2014 Cinderella Casting: Colonial Athletic, Metro Atlantic, Southern Auto Bids

March 11, 2014

Think that the small conference tournaments aren’t worth watching the week before the NCAA Tournament? Perhaps this will change your opinion: the three conference finals played last night were decided by a total of seven points.

There is no doubt that for teams such as Delaware, Manhattan and Wofford, the Big Dance started the minute the first conference tournament game tipped off. Teams from the smaller conferences generally know that to get in, you better win. Unlike the major conference tournaments, where the top teams are essentially jostling for seed preference, every single team in the small conferences is playing like it’s the last game of the season. This is for good reason, because if a team loses in one of those conference tournaments, the season usually is over.

Let’s take a look at the three most recent bids to the NCAA Tournament, whose feeling of relief is topped only by the elation of being able to call themselves tournament bound.

Colonial Athletic

Automatic Bid: Delaware

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Fightin’ Blue Hens are partyin’ like it’s 1999, the last time the school punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. However, the 21st century could very well mark the first time Delaware has had any success in the Big Dance thanks to a slew of talented guards on the roster. Monte Ross’s team often plays a four guard system, and the threesome of seniors Devon Saddler, Davon Usher and junior Jarvis Threatt make up the highest scoring backcourt in the country. Along with Carl Baptiste and Kyle Anderson, who round out the top five players in terms of minutes played, the Fightin’ Blue Hens have a healthy dose of athletes who average double-digits in points.

It will be difficult for any team Delaware faces to match up with Saddler, Usher and Threatt, but even leaving one of the three unaccounted for could be dangerous. The Fightin’ Blue Hens average nearly 80 points per contest, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them try to get out to a fast start in their first tournament game. If the competition doesn’t have either a strong defense or a willingness to get to the basket often, Delaware could be an upset special.

Metro Atlantic

Automatic Bid: Manhattan

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

In a rematch of the 2013 MAAC final, Manhattan traded places with rival Iona, besting the Gaels 71-68 to clinch its first tournament berth since 2004. While the Jaspers were somewhat of an underdog heading into the game, there is no reason to think that Steve Masiello’s team can’t be a sleeper squad like many had predicted Iona would have been had the Gaels won. Manhattan plays a bruising style of offense thanks to 6’7″ 230 pound forward Rhamel Brown, but can also hit from behind the arc with sophomore Shane Richards. The inside out work of Brown and Richards worked well in the MAAC title game, and if Richards, who is shooting 42.5 percent from three point range, catches fire the Jaspers will be dangerous. In addition to his offensive work, Brown is also No. 3 in the nation in blocks per game and Manhattan averages 8.3 steals per game as a team.

There is no rest on either side of the ball for the Jaspers, and that attitude comes from the top. As a result, there is plenty of bench depth with 11 players averaging double-digits in minutes. Coach Masiello is a fiery head man and expects a lot out of his players, so don’t assume that Manhattan will simply be happy to be a part of the Big Dance. In 2004, the Jaspers smoked Florida as a 12 seed then nearly beat fourth seeded Wake Forest in the second round. Masiello was an assistant on that squad and now has the talent on his own team to create some magic as well.


Automatic Bid: Wofford

Projected Seed: 15 or 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

There is some competition now in the Southern Conference for which team represents the definition of consistency: Davidson or Wofford. The Terriers have now punched their tournament ticket in three of the past five seasons, and this year coach Mike Young was able to do it with just one senior on the roster. Wofford just barely reached the 20-win plateau, needing the three conference tournament victories to do it, and is a relatively surprising representative for the conference. It is likely that the Terriers will be one of the lowest seeds in the NCAA Tournament and may even have to travel to Dayton to survive one of the four play-in games.

Despite junior guard Karl Cochran’s offensive abilities, Wofford is a squad built on defensive efficiency. The Terriers allow just 62.4 points per game and haven’t allowed more than 78 points in a game this season. However, the defense is in almost complete contrast to the offense, which struggles to score at times and doesn’t receive a whole lot of second chances. In addition, the Terriers average just 66.3 percent from the line which could be a problem in a close game. While Wofford plays smart basketball, the lack of offensive firepower will likely result in an early exit from the Big Dance. This team can win a play-in game but probably won’t fare well against one of the top seeds.

– K. Becks

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