2015 Cinderella Casting: Horizon, Northeast, Summit and West Coast Auto Bids

March 11, 2015

Four more bids to the tourney were punched last night. Let’s take a closer look at them.


Automatic Bid: Valparaiso

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Crusaders are back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the past three seasons, which essentially makes them the new powers of the Horizon League. That being said, the league is a shell of what it once was when Butler was racking up conference championships and may not prepare Valparaiso for the type of competition they’ll see in the Big Dance.

However, with only five losses on the season there is reason for hope. Additionally, Valpo has impressive bench depth with ten players averaging double digits in minutes played per game. This is the type of team that will be a true Cinderella if it picks up a win or two, because there isn’t anything that sets them apart from the other mid-majors, but they aren’t totally helpless, either.


Automatic Bid: Robert Morris

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

It would be rude of me not to spend any time on the Northeast Conference tournament champion, and for that reason I will congratulate the Colonials for making the tournament. The school hasn’t been to the Big Dance since 2010, so every player on the team will be realizing a lifelong dream that they will remember forever. But Robert Morris isn’t playing more than one game (unless they begin the tourney journey in Dayton).

The Northeast Conference representative to the NCAA Tournament is generally a doormat to one of the top seeds. Since the Colonials don’t play particularly strong defense (No. 166 in KenPom’s adjusted D), chances are that the second half will be a long one for this team. If that doesn’t sway you, perhaps the 19-14 overall record will.


Automatic Bid: North Dakota State

Projected Seed: 14 or 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Bison are back in the tournament for the second straight year, so while North Dakota State is making a name for itself as a football powerhouse, the basketball team isn’t too far behind in its own right. Just making it to this point is quite an achievement for first year head coach David Richman. Former head coach Saul Phillips cashed in his tournament success (the Bison upset Oklahoma in the 2014 tournament) for a job at Ohio, and do everything guard Taylor Braun and powerful center Marshall Bjorklund both graduated after last season.

North Dakota State is still individual driven, as the team is near the bottom of the country in assists per game. But even without Braun and Bjorklund, the Bison are in good hands with senior guard Lawrence Alexander. Averaging 18.9 points per game, Alexander can go off at any moment and can stroke from behind the arc shooting 44 percent from deep range. He’ll need a lot of help from his team to take down a 2 or 3 seed, but at the very least the Bison should keep things interesting having players with tournament experience.

West Coast

Automatic Bid: Gonzaga

Projected Seed: 2

Probability of being a Cinderella: N/A

Other teams from the conference that should receive a bid: BYU

The question for the Zags, making their 17th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, isn’t whether they will be one of the tournament’s Cinderella squads. That shipped sailed circa 2001, after Gonzaga had made back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in 1999 and 2000. No, the question will be whether or not Mark Few’s team can avoid being the victim of a Cinderella in 2015. The Bulldogs are going to be one of the highest seeds in the tournament for the second time in three years, and it didn’t go so well last time around.

If Gonzaga wants to avoid an early exit, senior point guard Kevin Pangos needs to take charge early. Although no one is greater than the whole for the Bulldogs, Pangos is the heart of the team and sets the tone for the rest of the squad. If he is playing well, Gary Bell Jr. gets open looks and Przemek Karnowski does, too. The Bulldogs are at their best when the offense is humming and Pangos can improvise. Mark Few has built himself a machine at Gonzaga, but the next step is to make it past the Sweet 16. Fun fact, in case you weren’t aware: Gonzaga has never been further under Coach Few.

– K. Becks

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