Cinderella Casting 2016: America East, Conference USA, Horizon, Mid-Eastern Atlantic, Northeast and Patriot Auto Bids

March 12, 2016

We’re less than 24 hours away from the bracket being released.

For what it’s worth, this day has replaced Christmas Eve for me. Who says you have to deny yourself of that feeling as an adult?

Here’s a look at several more automatic bids that have been clinched earlier this week. When the bids were actually clinched was not considered when writing this article, as I am behind a few days.

America East

Automatic Bid: Stony Brook

Projected Seed: 12 or 13

Probability of being a Cinderella: Decent

The Seawolves had been knocking on the doorstop of the NCAA Tournament for the last several years, but finally booked the school’s first ever appearance behind a group of experienced and talented seniors. Of the top four scorers on the team, three are seniors and one is a junior, all of whom have experienced the heartbreak of prior seasons that saw them lose in the America East final. Leading the way offensively is senior Jameel Warney, At 19 PPG and 10.7 RPG, Warney is going to be a handful to say the least. He is also No. 19 in the country in field goal percentage.

This is the type of team you don’t want to sleep on. A no name school on a squad filled with upperclassmen that have clawed and fought their way for this moment is always dangerous. Warney is the real deal and will likely see double teams, but there are three others who average double digits as well. You normally don’t see mid-majors competing because they are just as physical as the power conference school, but Stony Brook may be one of those rare cases.

Conference USA

Automatic Bid: Middle Tennessee State

Projected Seed: 13 or 14

Probability of being a Cinderella: Unlikely

The Blue Raiders are making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament as a member of Conference USA, but it has only been a few years since Kermit Davis’s school has made the Dance (last was in 2013). Although Middle Tennessee State doesn’t score a lot of points, the Blue Raiders are a good three point shooting team and almost everyone on the team is willing to let it fly from behind the arc. Stamina should not be an issue, though, as a fairly deep bench sees nine players averaging double digits in minutes.

Conference USA has been dealing with somewhat of a basketball identity crisis since the loss of Memphis following the 2012-2013 season, but all three of the league’s auto bids since that time have put up a fight in the NCAA Tournament since that time. The Blue Raiders will probably receive a low seed and will be as surprising as fellow conference mate UAB was last year if they are able to earn a victory in the Big Dance.


Automatic Bid: Green Bay

Projected Seed: 15

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

It has been 20 years since the Phoenix made the NCAA Tournament, but they managed to do so in coach Linc Darner’s first with the program. Darner teaches a fun brand of basketball, stressing the need to keep the energy high and the buckets falling in order to have success. Green Bay is sixth in the country in scoring, has the sixth most possessions per 40 minutes according to KenPom and has attempted more field goals than any other team.

The downside to the style, of course, is that defense is sometimes optional, The Phoenix are rated No. 328 in points allowed per game, and based on the relative strength of the Horizon League it looks like Green Bay will be given a very low seeding. Chances are Darner’s squad will match up against a team that will impose its own style of play and could likely keep up with Green Bay if it needed to anyway. This team looks primed to keep things close in its first game for about a half at best.

Mid-Eastern Athletic

Automatic Bid: Hampton

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

Hampton knows what they will most likely be up against in the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Edward Joyner jokingly called Jesus during last year’s press conference ahead of their game with top seeded Kentucky. But while the Pirates are going to be massive underdogs in any game they play save a stop in Dayton for the First Four round, they won’t go down without a fight.

By KenPom’s measurements, Hampton is the luckiest team in Division 1 college basketball this year. But even a healthy helping of luck probably won’t result in a victory over a No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament. The Pirates don’t score a lot of points and will need to own the boards in order to stay close with a top seed.


Auto Bid: Fairleigh Dickinson

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

Thus far, the Knights have the second fewest victories of any tournament bound team along with Austin Peay (Holy Cross has the fewest), so the prospect of a 16 seed is almost certain and a trip to Dayton seems likely. The Knights want to score often and don’t care if you try to hang with them, because all they need to do is score one more. The problem is that the top seeds will probably be able to score in the high 80s or 90s on the Knights without much issue. There just isn’t much defense being played by Greg Herenda’s team.

The lack of defense will probably be the undoing of this team, but it may not happen until its second game. This team has good guard play and if it gets on a roll from behind the arc can really make it difficult for the opposition to keep up. The chances of Fairleigh Dickinson as a Cinderella are unlikely, but getting into the Round of 64 is very possible if it requires a play-in first.


Automatic Bid: Holy Cross

Projected Seed: 16

Probability of being a Cinderella: Very Unlikely

The Crusaders will be a No. 16 seed, and they’ll play in Dayton on Tuesday or Wednesday night. That much is a given. But what is unclear is whether they will truly have a chance to be the ultimate Cinderella. Teams with losing records have done pretty well since the First Four concept was introduced in 2011. Teams with sub-.500 records are 3-1 in the First Four round and have not lost a game since 2013.

The reason the focus is on this aspect of the Crusaders’ tournament journey is because it will not extend beyond the Round of 64. Holy Cross is a great story, encompassing the best parts of March Madness. The Crusaders were a Cinderella in their own conference tournament and needed a buzzer beater in the opening round of the Patriot League tournament to survive. But there is no reason to suggest that this undersized squad will move on beyond its second game, if that.

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