Cinderella Casting 2015: America East, Atlantic 10, Big Sky, Big West, Conference USA, Ivy, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Mountain West, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Sun Belt and Western Athletic Auto Bids

March 15, 2015

Christmas has arrived.

At approximately 6 PM ET, the selection committee will unwrap the present that we’ve all been eagerly awaiting for the past week and a half. The bracket will be unveiled today.

The automatic bids have been pouring in this weekend. Let’s take a look at them.

America East

Automatic Bid: Albany

Projected Seed: 15 or 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Great Danes already have their March moment, but chances are that the team would love to take things a step further and upset a top seed in the Big Dance. Albany has lost a total of one game since 2015 began, so there is no lack of confidence from the Great Danes heading into the tournament. The problem is that Will Brown’s team hasn’t seen the type of competition that it will undoubtedly be facing in its first game. The best result was a close loss to Providence in the very first game of the season.

Albany has made three straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament, and there is enough experience on this team to avoid falling victim to early jitters or being blinded by the bright lights of the Big Dance. But the Great Danes will be a low seed and will be tasked with finding an answer to a team like Kansas or Wisconsin. Good luck, fellas.

Atlantic 10

Automatic Bid: Virginia Commonwealth

Projected Seed: 8 or 9

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

Other teams from the conference that should receive a bid: Davidson, Dayton

The A-10 has become the gold standard for mid-major conferences, routinely putting multiple teams into the NCAA Tournament and also having a considerable amount of success once there. Last year’s tournament darling was the Dayton Flyers, and they’ll be back in 2015. But the tournament champions are Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams, which should also receive a decent seed thanks to a late season surge. The reason that the Rams would be a Cinderella with more than one tournament victory is because their best player, Briante Weber, has been out with a knee injury since the end of January.

The absence of Weber is a blow to the team on the defense end, where Smart’s “Havoc” press was anchored by the senior point guard. But it has also affected the team offensively, as there is no true facilitator at the top of the key anymore. The only way that the Rams go past the third round is if they keep the opponent under 55 points. This is not a team that is going to outscore any elite teams without Weber.

Big Sky

Automatic Bid: Eastern Washington

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Eagles are making just their second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history, but have two things in their favor that makes a first round drubbing like last time (2004) seem unlikely. First, Eastern Washington can keep pace with just about everyone in the country. The Eagles are third in the country in points per game and No. 20 in field goal percentage and have a pure scorer in guard Tyler Harvey. Between Harvey and forward Venky Jois, the Eagles have legitimate scoring threats in both the front and backcourt which could present matchup problems for opponents.

The Big Sky Conference isn’t known for producing giant killers regularly, but 2015 could be different. The Eagles are good enough offensively to present major problems in the Big Dance and are likely to receive a seed where it can legitimately compete.

Big West

Automatic Bid: UC-Irvine

Projected Seed: 13 or 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Anteaters have the tallest player in college basketball, Mamadou Ndiaye, who is 7’6″ and is capable of staying on the floor for about half the game. Additionally, Ioannis Dimakopoulos is 7’2″, so for essentially 75 percent of the game UC-Irvine has a player over seven feet tall on the floor. The leader in rebounds, surprisingly enough, is a 6’8″ forward name Will Davis II. Also the team leader in points per game, Davis II is the senior leader of this team and will be the star of the game if the Anteaters are to pull off an upset.

UC-Irvine has seen a couple of tournament bound Pac-12 teams this season, one of them being Arizona. It will all come down to matchups for the Anteaters. If they see a team that can shoot from outside, all the height in the world isn’t going to help down in the block.

Conference USA

Automatic Bid: UAB

Projected Seed: 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

UAB comes from a fairly decent mid-major conference, but the Blazers were the four seed in the C-USA tournament and have had an up-and-down season to say the least. At 19-15, no one is going to look at the overall record and think much of this team. But the Blazers went out and played a tough schedule in the non-conference portion of the season. Florida, LSU, North Carolina, UCLA and Wisconsin were all on the schedule this season, and although the Blazers didn’t win any of the games, there is no doubt that they will be ready for whatever the committee throws at them.

It has been a tough academic year for the UAB athletic department, but the basketball team has given the program something to smile about. It’s not a stretch to say that this team could be one of the most overlooked in the entire tournament.


Automatic Bid: Harvard

Projected Seed: 11 or 12

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Crimson are experienced and pulled one out of the hat to even make the Big Dance, beating Yale in a winner-take-all playoff on Saturday to clinch the Ivy League title. The issue with this team is that there isn’t the handful of games against quality competition during the regular season that we are used to seeing from Tommy Amaker’s teams. That always made it easy to call the Crimson a Cinderella threat.

Because of prior success in recent NCAA Tournament appearances (at least one win the past two seasons), the Crimson are still a team to keep an eye on. But this is probably the weakest Harvard squad we’ve seen in the past three years.


Automatic Bid: Buffalo

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

At the very least, this is a team to keep an eye on because its head coach knows a thing or two about tournament success. The Bulls are coached by former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley, making his first appearance to the Big Dance as a mentor to young men. The Bulls have a couple of capable scorers in forward Justin Moss and guard Shannon Evans, providing solid offensive balance. They are also one of the better rebounding teams in the country, so it is unlikely that the MAC champs will be bullied inside by bigger teams.

Buffalo is on an eight game winning streak, so Coach Hurley’s squad has clearly found its stride at the right time. Since there’s a chance that the Bulls will be seeded on the 12 line, it’s worth taking an extra minute to decide whether this team is worth putting forward a round or two. They’re definitely good enough to do it.


Automatic Bid: Hampton

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Pirates continue the streak of at least one team making the NCAA Tournament with a sub-.500 record. But for that reason, this is not a team that I think will be making waves as one of the tournament’s Cinderellas. Hampton simply does not shoot the ball well enough (No. 298 in the country) and will have trouble keeping up with anyone outside of the play-in game.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see Hampton play well and perhaps even win a game in Dayton, but once the First Four is over, so are the Pirates chances of winning any games in the tournament.

Mountain West

Automatic Bid: Wyoming

Projected Seed: 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

Other teams from the conference that should receive a bid: Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State

The Cowboys were one of the bid stealers on Saturday, condensing the bubble by one and perhaps knocking one of its own conference foes out of the NCAA Tournament. Wyoming doesn’t score a lot of points, but that’s because it has one of the slowest offensive tempos in the entire country (No. 344 according to KenPom’s rankings). When they do take shots, they are usually good ones and make over 46% of them.

This is not the type of team that is going to come out and overwhelm an opponent. But the Cowboys are smart offensively and won’t get themselves into trouble by taking quick shots that waste possessions. Wyoming should stay competitive against whoever it plays, and with a little luck the Cowboys could be in a position to steal not only a bid, but a win, in the Big Dance this season.


Automatic Bid: Stephen F. Austin

Projected Seed: 12

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Lumberjacks are back in the tournament after upsetting VCU last season, so expect this four point play to play a big role in Stephen F. Austin being one of the chic picks in the 2015 Big Dance. They are definitely capable of repeating the magic from last season, most notably because of Thomas Walkup. The junior guard/forward leads the Lumberjacks in several major offensive categories and is the vocal leader on the team. Stephen F. Austin will need Walkup to be at his best in order to pull off another upset.

The Southland Conference could have its best stretch ever in the NCAA Tournament thanks to the Lumberjacks. This team is so similar to last year’s squad, both on paper and on the court, that if you believed in them last season it would be silly not to again this year.

Southwestern Athletic

Automatic Bid: Texas Southern

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

Another squad making a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, Texas Southern won’t go any further than it did in 2014. Unfortunately for the Tigers, there just isn’t enough talent on the team to battle with what will likely be one of the top teams in the tournament. Making it to the Big Dance should really be good enough.

That being said, I have a special place in my heart for the school I guided to back-to-back tournament appearances in NCAA 2K5. So while I don’t think they’ll be a Cinderella, I’m rooting for the Tigers.

Sun Belt

Automatic Bid: Georgia State

Projected Seed: 13 or 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Panthers won the Sun Belt title game scoring just 38 points, but that is not an accurate representation of how this team usually wins games. Georgia State is a talented offensive team, led by R.J. Hunter, who also happens to be the coaches son. Hunter is a strong scorer that is complemented well by running mate Ryan Harrow to make up a guard combo that both average at least 19 points a game. For Georgia State to be a threat to win tournament games, both need to be shooting well because such a large percentage of the offensive production runs through them.

It would be a very cool story to watch the father-son combo become one of the tournament darlings, especially since the younger Hunter is clearly the star for the Panthers. This team still receives an “Unlikely” label, however, because of suspect rebounding.

Western Athletic

Automatic Bid: New Mexico State

Projected Seed: 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Aggies rolled through the WAC this season, which admittedly is far less impressive in 2015 than in was five seasons ago when the Aggies were racking up men’s basketball conference titles. That being said, this is a team that knows how to prepare for tournament games under eighth year head man Marvin Menzies. This is a fairly young squad, but it gets good production from its four senior players in Remi Barry, Daniel Mullings, Tshilidzi Nephawe and DK Eldridge.

This squad is predicated on good team basketball (four players average double digits in scoring) and keeping fresh legs on the floor. Coach Menzies won’t have the easiest second round opponent, but this is the type of team that can take advantage of sloppy play by an opponent. It just doesn’t seem likely that it’ll play a sloppy squad.

– K. Becks

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