2015 Cinderella Casting: Atlantic Sun, Big South, Metro Atlantic, Colonial Athletic, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley and Southern Auto Bids

March 10, 2015

I’ve been sick the last couple of days (well, technically the last couple of weeks), so I apologize for the long header.

But for those of you that have followed the blog for years, you know that this is the bread and butter for Around The Corn. Previewing the little guy in anticipation of the NCAA Tournament is one of my favorite topics to write about.

No longer am I tempted by the allure of spring break and perfect college butts. No, as a working man it’s business as usual this week. But when I get home, everything changes. It’s Championship Week. The time of year when automatic bids to the Big Dance are punched left and right, where a little known school from an overlooked conference will lay the groundwork that will result in it becoming the biggest story in sports for one or two memorable rounds. Honestly, what is more fun than this all week long?

For those of you unfamiliar with my Cinderella Casting series, here’s how it works. As the small and mid-major conferences crown their tournament champion and send a team off to the NCAA Tournament, I’ll analyze and break down that team’s chances of becoming one of the tournament’s Cinderellas. I’ll also take a look at any other teams from the conference that may have a shot at dancing as well. It is my intent to cover each conference the day after its tournament wraps up, so keep it tuned right here leading up to Selection Sunday.

Atlantic Sun

Automatic Bid: North Florida

Projected Seed: 15 or 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

With Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer shocking the country the past few years, the A-Sun isn’t the conference to be taking lightly these days (Mercer was a member of the conference last season). But the Ospreys are still going to enter their first ever NCAA Tournament as heavy underdogs. Not a team that is afraid to engage in a high scoring affair (26th nationally in scoring), North Florida is going to have to find a way to play big. After 6’11” center Romelo Banks, the tallest player that sees minutes is 6’8″.

The Ospreys aren’t nearly as athletic as Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 and don’t have quite the inside touch that Mercer last season. But they were the best team in the Atlantic Sun Conference all season and didn’t back down in any of its non-conference games, even beating Purdue on the road. At the very least, at least they’re dancing, right?

Big South

Automatic Bid: Coastal Carolina

Projected Seed: 14 or 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Chanticleers are making back to back appearances in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, and enjoying the moment probably isn’t the goal this time around. Coastal Carolina is one of the best rebounding teams in the entire country and although 6’7″ junior Badou Diagne from Senegal leads the charge, it truly is a team effort.

Establishing position in the key after a shot goes up will be the most effective weapon for the Chanticleers, and one that should be able to keep them competitive. After keeping things interesting against No. 1 seed Virginia last year, it will be interesting to see what Coastal Carolina can do with some tournament experience still on the roster.

Metro Atlantic

Automatic Bid: Manhattan

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

When Steve Masiello’s team took Louisville to the brink of defeat in the second round of the 2014 NCAA tournament, the country learned that Masiello and his team were just as feisty as his mentor and former coach (Rick Pitino). The Jaspers are back in the Big Dance after a surprising run in the MAAC tournament, and although they aren’t in nearly as favorable position to land a winnable second round game, expect the small New York school to play just as hard as last year.

Off the bench this is a relatively young squad, but the starting five is experienced and knows what it takes to be competitive in an NCAA Tournament game. A No. 16 seed likely means an early exit once again, but the Jaspers will make it a grind for whoever they play. Coach Masiello will make sure of that.

Colonial Athletic

Automatic Bid: Northeastern

Projected Seed: 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

I was nine months away from entering the world the last time Northeastern made the NCAA Tournament, so I have to imagine it’s an exciting time to be a Huskie fan. As one of the top shooting teams in the country (11th overall), the Huskies should have the ability to stay in a game where athleticism alone would doom them. But the issue still remains, especially considering the fact that depth is an issue for this team.

Only seven players average at least 10 minutes a game, which means that the starting five must be well conditioned in order to hang with one of the top teams in the tournament. Chances are that Northeastern could hang around for a half thanks to solid shooting, but fatigue will see that advantage wither away as the second half wears on.

Missouri Valley

Automatic Bid: Northern Iowa

Projected Seed: 5

Chances of being a Cinderella: N/A

Other teams from the conference that should receive a bid: Wichita State (4)

Neither the Panthers nor the Shockers will be considered a Cinderella regardless of how far either one makes it in the tournament. Both of these teams have been hovering around the Top 10 for the second half of the season and for good reason. Northern Iowa shoots well from all over the floor, excelling from behind arc with a 39.7% three point percentage as a team. Add in the fact that the Panthers are well disciplined offensively, averaging less than 11 turnovers per game, and you’ve got a very difficult team to stop when it has the basketball.

Wichita State may be even better positioned to make a deep run in the Big Dance. The guard combo of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet is one of the best in the country, and they aren’t too shabby at the three ball, either. Head coach Gregg Marshall will continue to get looks from Power 5 schools after this season, but if he can guide the Shockers to another Final Four run, one has to wonder whether it’s worth it to leave.

Ohio Valley

Automatic Bid: Belmont

Projected Seed: 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

For many years, Belmont was the chic pick for many bracket prognosticators to upset a much higher seeded team. But the Bruins never quite got it done, despite coming a couple close of times over the past decade. This season Belmont knocked off a very good Murray State team to punch its bid to the Big Dance despite being the third seeded team in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Put simply, the Bruins have already been playing as the underdog this March.

A trio of guards in Craig Bradshaw, Evan Bradds and Taylor Barnette lead the Bruins in scoring and both Bradshaw and Barnette are solid from behind the arc. Past Bruins teams have been done in by cold shooting early, but that probably won’t be the only factor in an early exit in 2015. Belmont just won’t get the right matchup as a 15 seed.


Automatic Bid: Wofford

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Wofford

Wofford has been the gold standard in the Southern Conference lately, capturing its fourth automatic bid to the tournament in the past six seasons. The Terriers are always a tough out in the NCAA Tournament, playing disciplined basketball combined with impressive shooting touch. This season Wofford may actually be able to take the next step, however.

Guard Karl Cochran is a true baller and will be an individual star if the Terriers can make a run. The senior leads his team in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks per game. That’s pretty amazing for a 6’1″ floor general. If Wofford is in a tight one near the end of the second half (and they probably will be), expect Cochran to take charge.

– K. Becks

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