2019 Cinderella Casting: Colonial Athletic, Horizon, Metro Atlantic Athletic and Northeast Auto Bids

March 13, 2019

Last night we witnessed the first real “bid stealer” when Saint Mary’s shocked No. 1 Gonzaga and stole a spot in the NCAA Tournament that the Gaels were not going to get otherwise.

As all the major conference tournaments get underway, the conversation of the Bubble will begin to take center stage in the sports world. Early round matchups are essentially play-in games for the NCAA Tournament, with the winner feeling good (for about 24 hours) while the loser must go home and sweat the next four days.

One of those “play-in” games took place earlier on Wednesday, with Clemson squandering a 16 point lead at haltime against North Carolina State in both teams’ opening round of the ACC Tournament. It feels as though the Tigers were knocked off the Bubble with that crushing defeat, but part of the excitement of Championship Week is that no one really knows.

As we trend towards the weekend, when the action will really start to heat up, we take a look at several more automatic bids that have been punched over the past two days.

Colonial Athletic

Automatic Bid: Northeastern

Projected Seed: 14 or 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

Northeastern winning the CAA tournament means that the country will not be introduced to Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra’s dynamic point guard that is second in the country averaging 27 points per contest. Instead, Vasa Pusica will look to take a hot hand deep into the NCAA Tournament. The leading scorer for the Huskies dropped 21 points in the CAA title game, all on three pointers, and the Serbian isn’t the only one on this team to have the green light from behind the arc. Three others (Jordan Roland, Bolden Brace and Donnell Greshman, Jr.) shoot at least 38 percent from three point range for a squad that is 17th in the country in three point shooting percentage.

The Huskies will live and die by the three point shot, as Bill Coen’s team plays small ball and it isn’t uncommon to see five guards on the floor at the same time. This approach could end up playing dividends, but it is more likely that Northeastern will run into a top seed more than willing to give up a few three pointers in exchange for little resistance in the paint. Coen’s squad is ready to shoot at a moment’s notice, but they don’t play a particularly quick brand of basketball so points could come at a premium.


Automatic Bid: Northern Kentucky

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

Head coach John Brannen’s third year as head coach and just the school’s seventh in Division 1 sees the Norse heading back to the Tournament for the second time in Brannen’s tenure. Northern Kentucky was the best team in the Horizon League all year, but play with a grit that would befit a team with a much more modest resume. That all starts with sophomore guard Tyler Sharpe, a former walk-on at both Louisville and NKU who will fight for every loose ball. Sharpe’s heart, combined with Jalen Tate’s ability to get to the basket, could spell trouble for a higher seeded opponent. Tate, the younger brother of former Ohio State forward Jae’Sean Tate, finds space to work where there seemingly is none.

The X-factor for the Norse, however, will be senior Drew McDonald. The 6’8” McDonald nearly averages a double-double and is dangerous from behind the arc, often times bringing one of the opponent’s better post defenders out into a position where he is not comfortable. If McDonald is feeling it from outside, as he was in the Horizon League title game, the floor will open up for guys like Tate and Sharpe to score frustratingly easy baskets. While the Horizon League isn’t full of great basketball teams, Northern Kentucky shows flashes of a team that could wear the glass slipper this season.

Metro Atlantic Athletic

Automatic Bid: Iona

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

As difficult as it is to make the NCAA Tournament for any team, intensify that difficulty tenfold for a small conference program given that only one from most of those conferences get in each year. That being said, Iona is the gold standard for consistency, capturing its fourth straight automatic bid to the Big Dance and its sixth since Tim Cluess took over the reins in 2010. The Gaels once again led the way in the MAAC during the regular season, scoring at a high rate and playing at a high tempo. All things that have come to be expected from a Coach Cluess squad.

Unfortunately, outside of a current 10 game winning streak, there isn’t much to suggest Iona will last long in this year’s Tournament. A likely 16 seed means that the Gaels will need to outscore one of the best teams in the country. In 15 games this season, that hasn’t happened and most of those games came against teams that are far from the top of the polls. Iona will provide some excitement (senior point guard Rickey McGill is adept at scoring and dishing to go along with a healthy dose of swagger), but don’t expect them to pull off a UMBC-esque upset.


Automatic Bid: Fairleigh Dickinson

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The NEC champ usually gets a lot of shade thrown its way on Around The Corn around this time of year, and unfortunately for the Knights, 2019 is no different. The tournament champion of this conference is almost always bestowed a No. 16 seed, often sent to Dayton for a play-in game and hasn’t given a top seed a real scare since 2010. This blog was still in its infancy and I was in high school the last time anyone outside of an alma mater and student body paid any real attention to a team from the NEC in the NCAA Tournament.

Farleigh Dickinson does have five players that average double-digits in scoring, and NEC tournament Darnell Edge is one of the best three point shooters in the country, but KenPom metrics suggest that the Knights will have a tough time limiting their opponent’s offensive efficiency (No. 297 in the country). Greg Herenda’s team is unlikely to survive a high scoring affair with a top seed, so it’s almost surely one and done for his squad in the Big Dance.

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