed. They play excellent defense and can hit big shots from behind the arc. Lastly, they are fearless, coming into this year’s tournament on the heels of a Final Four appearance last season. Say what you want about the Shockers, but this isn’t a team to label as pretenders.

Ohio Valley

Automatic Bid: Eastern Kentucky

Projected Seed: 14 or 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

How’s this for some motivation? The Monday morning after the Colonels had punched their eighth NCAA Tournament bid in school history, SportsCenter decided to put up a graphic entitled “Tournament Tickets” using the University of Kentucky’s logo to represent Eastern Kentucky. You can bet that Jeff Neubauer’s team would like nothing more than to show the nation that the Wildcats aren’t the only ones who play quality basketball in the state of Kentucky.

If Eastern Kentucky is to shock the world, it is going to do so on the offensive end. The Colonels are one of the nation’s best at hitting shots, connecting on 49 percent of their field goals attempted. Oddly enough, that wasn’t even good enough to earn Eastern Kentucky top honors in its own conference, as Belmont hit 50.5 percent of its shots this season. Nevertheless, the Colonels have a capable backcourt in guards Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden and could give some teams trouble for a half. Depth could be an issue though and spell an early tournament exit for the Ohio Valley representative.

– K. Becks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *